When everyone was still forced to sit at home due to corona lockdowns, it seemed like a completely logical future scenario that people would spend a lot of time in virtual worlds and thus would need digital clothing with digital property certificates (NFTs). But in the context of real fashion weeks, open nightclubs and a war in Europe, the first Fashion Week in the metaverse, which took place this weekend, is trivial. Who still believes in this universe? And do NFT fans have a bit of a taste for it, or is it just about potential future riches? To find out, I visited Digital Fashion Week.
The virtual world in which this fashion week takes place, Decentraland, is powered by blockchain technology and is “decentralized”. In theory, that means that the virtual world is not owned by a multinational, like Meta’s Horizon (Facebook), but by users, who can buy virtual NFT pieces of land in exchange for cryptocurrencies. In practice, many users are still multinationals, because these lands cost millions. Fashion Week takes place primarily in the fashion district, which is owned by the publicly traded crypto website Tokens.com. The shows are presented by UNXD, an NFT clothing marketplace and fashion magazine. fashion† Although not immediately a celebration of anti-capitalism and democracy, everyone can enter for free. So you don’t have to have an invitation, like at a real Fashion Week, or to wrap you up
However, it is not very easy to enter either. Even with my work laptop (a new free Macbook Pro) it takes a long time to load the world and sometimes it doesn’t work at all. As a result, I almost missed the entire Dolce & Gabbana show on Thursday. Luckily, none of the dolls out there seem to be my virtual self. in fashion arrive too late.
On Sunday there is a fashion show for the brand The Fabricant, by Dutch designer Amber Jae Slooten. The Fabricant is a world leading brand of NFT clothing, which when you buy it, you can wear it not only on Decentraland, but also on other digital platforms. For example, you can use their futuristic outfits as an instant filter. The brand emerged from dissatisfaction with the world of physical fashion, in which many raw materials are wasted in the disposable nothing. Most NFTs require a lot of power-hungry servers to run, but The Fabricant has opted for inexpensive technology. So making their NFT outfits takes as much energy as sending a tweet, Michaela Larosse, their spokesperson, assures me. This time I will make sure to be behind the computer on time, so I can charge up and have a virtual drink during the pre-show meeting.
I have made an appointment with Aynouk Tan, who I hope can help me understand this phenomenon a little. Aynouk is a Dutch fashion icon, journalist, curator and someone who is present at almost every fashion event. In real life, her outfits are colorful sculptures and she is the radiant centerpiece of any space she enters. In the metaverse she still moves a bit awkwardly and has had to make do with standard clothing options. She wears a cozy orange/green ensemble, complete with skirt, mustache, and speedy glasses. For her, that’s a little formal, but she still had fun making the avatar despite the limitations. “When she was making that doll, she had to choose whether she wanted to be a boy or a girl. How old fashioned. Fortunately, you can do everything in style,” she says on the phone as we navigate the runway on our screen.
Aynouk also finds the Metaverse Fashion Week setting too conventional. “Real life is copied, there is Fashion Week and there is a parade. In my opinion, such a digital world has much more possibilities to show fashion.” When the show starts, it turns out that it is, in fact, not optimal. Models on The Fabricant show are people who can buy their own NFT clothes for free on a special website. personalize The fashion house only gets a percentage if they sell it. That’s cute, but it’s hard for the viewer to see what’s being used. The models are quite far away, and the wildly spinning spotlights are more distracting than helpful.
The runway show soon ends, after which our attention turns to the other parade-goers. Every once in a while, Aynouk points out a few catches: people with wings in sexy outfits, someone with a green head. “Like a real fashion show, I am intrigued by the other visitors: who are you, where are you from? I think there are very different people here than in the physical fashion world,” says Aynouk. Of those who know a lot about computers. You really have to be a bit of a nerd to get here.” This nerd also has a downside, as it happens when we try to start conversations with visitors. Aynouk compliments a visitor on his outfit, but he doesn’t respond. Another visitor asks, “Do you like my look too?” As Aynouk tells me that she doesn’t really like him, the doll types, “Answer please,” after which she disappears. Other dolls in expensive clothes stand only a little, as if the person controlling them is not at the computer at all. You rarely find them as indifferent as these empty shells in real life.
In addition to socially awkward avatars, on Decentraland you meet influencers and people trying to sell you something. While networking at actual fashion week is a sophisticated game of seduction and alcoholic intoxication, the marketing here is straightforward. For example, I spent time with The Holy Ones, a prominent sect of robed and bearded avatars affiliated with a gambling producer. When I ask where her outfit comes from, I’m directed to her Twitter, where I can also buy a robe for just under two hundred dollars and join her club. No, thanks. The Italian clothing designer NFT I later strike up with also seems to be hanging around here mainly to advertise his own creations, although I do have a fairly pleasant conversation with him.
There are also visitors who have dressed in cheaper digital outfits, but no less spectacular. For example, there is someone who has bought a pair of luminous wings for about 21 euros. In addition to showing off their NFT clothes, people spend a lot of time talking about digital real estate and praising the virtual world. They say things like “The architecture is going crazy!” and “The potential is infinite.” That could be a genuine surprise because this is his first time, or it could be related to certain interests – after all, the Metaverse will only be a success if enough people believe in it.
When a woman in a Balenciaga-style screen hat invites us to an after party, we move to a building further up Decentraland. It’s pleasantly busy and my avatar seems to be able to shuffle digitally just fine. Another cult member has joined the game. In addition, visitors come from all over the world, as it turns out when asked in the chat where each one comes from. Brazil, Bombay, Austria, California, Canada, Casablanca. Still, this is not an impromptu party for those who met the right people during the show, but rather a promotional event for StyleXchange, a platform that sells NFT digital sneakers ($500) and exclusive dresses ($1,500), among others. stuff. Over the audio you can hear one of their employees welcoming us and giving us a password for a free cloak.
Meanwhile, Aynouk is still busy with her quest to get to know the people in the Metaverse better. She compliments an avatar standing in a corner on her outfit (a breastplate), but is once again ignored. “Hello everyone, I’m trying to make some contact,” she writes in the chat. A Beto Arruda, dressed in free luminescent Metaverse Fashion Week merchandise, wants to talk to her. “Do you come here more often?” Aynouk asks. But Beto (who, according to her Instagram, is vegan and holds a black belt in jiu-jitsu) is also new and the conversation quickly ends. Aynouk finally gives up having a drink with friends. “Out in the real world.”
“I can see the potential of these kinds of universes,” Aynouk concludes before leaving. “You can be much more than in real life. In fact, we already do: on Instagram you are also a kind of fantasy figure. What you are wearing in the photo will be seen by more people than what you are wearing in real life. I find that really liberating: a multiform identity. And here you can also talk to people you don’t normally talk to: you widen your circle. It’s frustrating that conversations don’t start, so the technology could work a little better.”
I stay for a while and have fun with the Italo and the dance button, and my patience is rewarded. A little later I have my first longest metaverse conversation with a stranger, via audio. My interlocutor also seems quite frustrated with the wooden talk that is the norm here. “Because nobody talks?” he yells with an English, Scottish, or Irish accent, but mostly misty. He is wearing a bathing suit and moccasins, as if he had just come out of some leisure street on the Spanish coast.
I guess he looks like that in real life too, because he doesn’t seem to be a big fan of experimenting with your identity. “I want to know why you dress like a woman but sound like a man”, is the first thing he asks me when I strike up a conversation with him. Next, he mostly shows interest in my potential digital real estate, my potential crypto, and the path to a potential metaverse brothel. The first lively party slowly empties out during our conversation. “Living in Amsterdam and not going to the Bulldog is like living in Thailand and not going to the ladyboys”, is the wisdom that my interlocutor utters before I too withdraw and transport myself to the central catwalk. Unfortunately, the tourist has the same idea. “What’s going on everyone!” sounds over audio.
Decentraland’s democratic ideal is comprehensive, but there’s also something to be said for the exclusivity of a true Fashion Week, I think as I close my laptop. I’ll be back later for the Grimes concert, the only unmistakable celebrity I know here. A giantess five times larger than the other dolls, she stands untouched on a cloud of glitter. As Grimes’s avatar sings a highly eclectic ensemble with his voice constantly changing, the audience climbs the stairs around him. They speculate on what the real Grimes is up to right now. “Feeding his baby, probably.”
The Grimes concert was an experience, and despite the many frustrating charging sessions, I did have a bit of a party feel at Decentraland at times. Still, I wonder if people will really go here for fun in the future, and not just to promote their own crypto and NFT projects. While a good VR feature could help a lot (it’s being worked on), it doesn’t give you hope that there are already tourists here who want to misbehave with impunity behind the facade of an avatar. Therefore, my personal trend prediction is that the Metaverse will very quickly follow Chatroulette, Clubhouse, and Habbo Hotel.