How designers can stand out at the digital runway

“Fake free. Couture curious” reads Nila’s Instagram bio. India’s first virtual model, represented by talent management agency, Inega, just might replace Bollywood showstoppers as the fashion industry goes virtual in the aftermath of the pandemic. With many designers forgoing models — thank social distancing and cancelled events — she could play a big role (along with older CGI models such as the US’ Lil Miquela and the UK’s Shudu Gram) in helping clothes do the talking.

In other news, on May 22, Congolese designer Anifa Mvuemba debuted her Pink Label capsule collection on Instagram, with 3D renderings of her clothes moving down the runway. Except, there were no models! The eerie, ghost-like effect aside, the focus was entirely on the outfits. This went well beyond virtual runways, like the one hosted by YouTube in May, where names like Winnie Harlow and Ashley Graham modelled clothes from Fendi, Dior, Oscar de la Renta and others, from their homes.

Tech in the background

With design houses looking for new ways to showcase their work in the post Covid-19 scenario, AI tech companies like Bigthinx are offering solutions. The Bengaluru-based outfit works on visualisation solutions for fashion and retail using a software called Lyfsize, which uses two smartphone pictures to determine 44 precise body measurements. “An additional software, Lyflike, uses a selfie to create a lifelike 3D virtual avatar and can recreate clothing in 3D from normal photos,” explains co-founder Chandralika Hazarika,who caters to clients in the US, Europe and India.

However, Shivang Desai,the CEO of Bigthinx,believes the digital effects will only improve as creators “look at pushing boundaries” using technology. “This requires environments and backgrounds that are engaging, interactive and personalised to offer user experiences tailored to the viewer’s moods or personality,” he adds.

The Fabricant, an Amsterdam-based digital platform, also creates solutions using both fashion and VFX industries. Clients include Japanese streetwear brand AAPE, for whom they translated physical craftsmanship into digital for their 2019 Spring-Summer collection. “The foundational knowledge of patterns and garment construction applies to these tools as much as they do in the real world. The technology should be in the background so they don’t have to worry about technicalities,” says founder Kerry Murphy. They’re working with American brand Tommy Hilfiger too, in their ongoing transition towards full digital design by Spring 2022.

Kerry Murphy

Time over money

For designers who want to get involved directly in the process, Murphy suggests tools like CLO3D, which are fairly easy to learn (with plenty of free online resources). He believes that investing in hardware is critical because professional tools will differentiate the novice from the pros. “I see the investment being less than it is for physical tools and materials. The whole fashion value chain can exist in one PC,” he explains.

Desai adds that staying up-to-date does not need a big budget either. A yearly subscription for CLO3D, for instance, starts at around ₹35,000. “It does require time, effort and patience to catch up and stay informed of all new developments. Designers should spend a few hours a week on learning how to navigate it.” After creating a virtual show for New York-based networking platform, Fashinnovation, in early June, Bigthinx will be part of Lineapelle, the international leather fair in Italy, later this year.

In earlier interviews, Murphy predicted that designer virtual clothing is something that consumers will soon be willing to invest in. To encourage a move in this direction, The Fabricant has launched the beta version of Leela, a platform that allows users to try on digital fashion in a 3D avatar. If the pandemic continues to keep us indoors and isolated for the near future, retail therapy for our digital avatars just might be the way to go.

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