It’s not enough to have fashion weeks happening almost continually all around the physical world (Berlin just wrapped). Now there is going to be a fashion week in the virtual world, too.
Kicking off Wednesday is Metaverse Fashion Week, debuting in Decentraland, one of the internet’s 3D virtual worlds. Opened in February 2020, Decentraland is overseen by the nonprofit Decentraland Foundation, uses mana as its crypto currency, allows its estimated 562,000 monthly active users to buy virtual land, visit virtual amusement parks and more. Its marketplace has racked up $20 million in sales to date.
Tommy Hilfiger, Dolce & Gabbana, Estée Lauder, Etro, Gary McQueen, Yahoo, Acura and dozens of other brands, more than 50 in all, will participate in the four-day, 24-7 Metaverse Fashion Week event, which will feature a virtual Selfridges opening on Wednesday, as well as virtual catwalk shows, pop-up stores and giveaways, designer wearables and phy-gital products linked to NFTs; panels and exhibitions, musical performances and parties Thursday through Sunday.
The event is the brainchild of Decentraland Foundation creative director Sam Hamilton and Metaverse Fashion Week head Giovanna Casimiro, who has a background in digital art, pattern design and wearables.
The two worked with close to 60 developers, as well as the brands’ own teams, on the project. And while there will be similarities to IRL fashion weeks (attendees will dress up, or their avatars will), there will also be notable differences: anyone can be a designer and sit in the front row. And the street style? Your fit doesn’t even need to be human. (Which may mean it ends up looking more like Comic Con than Paris Fashion Week.)
Here, Hamilton and Casimiro talk about the inspiration for the event, their unorthodox views on the ownership of it (no naming rights are being sold here), what attendees can expect, and what they might see on the catwalk. (Decentraland is accessible via browser, after the user installs a plug-in. A digital wallet is needed for the full experience, but users can also join as guests.)
WWD: What inspired this event? Was it driven by brand interest?
Sam Hamilton: We’ve done fashion shows in the past with our community of creators, and we saw a massive wave in [avatar] wearable sales last year — $500,000 in user-generated creations sold on our marketplace. We could see the fashion industry taking note, being disrupted and starting to ask questions, and we felt a wave of fashion coming into the metaverse. So we thought it was the right time to onboard brands. This year, fashion week is in Decentraland, but we feel it will be on the calendar for years to come, and it won’t just be about Decentraland, it will be all kinds of metaverses, styles and aesthetics. But basically, it felt like the right time to do this and it has proved true because the amount of interest we’ve had from brands has been overwhelming.
WWD: IRL fashion weeks showcase collections a season ahead, and are geared toward the media and retail industries, but also toward consumers on social media. What’s the audience for this?
S.H.: It’s a bit of both, the industry wants to learn about the metaverse and this is a great way to do it. A lot of brands are planning strategy beyond fashion week, so this has been a great way for them to get on board and meet us. But ultimately what we do is for the community, so it’s very user-focused. It’s free, everything is available to everyone. There will be some spectacular shows. There will be wearables available for our top users, they want to see that kind of content. And there will be huge buzz on social media.
Giovanna Casimiro: I also wanted to add when you look at traditional fashion weeks and catwalks, they have seasons in mind because we have seasons in the physical world.…We don’t have seasons in the metaverse, so that’s another abstraction — do we need seasons, what are the seasons and how do they play in the metaverse is different as well.
S.H.: And we have a global community, and the seasons are different from Argentina to Australia, Europe to the States.
WWD: So there’s probably not a huge discussion about wearability in the metaverse?
S.H.: I see a lot of people being much more extravagant in the metaverse than in real life.
WWD: Will every activation or show have commerce?
S.H.: Not at all, some are just doing it as an experience or a bit of entertainment. Some people are just selling Decentraland wearables through the Decentraland marketplace, others are selling phy-gital items linked to an NFT. There are different types of commerce and free giveaways, and some who are just exhibiting in the metaverse to dip their toe in and see how it feels.
WWD: What was the first brand to sign on?
S.H.: I’m not going to say from the point of view for Decentraland, because we’re an open platform and the community designers are just as important as the Dolce & Gabbana designers, let’s say. We want to give everyone a fair chance and not put the limelight on one person.
WWD: That’s the opposite of IRL fashion weeks, where certain shows are programmed at night because they are blockbuster events. Metaverse Fashion Week is also going around the clock, right? Will there be events happening at the same time?
S.H.: The Chinese community is building stuff and the Japanese community, too. What you said about not being the same as traditional fashion weeks, we are building a brand new world here and we have a chance to make things better if we can, so it’s important to follow some things that happen in the traditional world, but also push the boundaries.
WWD: Is there a central catwalk or venue?
S.H.: There is one central catwalk where most of the luxury brands and most of the digital brands are having their shows. But this is the metaverse and that changes daily and it will be different with each brand.
G.C.: And we have another secondary catwalk that will host mainstream brands as well.
S.H.: And a third community catwalk.
WWD: I’m interested in the third catwalk. I just wrote a story about the scene outside the shows being as interesting as what’s inside. Is this an effort to showcase something like that?
S.H.: We have designers who have come in with no fashion experience and made incredible things. And metaverse fashion is something different, you can have a goldfish bowl as your head or be a dragon, so it’s beyond just clothes. So we gave a space to developers who work on events in our community and we said: “Hey, build your own area, like get whichever community wearable makers you want to have involved, have a competition, have some pop-up shops”…So it’s a micro version of fashion week, but run by the community. Because you are right, the fringe events are sometimes the most interesting.
WWD: Will there be a way for attendees to peacock? A sidewalk, street or red carpet?
S.H.: People can wear outfits they buy or other designers are creating for them; people can take screenshots as selfies. We also have one of those branded boards…
WWD: A step and repeat. What about the celebrity front-row aspect?
S.H.: It’s actually quite difficult to build celebrities in Decentraland…it takes a lot of work and focus to do one. We have had celebrity activations in Decentraland and we had quite a few people who wanted to do that for this, but with so much going on, it wasn’t possible to focus in on that.
WWD: So this will be a celebrity-free fashion week?
S.H.: We have celebrities who come into Decentraland and they may be there but there’s no VIP treatment. We’re treating everyone the same. And the way Decentraland is set up everyone will get a front-row seat.
WWD: That’s quite different, too, because a lot of the focus of fashion week is about who is there, where they are sitting…
S.H.: There are celebrities in the NFT space as well, though, and if someone turns up as a Bored Ape or a Crypto Punk then maybe they are going to get the celebrity treatment.
WWD: You said before that while this is happening in Decentraland this season, it may happen in another metaverse in the future. So you are not keen to have ownership of Metaverse Fashion Week?
S.H.: Our philosophy is not to have ownership of anything. We don’t have any competitors, we are building the next generation of the internet, we are all doing that together. A lot of other projects see us as competitive but we don’t see that at all. We are trying to direct it in the way we think is philosophically best and we build everything with open standard, so everything we write, anybody could come along and copy and make their own version of what we do. We’re giving it to the world. There’s no point in trying to have ownership over something when we’re at the beginning of this. It’s the first time the script has been rewritten in 25 years. The Internet in the beginning was anything we dream can happen and maybe it isn’t really the dream we thought and a lot of people think it’s broken. We are trying to guide it in a new direction and fix those problems.
WWD: So there is no transactional aspect to this for you?
S.H.: Some of the brands are paying 3D developers. I only have a small team, and there is only so much we can take on. We’ve outsourced some of the work to 3D developers, designers and coders, and some of the brands are paying them. There’s no element of sponsorship. Decentraland Foundation is picking up the bill for this because we feel it’s a really good initiative. We also are working with partners who are doing heavy lifting themselves. It’s a big production, there are probably 50 or 60 individuals or studios making this happen and we are just directing it.
WWD: So you wouldn’t be mad if Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta in a few months said it is having a fashion week?
S.H.: No, we see this all the time. When you are out front in uncharted territory, people follow you and that’s fair enough. And that’s going to happen. In a way that means we’re winning because if we are guiding the way things are going or how people are thinking that’s great. What would be nice is if Meta said let’s do Metaverse Fashion Week cross platform in Decentraland, Meta and the other 100 metaverses that pop up. We are a nonprofit organization as well.
WWD: So there is no Moët & Chandon step and repeat or Covergirl Studio?
S.H.: Well, we should have some Champagne. That’s a great idea for next time, actually.
WWD: Have you seen the designs? What if there are issues with hacking logos or raunchiness? Are there any standards?
G.C.: We are not imposing any standards, but we do have our curators’ committee, [and] there are certain rules any wearable that goes through our marketplace has to go through. But the brands are free to create what they want and from the designs we’ve seen, we don’t have any issue. So there is no reason to go through those points. We’re trying to be as open as we can so the designers can be free. Some brands are adapting existing pieces, others are creating entirely new pieces for the metaverse.
S.H.: It’s important to note brands own their IP on our platform, we don’t take any percentage from what they do and the curator committee is there to make sure there is no IP infringement. The committee has 13 people and they are voted on by the community. They work for the DAO, the Decentralized Autonomous Organization, which is run by the community. Everything is voted on by them and most things are automated, but they do have some human resources.
WWD: Another thing we’ve seen at fashion week is political statements. Is there room in this for the waving of a Ukrainian flag, for example?
S.H.: We wouldn’t censor anything like that. There’s already been some initiatives run by the community that have raised money for that situation; the Decentraland Foundation is completely neutral, we wouldn’t ever try to stop somebody’s voice.
WWD: Are designers making avatars of themselves?
S.H.: They have been asking how to go in and make avatars, so I’m sure they will jump in and dress up in wearables available to them, but nobody is making a custom head.
G.C.: On the catwalk, anything can happen: It’s going to be very imaginative with faces and bodies being changed.
WWD: Do you see Metaverse Fashion Week being a better, more diverse version of fashion week?
G.C.: Just the fact we have so many communities of creators involved already makes it diverse because they have the freedom to express their creations with their community with a sense of belonging, so they are already bringing a bigger discourse that includes all of us. Second, we have space for brands from different parts of the globe.…And we try to keep a balance, we have big names in fashion, but also an entire street dedicated to new designers. Some of them are emerging, some of them are established, some of them are more edgy. One of the words in the beginning from our deck we were sending to brands was “diversity,” and I hope it keeps growing as people get more involved.
WWD: What about diversity in race and size?
S.H.: You can be anyone you want in the metaverse, it’s beyond race, sex, size, it goes into people are robots, people are animals, or abstract items you never imagined. People blow our minds all the time. And that’s included in our catwalk. One of the final catwalk shows, nobody is human. I don’t want to give too much away, but that’s a special thing. You don’t know who is behind an avatar, so you can be whoever you want and that’s great for inclusivity and for people expressing who they want to be. I don’t think anyone imagines this is better than real life, this is not competing with real life, or trying to be a replacement for real life. It’s part of entertainment, and it’s a new medium. Web3 is an interactive, fully immersive internet that’s just another way of humans interacting on a social level.
WWD: Another part of IRL fashion is criticism. Do you welcome it?
S.H.: Absolutely, we’ve grown up with criticism. We started building something really ambitious, and opened it up to the community early on when it was buggy, had not enough users and content and we kept going. And we’re still really early. We’re building something that is for the next decades and this is the very beginning. So I do expect some people will come in and not think the graphics are up to scratch, but it’s an ambitious project…
WWD: Or maybe they will think what comes down the runway is bad.
S.H.: Well, we all have our personal fashion tastes. There are some things I think are amazing and there are some things I wouldn’t be seen in the metaverse wearing.