How Virtual Reality Is Bringing Fashion Back to Life

Reinventing the industry one headset at a time

With the dominance of digital and the fashion market’s need to seduce the millennial mind, the industry is clamoring to excite a consumer base that scrolls their way through life. Digital publications are taking priority to print, storefronts are shuttering left and right, and as the industry increasingly stagnates in real life, it’s putting its billion-dollar future in virtual technology.

When Business of Fashion released its August Q2 report of “Fashion’s Hottest Brands” in partnership with Lyst, it comes to no surprise that Gucci, Balenciaga, Vetements and Yeezy topped the list. Other than their street-style authority, millennial appeal and subversive designers at the helm, what do these brands have in common? Virtual Reality (VR). With young, visionary minds comes forward-thinking enterprise, and these buzzy designers are going digital to revive the runway. Demna’s unforeseen appointment at Balenciaga had all eyes on his couture debut, just a year after lighting a fire with his white-hot branding riffs. Never one to shy away from making a statement, he opened the lion’s den to more than just the industry and live-streamed in 360 using VR technology. He’s always given the industry cache the middle finger, and this was an ultimate democratization of the runway. Kanye pulled a similar move for Yeezy 3, that had 360° cameras cascading throughout the catwalk, giving viewers streaming a more immersive experience at home than the editors in the front row. And for Michele, the apple of the industry’s eye, his all-black model, disco-dancing video campaign for PF17 was shot in 360°, enabling viewers to get their Gucci on with the simple click of a mobile device. For a consumer base that digests information at the speed of a swipe, these brands are abandoning old-school techniques for millennial-driven experiences in hopes to drive conversion.

Last weekend, W Magazine released a new AR (augmented reality) iOS app, Beyond the Page, with an emerging technology that literally brings its pages to life. As readers flip through the cover story, they can simultaneously scan certain pages through the mobile app; the editorial becomes a moving hologram through the screen, instantly absorbing them into the spread. They’re not the first publication to reimagine the boundaries of print. In Elle’s last ‘Women in Hollywood’ issue, users of the ‘Elle Now’ app could hover over the any of the eight covers to unveil a video interview of the subject’s face. If successful, these user-friendly interactive experiences could prove as viable methods of bringing old-school content back to life.

Outside of print and off the runways, VR provides exponential opportunities for consumer engagement in retail, refreshing the brick and mortar space. Brands like Burberry, Dior and Tommy Hilfiger have experimented with VR through in-store headsets immersing their clients into the backstage world of their runway shows. This fusion of fashion and tech invites clients to understand the brand culture on a more experiential level, offering a fresh take on marketing for a younger clientele. On a more lucrative front, companies are manipulating the digitized reality into try-now-buy-now apps, where clients can try products in real time through their screens rather than in-store. This advancement is particularly of interest to the Beauty world, with companies developing apps using Snapchat-esque filters to package their in-person expertise and makeup tutorials to boost market reach from in-store only to around the world. By tapping into Sephora’s Virtual Artist, or L’Oreal’s Makeup Genius, users can get a shoppable virtual makeover from the comfort of their couch.

The last innovation in VR – and perhaps the most unexpected – is in bridging the gap between art and fashion. Earlier this year, Google launched its ambitious Arts & Culture platform that enables users to “discover artworks, collections and stories from all around the world in a new way.”  Within this digital world is a new project “We Wear Culture,” where amongst an anthology of fashion history, films, and critical articles, you’ll find virtual fashion exhibitions from over 180 cultural institutions worldwide.

Technology allows the industry to translate the innate tactility of fashion for the digitally minded set. The power of fashion lies in its transformative nature, an elusive world of art, craftsmanship and creativity. “The world needs fantasy, not reality. We have enough reality today,” said the late, pioneering Alexander McQueen – the first to live stream a runway show. It was legendary, the website crashed from consumer demand, and as Suzy Menkes noted in the International Herald Tribune, it was “the most dramatic revolution in twenty-first-century fashion.” Almost a decade ahead of his time, today marks a new era with brands looking to tech to revolutionize the industry’s future, one headset at a time. Stay tuned.


No more articles