PUMA NYFW BlackStation

Fashion and tech make perfect pairing for SS23

NFTS are set to become the coveted accessory of choice according to this autumn’s fashion month

By yasmin arrigo

From virtual avatars, to augmented reality, NFTs and digital wearables, the fashion houses showing at New York to London, Milan and Paris are rewriting their once physical-only narrative with a season of shows that are interwoven with new technology to showcase their collections.

Kicking off with NYFW where luxury brands harnessed the power of new platforms to engage their global communities, through Web3, blockchain and gaming innovations. Puma took to the digital runway to mark the brand’s first return to NYFW since its Fenty collaboration in 2017. With its physical show synchronised with a digital experience on Black Station, its new 3D online space, the brand unveiled its two new sneakers, the NFRNO and Fastroid, both of which started out as digital designs before evolving into physical kicks.

Just don’t call it ‘Phygital’

Indeed, NFTs proved to be the accessory of choice for many a designer, keen to tempt digital-savvy luxury consumers to engage with their brands. Vivienne Tam partnered with Cyberkongz and Bored Ape Yacht Club to use avatars from their NFT collections in her designs, while Afterpay teamed up with ALTU by Joseph Altuzarra, AnOnlyChild, Jonathan Simkhai, Kim Shui and The Blonds to offer limited-edition NFTs. Bridging from digital into the physical NYFW experience, each one-of-a-kind designer NFT unlocked IRL access to shows, afterparties and designer meet-and-greets.

And while the metaverse remains in vogue at NYFW, the rising trend for brands to explore AR and NFT innovations while enhancing the physical runway show experience was clearly evident. Karl Lagerfeld’s new avatar collection was keenly hyped and keen fashionistas flocked to the dedicated pop-up in Soho, NYC while designer Rebecca Minkoff rewarded NFT holders with exclusive access to her show, which featured projection mapping and digital imagery. The show weaved virtual and physical realms together, underscoring a theme that is developing globally as fashion brands embrace new tech innovations and platforms to help launch their newest collections.

Tommy revisits the Factory

Leading the metaverse charge and eager to meet audiences either in-game, through social or in virtual platforms, as well as IRL is Tommy Hilfiger. When the brand returned to New York for the first time in three years, with a show inspired by Andy Warhol’s Factory days, it ensured a global online audience could also show up, with a livestream on Roblox complete with avatars walking a digital catwalk. Meanwhile, the IRL audience were greeted with AR-generated video screens and given a chance to engage with Tommy Factory NFTs and other digital art through their phones.

Of course, the brand is no newcomer to Roblox, having made its debut back in December 2021, when it launched a co-created virtual collection of 30 items, which it then followed up with a launch this June of a community space named Tommy Play. Referencing the brand’s street culture heritage, the Brooklyn-inspired space featured mini games, activities like BMX bike-riding and 'Tommy Coins', which could be collected and traded for virtual wearable items such as Tommy Jeans garments, bikes, helmets, headphones and accessories. The brand also participated in the first Metaverse Fashion Week hosted by Decentraland earlier this year, demonstrating an eagerness to explore the opportunities and a boldness to be first.

London explores multiverses

Onto London and a more muted event as Royal Protocol was observed, with the LFW dedicated to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and continuing but with pared back events and a focus on the business of fashion. The event kicked off with the announcement of David Pemsel as the British Fashion Council’s new chair, succeeding Farfetch’s Stephanie Phair. An executive board member since 2016 and CEO of ScienceMagic.Inc, Pemsel is also the owner of ScienceMagic.Studios, which explores Web3 for brands, talent and their audiences. It’s an appointment that underscores the importance of digital innovation and a more democratic approach to fashion via the ever-expanding online multiverses.

One of the most intriguing partnerships was that of Wild Capture, a technology and services company for the creation of digital humans, and The Immersive KIND NFT Gallery and 3D Fashion House, a multidisciplinary collective exploring “tomorrow” through creative technology. Creating bespoke digital human performance models for artists Tetiana Rozmoritsa, Yashvanth Kumar, and Aya Skikh whose designs were included in the collective’s show, the futuristic experience, hosted on Spatial, united designers, artists, musicians, DJs, and innovators from around the world to explore the future of the fashion industry through a Web3.0 lens.

Gucci and Casadei in Milan metaverse

With a raft of new creative directors leading the shows from prominent fashion houses, Milan Fashion Week S/S23 enjoyed a vibrant return to form with heritage Italian brands embracing multiple livestreaming options and virtual spaces. Casadei celebrated the 10th anniversary of its iconic ‘Blade’ stiletto – the heel that takes its name from sci-fi classic Blade Runner, by inviting guests with a futuristic immersive virtual experience. After entering a verdant outdoor space, guests donned VR headsets to enter the brand’s Decentraland metropolis complete with skyscrapers, mega screens, and neon lights, and experience its NFT debut.

Gucci had audiences seeing double with creative director Alessandro Michele paying homage to twins at the Gucci Twinsburg show, named affectionately after the Ohio town that holds a yearly twins festival. The playful show commenced with models walking down the catwalk before a wall was lifted to show their ‘twin’ on the other side in the same outfit. And rather than keeping the spectacle an entirely IRL Italian experience, the luxury brand livestreamed the show on Tencent’s Super QQ Show, similar to Animal Crossing, where users could tune into the show via a coastal music plaza on the virtual platform. The brand’s desire to be experimental will be echoed by new CEO for Gucci Vault and Metaverse Ventures, Robert Triefus, who has been tasked with scaling up the fashion house’s metaverse and gaming strategies.

The democratisation of PFW

And finally in Paris, French luxury fashion house Balmain created a Web3 hub, called Balmain Thread, to bring together its NFT projects on one platform and open access to exclusive products and experiences to members of the community. The move is one aimed at democratising fashion, with a concert livestreamed on Balmain.com, giving guests a chance to transform their favorite Balmain Festival fashion moment into their own unique NFT. It’s a bid to widen access into the world of luxury fashion, revoking previous elite exclusivity barriers and welcoming in a new generation of digital-savvy fashionistas.

Undoubtedly the digitisation of fashion will only continue to augment, season upon season, with a rise in streaming services welcoming digital audiences in to online spaces, affording runway access that previously belonged to a privileged and predominantly VIP few. It’s a strategy that will prove itself essential over the next few years as an industry that has faced turbulent times due to economic instabilities, supply chain issues and the rise of a more conscious consumer and one that remains in flux.


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