Scarlett Yang's Biomaterial dress during Metaverse Fashion Week

Scarlett Yang was one of the designers that participated in the inaugural Metaverse Fashion Week. Unlike traditional fashion week, which is a cognitive overload of hectic schedules, eye-catching outfits, and desired invites, this took place in Decentraland, a virtual-world, browser-based platform. Anyone with a computer may take part, sending their avatar to bounce about shopping malls and watch shows by Etro, Tommy Hilfiger, and Roberto Cavalli. Yang’s contribution was a series of virtual “skins” made in collaboration with contemporary artist Krista Kim and the Fabricant, an Amsterdam-based digital fashion enterprise that utilised materials as fragile as dragonfly wings.

Yang is a London-based fashion designer, who produced a garment that appeared like glass, changed texture in reaction to temperature and weather, and disintegrated if left in water in 2020. This was not a sci-fi fever dream or a magic trick, but a modern-day design made achievable by technology. Yang’s garment was produced from algae extract, which when cast in custom-built 3D moulds generated a complex, leathery lace before being treated with silk cocoon protein. Yang began by experimenting with virtual designs: utilising software to cycle through many silhouettes and simulations before she got to the point of creating them. She returned to her screen to see the stunning results. She created a tangible garment, but she also exhibited it digitally, allowing viewers to explore four distinct renderings of the angular, glittering gown as it gently dropped into the waters.

The metaverse is altering our perceptions of fashion. With the use of virtual and augmented reality, we were able to freely roam between different 3D worlds and communities. It’s currently being used as a catch-all term to describe everything from luxury labels collaborating with game developers to outfit players (think Balenciaga x Fortnite, Ralph Lauren x Roblox, or Lacoste x Minecraft) to the kinds of dress-up opportunities provided by digital fashion houses that will deliver you a social-media-ready photo for $30. It’s also covering more brand experiments with hybrid collections, such as Dolce & Gabbana’s nine-piece physical-digital capsule presentation last year, which grossed over $6 million.

Clothing brands such as The Fabricant, DressX, and the Dematerialised do not sell physical garments. There is nothing to be handled or tried on. Customers are unable to order a garment for a night out or to hang it in their closet. These stores, on the other hand, are focused on something intangible. Among their offerings are violet puffer dresses that float weightlessly across the body and silver armour with trembling stalks. Depending on the design, customers may pay to have a photo of themselves modified to reveal one of these wacky outfits, have it overlaid as an AR filter on movies, or even purchase the item as an NFT.

Although digital designs are not yet major earners in comparison to physical garments (despite racial scandals and the pandemic, Dolce & Gabbana still had global sales of more than $1 billion in 2020–21), the fashion industry sees the metaverse as a potentially profitable new sector. Morgan Stanley estimates that the digital fashion market would be worth $50 billion by 2030. It is impossible to determine the total worth of the fashion sector by the end of the decade, but market intelligence firm CB Insights predicts it to reach more than $3 trillion.

The fascinating question is not one of profit, but of how the metaverse may significantly transform how people dress, buy, and think about fashion. Will we start each day, like Cher Horowitz in Clueless, simply perusing a digital wardrobe? The latter option is currently somewhat feasible, thanks to a variety of applications that allow users to register their clothing, with an extension seen in the ability to “try on” virtual garments or accessories before purchasing them—a process that will become more efficient as technology advances.