One evening at the beginning of February, British television and radio presenter Maya Jama graced the 73rd British Academy Film Awards red carpet in what looked like a floor-length, powder blue gown. To the naked eye, the Richard Malone-designed look draped across her body with a nod to Grecian style and flair. Minutes later, as Jama appeared on the big screen, onlookers realised that it was, in fact, the world’s first 5G-powered augmented reality dress, which came alive and transformed into a teal-coloured, digital creation that morphed and moved as she interacted with it. Could Malone’s creation be a glimpse of what the future of high fashion will look like? As our challenges of conscious consumption continues, luxury designers are having to rethink every aspect of their creative process – from concept and creation to production and output. Pairing this with the growing influence of digital, fashion houses and designers alike are thinking beyond physical to create new levels of interest using digital methods. This has become especially true since the coronavirus outbreak which has locked most customers down at home. 5 Korean designer labels driving K-fashion’s global expansion “I was excited by the potential of marrying two completely different worlds,” says the London-based designer. “I hoped to highlight a possible shift in red carpet dressing and a way of making technology useful in terms of image.” Karinna Nobbs, futurist and founder of Hot Second, a circular economy concept store and platform that trades physical garments for digital experiences, agrees. “Luxury brands will create products and marketing which flirts with both these groups [physical and digital],” she says. “The future will be about convergence and merging of the two worlds. We will see this polarisation of old-school traditional luxury, which is more analogue and physical, and new generation luxe, which is hyper digital.” What are China’s top KOLs posting about during lockdown? While Malone’s award show look sees the physical garment act as a canvas for digital visualisations, digital-only luxury garments are reimagining how fashionistas consume and sport designer clothing altogether. A quick look back at luxury fashion’s recent trajectory will show that digital clothing is not a nascent concept. Gaming and luxury have become the best of buds in this landscape. Just last year, as part of Louis Vuitton’s collaboration with the e-sports organisation Riot Games, Nicolas Ghesquière created the maison’s first League of Legends prestige skins for one of the game’s champions, Qiyana. How fashion lovers get their fix on Animal Crossing amid Covid-19 Qiyana’s cropped top and high-waisted trousers paired with signature Louis Vuitton accessories were reminiscent of looks seen on the brand’s runway, and afforded young players – who may not have had their turn in experiencing LV’s physical products – exclusive access to the brand’s digital offering via in-game currency earned by unlocking superior levels. Its success in forging deeper connections with younger audiences must have paid off, as the brand followed up with a second skin for another champion, Senna, in February. What’s most intriguing about the LV skins is how they have kick-started a new kind of status symbol in luxury – digital collectibles. The Fabricant, a digital fashion house that made a name for itself in Hong Kong after creating a solely digital collection for I.T as part of the concept store’s 30th anniversary celebrations, is tapping into this emerging luxury movement. The Amsterdam-based fashion label auctioned the first digital couture dress for US$9,500 in New York last year. Dubbed “Iridescence”, the silver bodysuit and transparent coat exists digitally only. It is limited to one owner thanks to blockchain and the design is made to fit the buyer via “digital tailoring”, which perhaps explains its high price tag. The brand’s founder, Kerry Murphy, demystifies this virtual process. After receiving a photo of the owner, a digital double is created as a 3D fitting model, on which the garment is draped and fit, before it is rendered out as a photorealistic image without the double, and composited on the owner’s photo. “If executed cleverly like in the digital art world, a digital clothing piece could be an asset which appreciates due to rarity and demand,” Nobbs says. How the 1990s influenced haute couture’s spring/summer collection But true luxury comes down to the construct. High-fashion garments that exist in the physical form may have obvious elements of craftsmanship that the keen luxury eye has come to know. Yet, beyond virtual tailoring, digital adds a whole new layer of dexterity. Malone’s custom piece was hand-sewn with more than 100,000 stitches to hide the body-length wires and sensor bulbs, and took more than 250 hours to complete. But a 3D augmented reality version of the dress also had to be designed as an extension of the real dress. “The craft is still there,” Nobbs says. “It takes 3D designers years to hone their skills in rendering different types of fabrics and how they drape and move on the body – just look at the movie industry and how much CGI artists are valued.” Are luxury brands rushing too soon to lure Chinese buyers? Ghesquière, too, considers that digital requires as much work and creativity as physical forms. “The skins were made-to-measure for each of the characters in terms of their personality and history, and the looks were adapted to each champion in terms of silhouette, movement, colours and details such as accessories and embroideries,” according to Louis Vuitton. From a luxury standpoint, the concepts and details that go into a digital garment may require similar skills, but the language and ways of creating is where the innovation and agility comes in. “We talk a lot about the materials but when we talk about materials, we actually try to figure out what is a beautiful material in the digital space,” Murphy says. And despite looking deceptively real, the most exclusive thing about digital fashion is the capability to create what is not possible in the physical space. “We don’t want to recreate something that can exist in reality,” Murphy says. “We want to create something that only exists in the digital space, something that is beautiful and has an emotional connection to the consumer because that’s what luxury fashion essentially is.” What lies ahead is an interlinked world. Soon, physical layers of clothing will be complimented by augmented layers. Luxury designers will host mixed reality runway collections featuring physical and virtual looks. And made-to-measure digital clothing will become valuable mementos that stand the test of time. As the boundaries between physical and digital blur, luxury fashion’s future will for sure be pixelated. Want more stories like this? Sign up here . Follow STYLE on Facebook , Instagram , YouTube and Twitter . 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