Buddy Icon Couture
- Photos: The Fabricant
Fashion brands and designers are outfitting avatars.
With Snapchat’s Bitmoji or Nintendo’s Mii, avatars, in other words graphic figures representing a user in the digital world, have arrived at the centre of digital society. It’s said that Neal Stephenson first coined the term in his 1992 science fiction novel “Snow Crash”. The idea’s march to global recognition then began in the mid-1990s with the “buddy icon” in AOL Messenger. And now, over 20 years later, it’s as commonplace for Gen Z digital natives as selfies and virtual influencers.
In the first quarter of the 21st century, avatars are not only more finely drawn, more individually designed, and more usable – they’re also better dressed. In July 2021, young cult brand Off-White equipped Bitmojis with a digital collection. Six months prior, Levi’s had already successfully tempted Snapchat users with 12 curated looks and hundreds of combinations. Buyers could first
embellish their avatar, and then wear partner looks in RL (real life). “Leading fashion brands like Levi’s are building real connections with consumers in the digital space through Bitmoji,” said Snap Head of Games and Entertainment Partnerships John Imah on the collaboration with the jeans brand.
The fashion world has also moved into gaming – such as when Louis Vuitton collaborated with Riot Games to equip digital protagonists with selected pieces in “League of Legends”. A recent collaboration was announced by luxury fashion house Balenciaga at the end of September 2021. In Epic Games’ “Fortnite”, characters can wear specially designed pieces from
Balenciaga, also appearing in a physical collection. On the designer’s webshop, the simple black t-shirt with the Fortnite logo for 365 euros sold out
32 hours after the drop. →
Big fashion brands are looking for an authentic touchpoint with Gen Z in the digital sphere. Increasingly they no longer want to be limited by high-reach
partners in social media and gaming, aiming instead to develop their own avatars for their channels and the fresh topic of NFT (see also next page). Gucci for example has allied with tech company Genies to develop digital characters. Genies has already designed avatars for numerous US celebrities including DJ Khaled, Quincy Jones, and A$AP Rock, and believes the development is still in its infancy. “Our goal is to create the next level of humanity,” said Akash Nigam, CEO of Genies. Of the collaboration with the Florence-based fashion house, he said: “Even if you’re 13 years old and can’t afford Gucci yet, you can still interact with the brand and adorn your avatar with digital assets from head to toe.”
Taking it a step further are the creatives at The Fabricant. The Amsterdam-based company designs fashion exclusively for the digital sphere, with its clientele already including established players like Puma and Adidas. The last collection was presented in collaboration with Toni Maticevski at Australia Fashion Week in summer. Visitors could try on the virtual couture online and use screenshots to immortalise their stint in the black fluid outfits. The Fabricant Founder Christina Slooten firmly believes that digital fashion helps to improve our real world – by making it more sustainable. Her guiding principle is: “We waste nothing but data and exploit nothing but our imagination.