Digital Revolution: Fashion's Next Frontier?
Marie Claire Australia|March 2020
The coolest fashion designers right now are making clothes so cutting edge they don’t actually exist in the physical world. But, asks Hannah-Rose Yee, is virtual-reality fashion a far-out fad or the sustainability-minded future of the industry?

Daria Simonova is an influencer, which means that two or three times a week she has to schlep herself – clad in a magazine-ready designer outfit – to a picturesque location and pose. Such is the trade-off for having a following of more than 53,500 people and the chance to wear Burberry and Louis Vuitton on the regular.

But all that schlepping takes its toll, which is why the Moscow native was intrigued when she learnt about an innovative new collection from a Scandi denim brand called Carlings. She could choose an outfit online, supply a full-length image of herself and Carlings would “fit” the pieces exclusively to her body. By this, Carlings meant that their team of designers would subtly tweak and refine an augmented-reality image of a pair of wide-leg jeans slashed with neon lightning bolts and a blue puffer jacket onto Simonova’s photograph.

These clothes don’t exist – at least not in the real world. They were part of Carlings’ “digital” collection, a world-first in the realm of fashion that offered 19 pieces of online-only clothes that could be tailored and instantly shared on social media. The pieces could be purchased by anyone, anywhere, of any size, given that they were fitted on a case-by-case basis directly onto a user’s body, or rather, the image of their body.

This is fashion, so all of it came with a price. Those lightning-bolt jeans cost about $32, and were accompanied with the following caveat: “This is a digital product that will be applied to your photo, you will not receive a physical version of this item.” The collection sold out in a week.

For influencers like Simonova, digital-only collections purpose-made for Instagram might be the next big thing. Not only did the clothes look great – the denim with just the right amount of stiffness, that puffer jacket-less Michelin Man and more Balenciaga circa 2016 – they were also essentially waste-free. “Your digital wardrobe can be wider without harming the environment or your bank account,” Simonova says. “I believe that the future is all about digitising fashion.”

There are many who agree. Alongside Carlings, Dutch start-up The Fabricant is quietly innovating fashion with its virtual-only collections. Last May, a “digital couture” dress designed by The Fabricant’s creative director Amber Jae Slooten, all pearlescent swirls and fluid silhouette, sold at auction for approximately $14,000. To be clear, the lucky winner Mary Ren couldn’t actually wear the dress, which her San Francisco-based CEO husband bought her as an “investment”. But she could parade it on Instagram, which is apparently just as important.

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