Is virtual reality a fad? Sure — just as much as the Internet and mobile phones were a fad, said experts from the worlds of Hollywood, venture capital and fashion photography. At the very least, virtual reality is a trending topic at South by Southwest Interactive, with multiple panels devoted to the topic.
In a discussion on virtual reality’s effect on fashion, Maveron venture capitalist Anarghya Vardhana, film producer Kevin Cornish and fashion photographer Steven Sebring shared their perspectives on the future.
Vardhana said it’s not a passing phase. She pointed to the millions of investment dollars (and billions if you consider Facebook’s purchase of Oculus) going toward virtual reality, which creates an immersive experience using headsets ranging from a $5 Google Cardboard to a $600 or more Oculus Rift. She called it, like the Web and mobile technology before it, the next big platform shift that touches every industry.
“Not doing VR would be like not doing mobile years ago,” Vardhana said. “The people thinking about VR are the ones leading the way into the next revolution.”
The world of fashion is particularly ripe for adopting virtual reality, particularly in marketing and e-commerce, because of its ability to create interactive, immersive experiences, said Cornish, who recently worked with Taylor Swift to create a video. In fashion, he said, you want beautiful textures, colors, lighting — “you want it to feel cinematic,” he said — and that is what virtual reality allows.
Plus, he said, because it’s so immersive, virtual reality experiences can be incredibly emotional and persuasive, which would come in handy in communicating a brand message or ad campaign.
“People talk about it being an ‘empathy machine,’” he said.
Still, he said most brands that have thus far experimented with it have done it more so for the media coverage than getting in front of the customer. (He advises brands that are interested in creating something to first consider if the virtual reality experience is going to be 10 times better than the same concept shot for YouTube.)
Plus, Sebring said, although “fashion is about fantasy and the future, it’s the slowest of all industries.”
In addition to the challenges of slow adoption by both brands and consumers, the panelists said the clunky, not-too-attractive headsets were another hurdle.
Sebring compared it to the consumer flop of Google Glass. “If Yves Saint Laurent was around, I could see Google Glass being super cool. That was one of their biggest downfalls is that it looked nerdy.” To that end, he suggested that tech companies creating virtual reality headsets work together with fashion designers like Karl Lagerfeld or Miuccia Prada to design the hardware.
In the meantime, Vardhana and Cornish said 2016 should be a time when brands are considering what their pilot program in virtual reality might be, and said 2017 was more likely the year that it would become more mainstream. And when it does, it stands to change the landscape, in fashion and beyond.
“I’ll bring up the fashion show,” Sebring said. “If people can see it in VR, that’s a big game-changer, and people are looking for something new. Lots of people are thinking now that the fashion show is toward the end of its life, but maybe being able to see it in a VR state is a big thing?”