Sunday 3rd May

| BY Zofia Zwieglinska

Digital Dressing: How Virtual Clothing Is Changing Fashion As We Know It

For the first time ever, fashion is posed with a problem – with no one going out, clothing has shuffled to the back of the wardrobe, relegated until the lockdown is lifted. This has made the industry pause, with fashion companies busy making emergency relief gowns for hospitals instead of pushing out their next collections. Designers and consumers have noticed and are calling for a change in how fashion is produced – namely, what if we didn’t even need to wear physical fashion at all?

The idea of luxury digital clothing has been around for over four years now. In 2016, Lightning, a female character from the best-selling Final Fantasy VIII video game series made waves as she fronted Louis Vuitton’s Spring/Summer campaign by Nicolas Ghesquière. This was the first time when mainstream gaming and luxury fashion collided. With her silky pink digital hair blown by a virtual breeze and a Louis Vuitton bag clutched at her waist, the game heroine looked every bit the fashion model. Around the same time, an uncannily realistic girl with a blunt fringe appeared on Instagram under the account @lilmiquela. Almost four years later and this digital creation of Brud, the first company behind digital influencers, has 1.8 million followers and is doing sponsored posts for the likes of Samsung alongside real-life Stranger Things actress, Millie Bobby Brown. The fascination with digital models and clothing has brought in a new and limitless way to experience clothes.

Louis Vuitton SS16 campaign

The industry is quickly waking up to opportunities outside of digital influencers and game characters – the big money comes from in-game ‘skins’, the clothing designs of the digital world. Gaming has been slowly gathering strength in numbers, cloaked by outdated stereotypes of dark teenage bedrooms and shooter games like Grand Theft Auto. By now Final Fantasy, the game behind LV’s campaign star Lightning, has amassed enormous fan bases with over 100 million gamers all over the world – an audience that at that point had not been touched much by fashion branding. It is valued that the modern gaming industry has brought in over $152 billion this year alone.

Creating outfits in-game has become increasingly more popular, with new games like Animal Crossing from Nintendo allowing players to replicate their favourite items from Gucci, Prada, Valentino and Vetements and download the designs for their characters in-game at no cost. On Drest, a mobile fashion gaming app, users style outfits on digital models for others to rate, somewhat similar to the iconic early 00’s kids dress-up game Stardoll. Drest goes one step further, allowing users to buy outfits for real on online e-tailer Farfetch.


Luke Leitch, Vogue contributor and style editor of The Economist’s 1843 magazine, has written that his teen sons are increasingly more willing to pay for skins in games like Fortnite for the clout of certain outfits, similarly to how trends function as short-term obsessions in real-life fashion. Last year’s reports show that Fortnite’s registered player count reached over 250m – each of those players (and their avatars) already understand that digital clothing works and is an extension of personal style.

The main issue behind digital fashion is that it is restricted by the platform it sits on – whether that is Moschino creating skins for in-game characters in The Sims, or Louis Vuitton creating cases for in-game trophies for League of Legends.This has given rise to brands producing altered images with digital clothing overlays for Instagram in the form of ‘outfits’ for a small sum. Carlings, a sustainability-focused Scandinavian fashion brand, have come out with a solely digital collection to highlight the environmental issues caused by fashion production, in collaboration with WaterAid. Although initially, the campaign was just meant to shine a light on sustainability issues, Carlings has now opened up a new market for digital fashion.When asked why the customer should spend money on something they’ll never wear in real life, the brand answered, “The most fun products are the most difficult to buy, due to them being either too crazy or too expensive, often at times both. By digitizing these products, we also make fashion more affordable.”

Carlings digital collection

Compared to the complex supply chain issues around making fashion more sustainable, digital seems a lot easier, allowing for new clothes to be made in a different medium with little to no production cost. Although the graphic design is time-consuming, it allows for new physical qualities for the clothes, more flexibility for design and zero reliance on resources like textiles and machinery. This makes digital an attractive option. The relatively short jump from creating clothing for gaming characters and doing the same for social media platforms means that there are plenty of software designers already in gaming equipped to handle this demand. Virtual clothes also possess one quality that clothing made out of fibres doesn’t – as long as the software keeps up, they do not deteriorate, meaning no clothing ends up in landfill.

Virtual clothing for Instagram or other platforms buys into how fast the market really is – a person can go through a limitless supply without ever needing to change or wearing out the seams. A turn towards the digital could be a renaissance for new clothes – a modern form of fashion, one that could still change as quickly as the current fashion cycles, but with no real-time impact on production or the climate. It would allow for fashion to indulge in its hunt for the new.

Top image courtesy of @animalcrossingfashionarchive.