When Melbourne designer Kristine Walker was asked to explore what her fashion label The Human Chameleon would look like in a digital future, she wasn’t sure what that entailed.
Her mainly millinery pieces already had an air of strange sci-fi to them: for one Derby Day at the races, she wore a silver lizard on her head, adding a Mohawk, gold pom-poms and some veiling before calling it a headpiece. Could the digital world offer more than her imagination?
The answer was yes. As part of Creative Victoria’s Creative Exchange Event at Melbourne International Games Week, where she will take part in a panel, Walker has had to ask herself a further question: what happens to the ages-old industry of fashion when it collides with the future of virtual reality, gaming and technology?
Walker worked closely with Melbourne-based XR (Extended Reality) studio Ignition Immersive’s CEO Darren Vukasinovic, who used digital animation to give her headpieces a “second life” when viewed through a custom-made app. For instance: someone passing her might notice her plain, polka-dot headband, but if they looked at her through their smartphone (with the app), the polka dots transform into an animated magical garden. Or, if she was wearing her lizard piece, it would change colour and come to life, interacting with the world around it.
“I’ve always thought my pieces are too fashionable to be costume and too costume-y to be fashion, so I pivot between the two,” says Walker. “I have these crazy ideas that are sometimes a bit much for people, but this is translating those storytelling ideas in a more wearable way.”
It might sound like a niche form of gameplay – the way grown-ups walk around the park playing Pokémon Go on their phones – but there is a whole scope of possibility for the fashion world, especially since it has been plagued with systemic problems of sustainability. Technology might be the way out.
Karen Webster, Principal and Dean at LCI Melbourne (an art and design institute), had her mind blown when she visited the website of digital fashion house The Fabricant, which creates digital-only clothing. “They’re working with brands across the globe [including Puma, Adidas and Tommy Hilfiger] but the actual product doesn’t exist in the real.”
Huh? Webster points to one of The Fabricant’s creations, the “Iridescence” dress, which sold for $US9500 two years ago. What can you do with a digital dress? The one-of-a-kind outfit was rendered onto an image of the buyer, who was then free to post it on social media. As Webster explains, “It creates the perfect Instagram moment, exclusive to her.” Not all selfies will cost as much: 3D artist Mikaela Stafford did a digital collaboration with the brand Injury; her gender-neutral jumpsuit is a relative bargain, at $US45. (The information on the website includes the following: Material – digital soft jersey and polyester. Digital clothes fit all sizes.)
A digital garment means no real-life landfill. But moreover, the technology indicates a future where clothes won’t be produced unnecessarily. Webster imagines that one day “you can go on the website of your favourite brand with an avatar of yourself, and see exactly what a piece looks like on you. Then maybe you can co-create with the brand and say, ‘I really love that pair of trousers, but I’d prefer them in orange rather than cream’.” Brands will only produce their made-to-order clothes, consumers have less chance of purchasing garments they end up disliking, and it also becomes a way to meld the desire to be progressive avant-garde with the time-honoured practise of old-school dressmaking. “Our grandmothers would go to a tailor who would measure you up and it would be really special, and they would then have something they’d keep in their wardrobe for years,” says Webster. “This is bringing that same construction into the 21st century. You’ve got a 360 degree scan of your body and the patternmaking and construction is automated to fit. You wait a few weeks for that garment to be made. And what we will have to learn again, as consumers, is patience.”