Limited edition items from Rebecca Minkoff — the luxury handbags, accessories and apparel brand — are selling out at TheDeMaterialised.com, but no-one will ever be seen wearing them. Why? These are items made to exist exclusively online, to be worn by avatars in the virtual worlds of the metaverse.
Luxury brands are already making millions in what’s fast becoming a massive “virtual luxury” market. Bloomberg reports that the metaverse market is worth $800mn and rising. As such, the promise of financial and advertising value has brands salivating.
Buyers of virtual luxury clothing in the metaverse receive a virtual certificate of ownership — or non-fungible token (NFT) — which serves as proof of authenticity and the right to flaunt their purchases through avatars in virtual settings.
Sounds silly, but online identities aren’t new. Gamers have been using “skins” to customise the appearance of characters in Grand Theft Auto and The Sims for as long as those games have been around, and now the internet’s next evolution means many more users will be able to interact with one another and engage with apps in immersive virtual 3D worlds no different to what you see in movies such as Ready Player One or Free Guy.
It’s no longer just characters. It’s a representation of actual people in a virtual setting. In a world where social is so ubiquitous we can definitely expect online interactions no different to participating in a Twitter thread taking place in virtual bars, which begs the question: what will you wear?
TheDematerialised.com, which exclusively deals in this market, is providing an answer. Unlike the web’s previous evolution, where brands were slow to jump onto the online retail train — sometimes even resisting having a social media presence altogether — it’s not hard to imagine why this industry is among the first to embrace the next chapter. For an industry troubled by concerns over sustainability and pressure to produce less, the metaverse might offer one of the best ways forward for expansion and profitability.
Several main brands participated in the first Metaverse Fashion Week on the Decentraland platform recently, among them Dolce & Gabbana, Etro, Elie Saab and Tommy Hilfiger. A Vogue reporter described the experience as “diverting”, writing: “Possibly more interesting than the shows were the fellow guests; in Decentraland, any cosplay fantasies can be expressed regardless of physical reality. There were elves, angel-winged orc thingies, blondes in knitwear, dudes with wings.”
That is to say the potential for expressing even the most outlandish version of ourselves — something often confined to spaces such as Burning Man and similar festivals in real life — is limitless. Why wouldn’t an industry based on image want to capitalise on this potential?
Besides some the brands mentioned earlier, Balenciaga, Gucci, Selfridges, Louis Vuitton and even Coca-Cola, have dipped their toes into the metaverse waters. In collaboration with Fortnight, Balenciaga allowed players of the open-world game to purchase virtual outfits inspired by the brand’s IRL collections. Some of the items could simply be “unlocked”, as the case has been in the gaming world for a long time. Balenciaga’s and Fortnight’s experiment was live for a week and players could use virtual changing rooms to try out different outfits.
Louis Vuitton, on the other hand, celebrated its second centenary by releasing an adventure-based game, Louis The Game. The mobile game followed Vivienne, a character whose challenge was finding 30 “precious NFTs” by collecting 200 candles, tracing the brand’s 200-year history as she went along.
Although it’s early days, and the graphics on most of these virtual worlds show we are still a long way from Ready Player One, there is little doubt the metaverse will go mainstream. Meta, the company previously known as Facebook, estimates that this should happen in the next five to 10 years.
By that time, it will probably be quite normal to mimic the virtual world IRL by purchasing that amazing jacket some avatar turned heads in at some virtual metaverse party. The luxury brands are betting on it and, if the Louis Vuitton example is anything to go by, the potential for creative, immersive brand storytelling is huge.