Technology’s rapid evolution within the fashion industry through NFTs and the metaverse might indicate the future of our wardrobes.
E-commerce was the first revolutionary force to affect consumers’ shopping habits in the early 2000s. Wearable technology surfaced with Google Glass and although it failed, health and fitness tracking technology soared when Bluetooth merged with apparel in the mid-2010s.
The emergence of Artificial Intelligence (AI) influencers caught the eye of Prada, who collaborated with Lil Miquela to promote the brand’s SS2018 show. Virtual Reality (VR) technology made it possible for designers such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Ralph Lauren to bring showrooms and fitting rooms into our homes during quarantine in 2020.
Now that the NFT craze has crossed beyond art, minigames and entertainment into fashion, every major designer is likely to have an exciting lineup of digital releases for 2022.
This is as expected due to the resell market’s exponential upward trajectory. Investment banking company Morgan Stanley estimates that the luxury goods NFT space will be valued at US$300 million by 2030.
But the question remains: Is there longevity with cyber fashion? To better understand the future of fashion NFTs, let’s look at the notable ones since their inception.
Related article: Fendi Has Officially Joined The Metaverse
March 2019 – The First Clothing NFT Sells
Digital fashion house The Fabricant created a mock neck jumpsuit, which was overlaid with flowing iridescent fabric. Although it may be hard to fathom buying a garment that cannot be worn and shown off in public, someone forked out roughly US$9,500 to own the glimmering pixels before NFTs were even mumbled on the Internet.
Since then, The Fabricant has collaborated with the likes of Karlie Kloss and Adidas on other NFT projects.
August to December 2020 – Digital Fashion Designers & Retailers Emerge
Startups such as Brand New Vision, DressX and The Dematerialised moved into crypto-fashion before the NFT craze took off in early 2021. With nothing but incredible foresight driving them, the companies built their own digital marketplace to sell and trade fashion NFTs in the future.
Singapore-based digital fashion label Republique was launched for customers to purchase cyber clothing that is designed by the team as requested.
February 2021 – RTFKT Studios X Fewocious Collaboration Makes US$3.1 million
Digital creators of Hypebeast-esque footwear launched 600 pairs of sneakers in three designs by 19-year-old artist Fewocious. Within seven minutes, the shoes were sold out – raking in slightly over US$5,000 per pair. The one thing these virtual sneakers share with real sneakers is the ridiculous resell price. The last FEWO SHOE RARE was sold for US$40,000.
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April 2021 – Overpriced.™ Sells The First Wearable Hoodie That Is Linked To An NFT
What can US$26,000 get you? A black hoodie with a couple of illustrations and a “V-code” that links anyone who scans it to the NFT’s entire history – current owner, previous owners and what it’s worth. Talk about a huge flex.
June 2021 – Gucci Sells NFT Film: Aria
Gucci was one of the first of the luxury fashion labels to enter the NFT realm but instead of selling clothes made of zeros and ones, a four-minute film co-directed by creative director Alessandro Michele and photographer Floria Sigismondi inspired by the Aria collection was up for grabs.
The ethereal-themed film depicting flora, fauna and garments from the collection fetched US$25,000 and the proceeds were donated to UNICEF to aid in COVID-19 relief efforts.
August 2021 – Burberry’s Blankos, Balmain’s Flaming Dress & LOUIS THE GAME
Fashion NFTs did not just make waves that month; it was a tsunami. In collaboration with game technology company Mythical Games, Burberry kicked things off with the sale of NFT characters called “Burberry Blankos” for US$300 each. The 750-unit sharks wearing floaties on their arms and covered in the brand’s monogram from fin to fin sold out in 30 seconds.
Instead of selling NFTs, Louis Vuitton created a mobile game with different worlds where players can traverse and collect candles to celebrate the brand’s 200th anniversary. Louis, the game, also served as a scavenger hunt for players to find 30 hidden NFTs by artist Beeple, which cannot be sold.
Creative Director of Balmain Olivier Rouseting designed “The Flame Dress” exclusively for a magazine in Singapore and to celebrate his 10th anniversary at the French fashion house. This also marks the first fashion major publication to enter the metaverse.
September 2021 – Rebecca Minkoff’s Full NFT Collection, Balenciaga Joins The Metaverse, Dolce & Gabbana Breaks Record For Most Expensive Fashion NFTs, Karl Lagerfeld & The Dematerialised’s Sustainable NFT Venture
Rebecca Minkoff became the first female American designer to create fashion NFTs — but one look wasn’t enough. Instead, she presented four full looks, some accessories and bags alongside her fall/winter holiday line. All proceeds were donated to the Female Founders Collective to support female-owned businesses affected by the pandemic.
Balenciaga is the first luxury brand to dress human avatars in the metaverse. Balenciaga X Fortnite skins were just the tip of the iceberg. Balenciaga sneaker pickaxes, an hourglass bag-shaped glider and an array of printed backpacks were also released in packages on the popular Gen Z role-playing game.
Dolce & Gabbana released a collection with marketplace UNXD that sold for about US$5.65 million, which breaks the record for most expensive fashion NFTs. One menswear suit dubbed the “Glass Suit” was purchased for US$1 million.
All buyers not only received a physical version of the clothing—custom-fitted of course—but they also have exclusive access to Dolce & Gabbana events and tours for two years from the point of purchase.
The Karl Lagerfeld label released Funko Pop-styled figurine NFTs in the likeness of the late-great designer with marketplace The Dematerialised. Every unit purchased helped the environment – a mangrove tree for each NFT to offset their carbon footprint. This was one of the few NFT projects that addressed how digital fashion could slow down climate change at that time.
October 2021 – The First Eyewear NFT Arrives
Ray-Ban and German artist Extraweg came together to produce the world’s first virtual eyewear in a 3D motion graphic that focuses on Ray-Ban’s classic aviator sunnies.
November 2021 – Patek Philips Nautilus 5711/1A-010 NFT
This discontinued and coveted model is one of the hardest watches to get your hands on these days and every collector in the world would drop an obscene sum of cash for it. The NFT version was valued at US$120,000 and split into 1000 fractions with 920 of them up for sale.
December 2021 – MetaBirkins Drops Jaws, 10,000 8-bit Chanel Bags Hit The Online Stratosphere, JW Anderson Recreates Viral Cardigan Worn By Harry Styles, Nike Acquires RTFKT And Fast Fashion’s Spin On NFTs.
Digital artist Mason Rothschild created 100 Hermés Birkin-inspired NFTs for over US$3,000 a pop. The fuzzy creations that have no affiliation with the French atelier or any physical item captured the hearts of Birkin fans all over social media. Similarly, 10,000 units of Chanel Flap bags-inspired NFTs were released on OpenSea for about US$120 per bag.
JW Anderson auctioned a digital copy of the internet-breaking patchwork cardigan worn by pop star Harry Styles. The entire cardigan took 300 hours to construct with every piece of yarn being synthesised first before it was stitched together. All proceeds were donated to akt, a charitable organisation supporting homeless LGBT+ people.
Nike’s intention to expand its digital footprint was solidified when it acquired the digital sneaker company RTFKT Studios at US$33 million. Nike aims to invest in the success of RTFKT while developing even more innovative ideas in the future.
Spanish fast-fashion brand Zara and mysterious South Korean brand Adererror debut a collection with “real world” pricing. BoohooMAN steps into the ring as well with an eight-piece collection of t-shirts, tracksuits, jackets and hoodies. However, the NFTs are unsold despite receiving fast fashion-priced bids.
January 2022 – Balmain X Barbie Collection and Hermés Slaps MetaBirkin’s Creator Mason Rothschild With A lawsuit
For the longest time, the success of the fashion and doll industries lies in the tactile and physical nature of their products. Yet, Balmain and Mattel defied this with a very pink collaboration – three virtual Barbie and Ken dolls decked out in Balmain prints and silhouettes were sold alongside the physical garments on Balmain’s webstore.
All the winning bids of the dolls surpassed the prices of the actual ready-to-wear pieces.
Mason Rothschild received a cease-and-desist order from the Hermés team, but the artist chose not to comply on the basis that the digital Birkins were purely an artistic expression of the bags. Hermés retaliated with a trademark infringement and dilution lawsuit for the use of “Birkin” within the name of the NFTs.
February 2022 – SUPERGUCCI
Gucci dives deeper into the NFT world with digital celebrity creators SUPERPLASTIC. These 8-inch figurines are decorated in reimagined Gucci prints by virtual artists-influences Janky and Guggimon that will be released in early February in a three-part drop.
One-of-a-kind and vintage Gucci pieces that have been handpicked by the fashion house’s archive team and creative director Alessandro Michele will be released as well with the NFTs.
The Future – Metaverse And Its Avatars Are The Keys
While fashion NFTs can be seen as an excuse for capitalism or brands to stay relevant, the arrival of a functioning metaverse in the near future is solidifying virtual clothing in our daily lives.
Facebook’s sudden name change isn’t just for aesthetic purposes. The social media company and other tech giants such as Microsoft are pumping resources into the creation of a legitimate virtual landscape where humans exist and connect with one another in code.
The metaverse will allow us to create our own lifelike avatars to do whatever we want (within the parameters of its creators) but we can’t be walking around cyberspace naked – this is where NFT apparel will play a crucial role.
With fast fashion’s participation and affordable price tags in the NFT sphere, there is no stopping the integration of NFTs and fashion for the foreseeable future. Physical clothing will coexist with the cyber versions as long as we live in reality and on Web 3.0.
Unfortunately, with the MetaBirkins controversy, creators and artists should approach the digital luxury sphere with caution as the laws surrounding NFTs are very much grey.
Until the rules are formally in play, independent NFT creators looking to dabble in the realm of fashion should approach this space with caution despite how lucrative it may be. Thus far, collaboration with the appropriate brands seems to be the safest entry into the world of fashion NFTs.