Frankfurt Fashion Week is scheduled to take place for the first time in July – but organisers and designers are facing major challenges: all events planned in the city have been cancelled. How can the latest collections still be presented under lockdown conditions and compliance with AHA rules? The digital world offers opportunities: avatars instead of models, virtual clothing instead of real fabrics. Top Magazin provides an overview of products and processes that could establish themselves in the fashion industry even after the pandemic has ended.
She is young, beautiful and her name stands for strength and power in traditional Swahili: “Hauli” has only been modeling for a year and has already travelled to countries such as India or Italy for her first couture show, posed in front of the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro and had herself photographed in elegant evening gown in the Jordanian rock city of Petra. The newcomer could soon compete with stars such as Karlie Kloss, Stella Maxwell or Gisele Bündchen – with a single difference: The aspiring supermodel is not real. Hauli is an avatar, a virtual mannequin from Ralph & Russo who presented the past autumn/winter couture collection for the British high-fashion label.
The digital imagination of the European fashion house, which is visually difficult to distinguish from a real person, is a response to the pandemic. Because the lockdown has also turned the fashion world upside down. Photo shoots and video shoots were cancelled, models cancelled their flights, studios and retailers had to be closed. Many fashion shows have been completely cancelled, some held as online events.
The “London Fashion Week” was the first to react to the many cancellations and order cancellations with a fully digital edition: At the “London Fashion Week digital”, the designers presented their spring and summer collections 2021 by video and took the audience behind the scenes for three days – all without shows, without catwalks, without live audiences.
Challenges for the fashion world
For the future, the question now arises: What will happen next in the fashion world? “The flow of goods and global supply chains have come to an extreme standstill and there have been and still are major problems in maintaining the corresponding production capacities. In addition, everyday rules such as contact restrictions, mask requirements and keeping a distance are already changing the scene for current reasons,” says Olaf Schmidt, Vice President Textiles & Textile Technologies, Messe Frankfurt. Among other things, Messe Frankfurt organises the sustainable fashion fair “Neonyt”. In addition to Europe’s largest fashion fairs “Premium” and “Seek”, it forms the heart of Frankfurt Fashion Week, which celebrates its premiere in July. Due to corona, however, only digitally.
As far as planning is concerned, however, organizers and designers face major challenges. Schmidt: “The flow of goods and global supply chains have come to an extreme standstill and there have been and still are major problems in maintaining the corresponding production capacities. In addition, it is currently not possible to predict which travel restrictions will exist, where the next lockdown will take place and under what conditions exhibitors, dealers, visitors and companies who want to participate in the trade fair can enter.”
Thinking fashion digitally
According to Thimo Schwenzfeier, Show Director of Neonyt, those brands that have already increasingly relied on online and social media in recent years are well positioned in the crisis. “A good Instagram account, reliable accessibility and cooperation with influencers create ae strong community that buys online accordingly.”
Other digital concepts are also creating a spirit of optimism in the fashion industry. For more than a year, Gucci has been enabling its customers to virtually try on glasses, sneakers, lipsticks or hats. With the help of augmented reality, you can try on the desired model in the company’s own app and buy it directly in the online shop. The Italian outdoor label Napapijri has already had virtual catalogues programmed. Tommy Hilfiger positioned himself as a pioneer of innovative ideas even before Corona and announced in a press release in 2019 that he wanted to digitize his entire product development. The Spring 2022 collection is to be created exclusively with 3D design technology.
CGI models (Computer Generated Imagery) such as “Hauli” are a rarity, but no longer unknown in the international fashion scene. They adorn magazine covers, run digital fashion shows and present themselves on the net with other superstars such as Kim Kardashian. Noonoouri, an artificial creation by Munich graphic designer Jörg Zuber, helped the well-known British milliner Stephen Jones out of the crisis in the summer and presented his collection. The manga model with the big brown eyes has already worked for renowned brands such as Versace and Balenciaga.
Avatars can be based on the biometric data of each person. Once the data has been scanned, the beauty and youth of the virtual models is preserved forever. With the help of animations, the 3D models can also move like real people. Burberry designer Riccardo Tisci unveiled a campaign in July with a series of CGI avatars, including a Kendall Jenner virtual mannequin.
Superstar Lil Miquela
In addition to their work as top models, many of the virtual 3D creatures are active as influencers on social media. The most famous among them with over 3 million followers on Instagram: Miquela Sousa, known as “Lil Miquela”. The 19-year-old Californian hipster girl with freckles and tooth gap is a digitally created personality from the technology start-up Brud from Los Angeles. The influencer has already worked with well-known brands such as Calvin Klein and UGG Boots.
Since 2016, the virtual It-Girl has been posting photos and stories from her everyday life and love life almost daily and expressing herself on social issues such as environmental protection or Black Lives Matter. In addition, Lil Miquela takes a lot of time to communicate with her community and diligently distributes comments and likes. Practically all followers should be aware that their person is not a real person – their biography obviously indicates this. But that doesn’t seem to bother their subscribers. The artificial Lil Miquela receives a lot of encouragement for her appearance: compliments such as “You are my great role model”, “I love you” and “You look beautiful” can be found by the hundreds. In 2017, the young half-Brazilian released her first single “Not Mine” and finally became successful as a singer. On Spotify, she is considered a verified artist who currently has over 40,000 followers and over 300,000 monthly listeners.
The Supermodel Creator
The 31-year-old Briton Cameron-James Wilson used to photograph real stars like Gigi Hadid, today he is known as the most successful creator of virtual models. His figurehead: “Shudu Gram”, the world’s first CGI supermodel. In April 2017, the mysterious beauty, who according to her biography is modeled after the “Princess of South Africa” Barbie, appeared on Instagram for the first time and attracted thousands of followers to her profile within a very short time.
That the attractive model is an art project of the fashion photographer, the fans learned only when a Californian independent label Shudu wanted to win for a marketing campaign. Shortly thereafter, Wilson revealed the secret of the social media phenomenon, kicking off Shudu’s modeling and influencer career. The virtual It-Girl has over 210,000 Insta subscribers, has already worn lipstick from the Rihanna cosmetics line Fenty, received an editorial run in Vogue Australia and posed for the Parisian luxury label Balmain.
The Diigitals – the agency for virtual models
With Shudu, the idea of “The Diigitals” was born – an agency that exclusively books digital models. In March 2018, the website went online. Again and again, new 3D models are presented there, such as the plus-size model “Brenn”, the Nordic beauty “Dagny” or “Koffi”, the artist’s first male model. Even though Wilson pays attention to naturalness and imperfection, the white, male model creator repeatedly receives criticism for his ideas of beauty ideals on the Net. So far, however, this has not detracted from the success of his virtual models – and it seems as if Corona is driving digital development faster. Because Wilson benefits in the pandemic time with his agency from the fact that he only needs a PC and a 3D program to dress his models, which can be booked at any time, in all sorts of looks.
As part of the “Miami Swim Week”, The Diigitals produced a virtual runway and presented the swimwear of Lavie by Claude Kameni. This was followed by collaborations with Samsung, Louboutin, Lexus and Ferragamo, among others. Balmain creative director Olivier Rousteing had his personal avatar created and appeared with him in the digital showroom. Wilson does not want to reveal what it costs to book a virtual model. In interviews, however, he reveals that an engagement is no cheaper than that of a real one.
Modern fashion awareness
Thimo Schwenzfeier is of the opinion that digital concepts have a future in the fashion industry. “I think it will take another five to ten years, then it is common for the avatar technology to be used by a generation that naturally grows up with social media and digital devices.” However, he considers it unlikely that virtual models can replace real people at the present time: “The digital revolution is still in its infancy. Nevertheless, I can very well imagine that they will change the way we buy fashion to a certain extent sustainably. Ideally, you only shop for clothing that really fits and pleases.”
Virtual clothes have several advantages for influencers: “They are ideal for the perfect self-staging, as they are perfectly tailored to their wearer and are usually also unique – both in their design and in their existence.” He cannot imagine that people will do without physical clothing for this in the future. Schwenzfeier: “In the end, it’s about getting dressed in real life and making ourselves beautiful.”
To date, virtual fashion has only been able to assert itself in one world: in the gamer community. Through in-game purchases, gamblers can purchase so-called skins, i.e. dresses and costumes, for their avatar. For example, the company Epic Games has already made sales in the millions with Fortnite. Nike designed fashionable looks and accessories for the shooter game Jordan, Moschino for the “Sims” and Louis Vuitton has already created various collections for “League of Legends” (LOL).
Frankfurt Fashion Week digital
Digital concepts also play a role at Frankfurt Fashion Week – even if the trade fair cannot take place physically. With the “FFW Studio” Internet platform, the organisers Messe Frankfurt and Premium Group are presenting a digital get-together at the top technical and content level. High-quality live streams, talks and discussions with international makers on future-relevant topics such as sustainability and digitization are intended to set standards for the future of the fashion industry.
New formats such as “Frankfurt Fashion SDG Summit” and “The New European Bauhaus – Workshop of the Future” promise a “top-class digital premium”, explains Messe Frankfurt Managing Director Detlef Braun. They set out to make ffW the pacesetter for the fashion and textile industry and to set future-relevant topics: “We are sticking to this claim, even under challenging circumstances.”
The Premium, Seek and Neonyt trade fairs will be postponed to January 2022. The focus should then again be on the physical exchange. Vice President Olaf Schmidt (Textiles & Textile Technologies): “We are noticing a kind of digital fatigue. We want to meet the desire of companies, buyers, influencers and fashion professionals for a restart in the summer, as far as it is within our power. Fashion is a very sensual, very haptic business. For example, when I am presented with new jeans, I want to know how the fabrics work, how they feel. In the digital space, it is difficult to make this textile experience possible.” Neonyt on Air has shown that there is a will to cooperate digitally and arrange business, says Schwenzfeier: “But a virtual event cannot replace real fashion shows with real models and spectators.”
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