“The pandemic accelerated the mainstream visibility of these subcultures that are having a huge impact,” says Benoit Pagotto, one of three cofounders of RTFKT Studios, purveyors of virtual sneakers and NFT collectibles. Its recent virtual sneaker collaboration with Fewocious raised over $3 million.
Some of the more adventurous luxury fashion brands are already experimenting with immersive gaming, like Balenciaga’s retro video game Afterworld: The Age of Tomorrow, which the brand released to showcase its fall 2021 collection. Lauded as an industry example of fashion and gaming working together beautifully, Afterworld immerses players in the brand identity using three-dimensional capture and Epic’s Unreal Engine.
The move got shoppers’ attention. According to figures from the shopping app Lyst, which explored the rise of digital fashion in a recent report with the Fabricant, 48 hours after the release of the Balenciaga game, searches for the brand on Lyst rose by 41 percent. In the most recent Lyst Index, published quarterly, Balenciaga was ranked second—up three spots in the ranking from its position the previous quarter.
“Gamification is going to influence many things, but there’s an obvious application for fashion. Fashion is meant to be this playful arena where you should be able to express yourself and you should be able to experiment,” Michaela Larosse, head of content and strategy at the Fabricant, says.
Gaming and fashion also go hand in hand because both aim to give enthusiasts a world of larger-than-life, aspirational experiences. As anyone who has ever attended a fashion show in Paris can attest, it’s a grand spectacle, like the most exuberant theatrical performance, often with a captivating narrative unfolding across every element of the show. Capturing that energy in a game is certain to pique consumers’ interests. When Drest partnered with Warner Bros. on the film Wonder Woman 1984, complete with players using costumes from the movie to dress their avatars, users were so receptive to the looks that over half of all users watched or were planning to watch the movie, according to customer feedback after the campaign.
“I believe that technology should be like fashion’s best friend. It’s like the magic wand that can get you closer to the consumer, that can allow the consumer to be part of your storytelling,” says Yeomans.
In her view, gaming not only gives fashion brands the opportunity for “deep immersion,” it also protects luxury brands, allowing them to maintain their messaging, iconography, and integrity.
From the ‘Phygital’ to the Purely Digital
With most actual shopping now taking place online, retail has become experiential, with brands and stores aiming to bring customers in as brand enthusiasts, not just shoppers. This means the “phygital,” a marketing term that describes the desire to combine a physical store with the seamlessness of the digital experience, is becoming more prevalent.
Most fashion-gaming collaborations also offer customers a chance to get their hands on a physical garment, like an exclusive, limited-edition piece featured in the game. In the case of Drest, garments can be purchased via the website Farfetch. Some of the game’s younger players use it as a way to “style before you buy.”
“We developed this RVR concept of real to virtual to real. Everything that you see is part of real life, so if we’re doing a partnership with Prada, it is part of a capsule collection that is launching and dropping in stores,” says Yeomans.
“We know that these experiences increase dwell time, make consumers feel more connected to the brand, and make them value physical products more highly. We are undoubtedly entering into an entirely new era of experiential retail,” explains Matthew Drinkwater, head of the Fashion Innovation Agency at the London College of Fashion, who notes that these principles are starting to impact traditional ecommerce too.