After a month of steady hype on social media, digital outlets and the internet’s 2.0 and 3.0 incarnations, the first-ever Metaverse Fashion Week (MVFW) debuted March 24. For some, the fashion extravaganza — which took place on the Decentraland platform and featured some of the world’s most recognizable luxury brands — was being pegged as a sort of Web3democratization of global high fashion.
Instead of shows being highly-exclusive events available only to the most well-heeled, well-connected or well-known industry luminaries, anyone with a Decentraland avatar could log in and perch themselves in front of runways, peruse the Luxury Fashion District and attend lavish afterparties.
But for all the anticipation surrounding the first MVFW, the event itself was a nascent product without a definitive proof-of-concept. And like almost everything tottering along in its infancy, it inspired far more questions than answers. How popular was it really? How profitable would it eventually become for fashion labels? What was the relationship between a brand‘s metaverse footprint and the real-world label and its physical clothing lines? Uncertainty abounded.
Here is my best attempt at answering some of those questions and cutting through some of that uncertainty.
1. MVFW 2022 was the beta year
Decentraland saw 108,000 unique visitors across the four days that encompassed MVFW, a figure that does not exclusively represent those avatars engaging with the fashion show. By comparison, the two annual iterations of New York Fashion Week are attended by around 230,000 people combined. But comparing the inaugural MVFW to its real life counterparts is heedless folly; while New York Fashion Week has been around in some form since 1943, Decentraland’s version was just launched this year. In other words, it’s all but impossible to deem the event a success or a failure based on that statistic.
By myriad accounts, the proceedings had plenty of flaws. People complained about glitchy graphics, lagging processing speeds and recurring browser crashes. The week’s main events — the runway shows themselves — were conspicuous for the relatively low level of attendees and the chaotic, unregulated ways they were interacting with their environments (some journalists recounted seeing audience avatars crashing runways in a crudely unsophisticated spectacle). There was, all told, a kind of messiness to the user experience (UX) that spoke to an event and world still a ways away from its fully-matured, peak form.
Instead of dwelling too heavily on all the surface imperfections of MVFW, though, people would be far better served by considering it a product in its most rudimentary form — a promising prototype. Decentraland will continue upgrading its servers and introducing updated versions of its blockchain-based software, and the technology will eventually be able to seamlessly accommodate far more avatars in its virtual reality world. And as subsequent fashion weeks become more carefully planned and comprehensively realized — with the kind of learned social norms, etiquette and protocols that mirror the physical world — there’s no reason to doubt its staying power.
2. The Luxury Fashion District is primed for a breakthrough
MVFW represented the Web3 debut for some of the world’s most iconic luxury brands, including Selfridges, Dolce&Gabbana, Hogan and Chufy. These brands officially planted their flags in Decentraland’s metaversal platform by opening their digital stores in the Luxury Fashion District, located in the larger Fashion District of Decentraland’s Genesis City. And while reviews for many of the week’s sartorial-themed events ran a pretty broad gamut, the grand openings for these new “flagship” stores served as a stunning demonstration of the possibilities for the fashion industry in the metaverse.
High fashion houses occupied buildings with elegant, often futuristic architecture — Selfridges’s hypermodern, multistory black-and-purple structure looked like two Zeppelin airships stacked on top of one another — a fastidious attention to fine detail and interiors that captured their signature style and accoutrements with dazzling panache (Dundas’s store featured 3D renderings of the brand’s inimitable diamond-collared panthers). Considering how quickly all of this has come together — and, presumably, how new to the metaverse most of these brands and their leadership are — it was an impressive display.
Perhaps more than anything, it spoke to how luxury fashion companies are going to be able to recreate their coveted in-store experiences in Web3 in ways that simply weren’t possible in the flat, transactional mechanics of Web2.
3. Fashion in the metaverse must and will evolve
For all the flashy aesthetics and pomp and circumstance of MVFW, the event’s relationship to companies’ actual products remains haphazard and largely unresolved. Some brands, like Tommy Hilfiger, offered click-throughs to their main e-commerce websites. Others, like Dundas, gave store visitors the chance to purchase NFT wearables — clothing and accessories for their avatars to wear in Decentraland. A third, hybrid approach allowed individuals to purchase NFTs that could be redeemed for exclusive physical apparel. There was no single dominant model for how to approach the financial dimension of fashion week, and plenty of labels probably construed it as little more than a marketing opportunity.
One of the seemingly inescapable questions I’m asking myself now is whether the fashion industry — thus far an eager and aggressive early adopter of the metaverse — will use Web3 as a straightforward, thinly-veiled platform for Web2 capitalism, or if it has something more grandiose and forward-thinking in mind.
As foot traffic for traditional brick-and-mortar stores continues to dwindle — even in rarefied shopping districts like Fifth Avenue — some consumers will nevertheless still crave the immersive, couture experience of walking into the meticulously curated, just-so environments of designer stores and searching for the perfect accessory, article of clothing or beauty object. The possibilities for Decentraland and the metaverse to recapture that sense of material enchantment and satisfy a seemingly timeless yearning are practically limitless. Only time will tell if luxury labels take full advantage of it.