LONDON — A hyper-realistic digital copy of the JW Anderson patchwork cardigan made famous by Harry Styles last year is going under the virtual hammer next month, the first NFT of its kind to be sold at auction.
A new NFT auction platform called Xydrobe is organizing the auction of The Colourblock Patchwork Cardigan, which it has painstakingly replicated, yarn-by-yarn, in 3D, and digitally “knitted” into the six colored patches — each of which has a different texture and pattern — using similar software and techniques to those on the Marvel and “Star Wars” film franchises.
The cardigan took more than 300 hours to complete and was based on images of the sweater, as well as the original pattern, which designer Jonathan Anderson released on social media last year after Harry Styles was pictured wearing it during a rehearsal for his appearance on NBC’s “The Today Show.”
Only three sweaters exist: One is on display at the Victoria & Albert Museum, another belongs to Styles, while the third lives in the JW Anderson archive. The fourth and final one will be the NFT version.
The 48-hour auction will begin on Dec. 12, and the cardigan has a reserve price of 10,000 pounds. The money from the sale will go to the LGBTQ charity AKT, which Anderson supports and which focuses on young people ages 16 to 25 in the U.K. who are facing or experiencing homelessness, or living in a hostile environment.
While the winning bidder won’t be able to don the sweater in real life, Xydrobe will be able to show the new owner “wearing” it on screen, in digital films or in holograms. Once the sweater is purchased, the platform will transfer it to the owner’s digital wallet, and will also be able to store the garment via blockchain technology.
Xydrobe describes itself as the only platform selling “perfect 3D copies of already existing, world-renowned luxury collectibles.”
The JW Anderson sweater is just the beginning for Xydrobe: The company’s principals said in an interview they are partnering with a number of luxury and fashion brands to create a new product category, and revenue stream, based on one-of-a-kind digital merchandise sold as NFTs.
The virtual merchandise can be based on archive designs, current models or new ones, depending on the preference of the brand.
Xydrobe said its mission is to “honor” luxury design, without compromise, and to provide an “unparalleled collectible offering.” The company said its level of detail, and craftsmanship, has yet to be seen in the digital fashion space.
The December auction will mark a number of firsts: The first NFT from JW Anderson; the first auction lot from Xydrobe, and the first NFT of this kind.
Xydrobe’s founders — Nell Lloyd-Malcolm, whose background is in visual effects in film; Isabella Gallucci, and Michael Pegrum — plan to deal with one brand at a time, and to create a singular, bespoke backdrop for each auction.
Xydrobe sees itself as a way for brands to “sell their IP digitally, create revenue and not compromise on design. We are facilitators for luxury brands in a very curated space,” said Pegrum, Xydrobe’s marketing director, adding that NFT merchandise is set to take on increasing importance as the metaverse gains traction with consumers.
The founders said in an interview that customers for Xydrobe’s NFT merchandise could be high net worth individuals “who recognize the value of NFTs, and want to own these items as investment pieces, like fine art.”
They could also be existing luxury customers who may want other versions of physical merchandise that they can use on social, or for a hologram.
Lloyd-Malcolm had worked with similar visual effects software, such as Houdini, when she was an artist and VFX producer in the film industry. She said during the interview that she’s used to the “meshing of worlds.”
Creating the sweater, she added, was not that different from building a CGI animal: Digital artists start with the skeleton, and then add the skin and fur patterns. Indeed, when it came time to add the furry patches on the JW Anderson sweater, the software allowed the team to work with a virtual tapered thread “that gives the impression of wool fur.”
Lloyd-Malcolm said Xydrobe takes great pride in its creations, “and we want to work closely with brands and for them to trust us. We presented this project to JW Anderson every single week, and ensured that every little stitch was as it is” on the original garment.
She said there was no attempt at airbrushing, and the team at Xydrobe said it “honored” all of the imperfections from the original piece.
Xydrobe’s plan is to auction one item per month, on average: The JW Anderson auction will take place in December, while the Xydrobe team will pick up again in February, with an auction timed to coincide with London Fashion Week.
Asked why he chose to partner with Xydrobe, Anderson said while a brand’s presence online and on social media has been essential for years, “I think the pandemic just accelerated how important that is. It’s the future. I still think stores are incredibly important for a brand, but a digital presence is paramount.”
Anderson said his brand has produced many important pieces in its relatively short history, “but the cardigan, in particular, became iconic because of social media. And so it just felt right that this jumper that exploded online should also be recreated as an NFT.”
The photo of the British singer and former One Direction band member rehearsing for his performance on “The Today Show” went viral last year on social media.
TikTok fans took inspiration from his sartorial choice by knitting their own versions of the cardigan and posting it on the social media platform paired with songs from Styles’ 2019 album “Fine Line.”
Many users even posted their craftwork in multiple parts, showing each step of the intricate patchwork design process.
Anderson supported the challenge, posting the pattern so that fans could knit the cardigan. The pattern has since received 86 million views.
This is not the first time that Anderson has ventured into the metaverse: During lockdown last year, the designer partnered with the augmented reality start-up HoloMe, which helped his team create holograms of live models wearing pieces from his men’s spring and resort 2021 collections.
HoloMe was then able to livestream those collections into people’s homes and offices — wherever they happened to be. Buyers could see, photograph — and even film — the models through their mobile phones via the HoloMe app. They could also zoom in on garments to examine the fabric and styling details.