The Future of Virtual and Augmented Reality in Fashion

There’s more to virtual and augmented reality than gaming. Fashion is just getting started with immersive technology, creating out-of-this-world experiences and revolutionising the way the industry operates
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“All the world’s a stage,” Shakespeare famously wrote. Oh, if only he were alive to experience today’s immersive technologies, which merge the realms of reality and fantasy. There have been two prominent developments in this field: virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). The former removes us from our surroundings and immerses us in another; the latter enhances the real world, allowing us to perform a number of functions. Think Oculus Rift vs Google Glass. These technologies are forcing us to think of fashion beyond the physicality of clothing and accessories. 


Left: A still from Spatium, a virtual reality film by director Alex Lambert, which delves into the structure of a Philip Treacy hat.

But how can something tactile be translated into a purely digital experience? Immersive experiences have been met with their fair share of scepticism and challenges. Businesses are generally afraid that technology will render traditional operations and actual interactions useless. “There is a lot of research that goes into building haptics, which allow users to virtually sense materials and their stiffness, but they won’t replace the feel and touch of the real material – and why should they?” says Adrian Leu, CEO of London-based production company, Inition, who has collaborated with Gareth Pugh and Selfridges; produced the Philip Treacy fashion film, Spatium; and, most recently, created a virtual catwalk with Topshop. “Older generations are naturally a little bit reluctant in adopting new technologies, but there’s also a challenge with younger audiences, who are perceived to have accelerated learning and are harder to impress,” says Leu. “But a good combination of a wow factor, perceived value and good storytelling can change that.”

There’s been a handful of story-oriented projects this year. To reveal the inspiration behind their February 2017 collection, Burberry recreated its showrooms, artist Henry Moore’s studio as well as the hills of Hertfordshire (where his sculptures are erected) for its in-store VR experience. In a similar fashion, Bulgari captured the architectural references behind the B.Zero1 Design Legend ring by late architect Zaha Hadid. Meanwhile, Gucci’s Pre-Fall 2017 video campaign was shot by Glen Luchford, giving viewers a 360° experience on their mobile devices by moving them around, no VR headsets required. It’s a perfect medium to experience the energy of the dancers in the video who are decked out in looks from the latest collection. But there are also more practical uses of new technology like this: Jaeger-LeCoultre released an AR app, On Your Wrist, that lets you “wear” their timepieces.

This is really where the future lies: in practical applications that go beyond what consumers see and experience. “Some brands are still considering technology only from the experiential point of view,” says Leu. “To them, the focus is on PR and being seen as keeping the pace with the latest technologies. For others, the discussions are about quantifiable return on investment – finding a use for technology that leads to pure application that saves money, time and/or creates new value.” 

Long-term implementation can help to create an efficient, consumer-driven product, serving as a vital step in solving fashion’s sustainability conundrum. “It’s not always about the frontend. The trick is to think about these technologies as embedded with the rest of existing systems and find ways in which they can improve workflows,” says Leu. “Virtual environments can be built to test new products, create aisle arrangements and measure customer behaviour. Crowdsourcing and co-designing also go hand in hand with VR. There are so many aspects where those technologies can help.”

This article first appeared in the June/July 2017 issue of L'Officiel Singapore (out now on Magzter and newsstands). Click here to subscribe.

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