The cultural relevance of crypto is undeniable, as the use of blockchain continues to infiltrate and significantly influence the worlds of art, music, fashion and more. To provide a deeper level of understanding for the space, HYPEBEAST teamed up with exchange platform Coinbase for a new series that dives into various topics related to cryptocurrency, NFTs and blockchain, and cohesively and objectively shares how different industries are adapting.
Our first installment tackled the changes being heard in the music industry. In our second, we explored how digital art is opening new modes of creative expression. For our third and final, we look at how fashion and style are showing up in the metaverse.
Though the emergence of non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, in popular culture is relatively new and the adoption of the technology by fashion brands is also nascent, the idea of sharing our clothes digitally isn’t exactly novel. In a recent HYPEBEAST-hosted Twitter Spaces conversation, designer Jeff Staple likened the concept of digital clothing to posting a photo on social media.
He recalled a certain phenomenon that he witnessed while overseeing a popular retail store: many shoppers would come through, take pictures wearing designer clothes in the dressing room, post those images, but never purchase the clothes. “To a certain subset, the physical goods hanging in your closet don’t actually matter,” he said. “What matters is the curation, the taste, the knowledge that you have of this and the way you put it together to your digital world on social media. That’s where the currency lies.” In this way, NFTs represent a new way of expressing one’s personal style—and the means of sharing it are only evolving.
That being said, having a virtual wardrobe isn’t the norm (at least not yet) and for some fashion enthusiasts, it’s hard to grasp the idea that they can’t physically wear a sartorial NFT purchase. Despite this, some of the world’s most recognizable names in fashion have entered the space, experimenting with different ways to use the technology.
A New Way of Authenticating
In many ways, there is much overlap with the fashion realm—specifically streetwear and sneaker culture—and NFTs. In essence, NFTs serve as certificates of authenticity for digital purchases; authenticity and exclusivity are pillars of many corners of fashion, especially in luxury. When blockchain is used to certify purchases, it adds a layer of ownership and verification that the fashion space hasn’t seen until now.
Perhaps the biggest indication of the symbiotic relationship between these realms happened in late 2021 when sportswear giant Nike announced that it had acquired digital collectibles site RTFKT, known for its popular sneaker NFTs. It sent seismic waves through both the fashion and crypto spaces, signaling not just the widespread adoption of the technology, but also its staying power. The undisclosed price tag paid out by one of the most globally recognized companies was a signifier of monetary potential for NFTs in fashion and footwear.
While the RTFKT acquisition marked a major shift towards the mainstream, it certainly wasn’t the fashion industry’s first foray into the medium. Many brands have experimented in the space by creating their own NFTs, banking on the idea that owning an authentic, designer-created digital work is—or will become—just as attractive as a tangible designer bag or accessory.
Gucci was one of the first major fashion houses to do so with its 2021 project Aria, a 4-minute NFT fashion film that coincided with a recent runway collection and was sold for $25,000 USD during an NFT-specific auction at Christie’s. That same month, the brand introduced Gucci Gardens within the gaming platform Roblox, offering users a virtual version of the corresponding interactive installation that took place in Florence, Italy. For the 200th birthday of its eponymous founder, Louis Vuitton launched Louis: The Game, a mobile game that included 30 embedded NFTs designed by the artist Beeple. And Burberry was the first luxury label to be included in Blankos Block Party, a multiplayer game in which characters live on blockchain, dropping a series of NFTs within the title. As the next phase of the internet known as web3 starts to develop, it’s likely that it will become more common for users to have avatars to showcase these wares.
Merging the Digital With the Physical
To some, it’s more palatable to receive a physical item with an NFT investment, and many brands are beginning to make that possible with tangible goods being accompanied by a token or vice versa. For instance, RTFKT, teamed up with the artist FEWOCiOUS for a series of physical sneakers, each of which corresponded with an NFT. The actual shoes are a collectible object while the NFT provides a digital ledger of ownership, just as it does for art.
Companies are also leveraging retail space to bring the virtual and real worlds together. Selfridges London, for example, recently unveiled an exhibition titled, “Universe.” Created in collaboration with Paco Rabanne, the experience takes place both in store and in the metaverse. Fifty-five works of artist Victor Vasarely appear throughout the department store while a series of corresponding NFTs can be discovered and interacted with on the platform Substance.
Showing Off NFT Style
As it currently stands, there is no widely-adopted open virtual world where cross-platform purchases can be shown off on users’ avatars. In other words, metaverse populations are a mere fraction of Instagram or Facebook, and the ability to flaunt a digital outfit or accessory might only exist within the platform it was purchased. Currently, ecosystems like Roblox and The Sandbox are the most popular spaces for this. However, as web3 continues to take shape, it’s likely we’ll see crossover between applications and a growing number of users as a more broadly used platform is established.
Though many of fashion’s forays into the crypto and blockchain space have arguably been for marketing purposes, evolution and experimentation are happening at breakneck pace. Brands, designers and retailers are still toying with how they leverage NFTs—and many have already done so successfully. But, as we’ve seen in art and music, the adoption of the technology is happening quickly, so it’s not a bad idea to start planning your web3 fit now.