The first MetaVerse Fashion Week is over, and depending on your vantage point it was either a roaring success or a dubiously half-baked initial showing for a vision that many brands have placed significant bets on being the Next Big Thing.

In terms of brand participation, nobody would argue that MVFW was anything but impressive. Big brands, big department stores, massive music artists, and arguably the biggest virtual landlord (an unwholesome title if ever there was one) were all represented, opening their collective doors to a customer base that seems, on the surface at least, to have transcended the established crypto-centric audience that defined last year’s NFT gold-rush.

Frame the whole affair from that audience’s point of view, though, and the cracks started to show themselves quickly. For an industry that trades heavily in aesthetics, the stylised (read: simplified) art of Decentraland, combined with the fact that the average visitor is probably using an integrated GPU, led to a pretty significant disparity between the level of visual fidelity that consumers want, and what was actually on show.

This is not, notably, intended to disparage the creative work that individual designers, collectives, and studios put into building visual garments. The level of artistry on show was at least on a par with what you’d expect to find in the constantly-impressive world of digital art, grassroots CG, and game character and environment design.

If the fashion corner of the MetaVerse has a problem, it’s definitely not a paucity of talent.

image courtesy of unity technologies

But, at least in The Interline‘s opinion, the fashion MetaVerse does have a problem. And it’s the existence of other digital experiences – each of which has set a very high bar for entry that, today, fashion’s interpretation has been unable to reach.

Take graphics, as mentioned above. There are, to be blunt about it, hundreds (if not thousands) of videogames that look considerably better than anything showcased during MVFW from a pure real-time rendering point of view. And this is by no means exclusive to dedicated home console or PC titles (although real-time showcases for those are incredibly impressive today, as seen above). A £500 iPad with Apple’s M1 system-on-chip can render impressive scenes, and a £300 Oculus Quest 2, which runs off a far less powerful mobile chipset, can be host to impressive VR showcases that make for a more apt but no more charitable comparison.

This matters not because people particularly care about real-time rendering, but because the average consumer is accustomed to better. Videogames are now such a cultural touchstone that there are very few demographic segments that have not recently held an Xbox controller, or picked up a smartphone game. This leaves any MetaVerse experience with a high bar to clear, visually-speaking. Exploring a virtual world, interacting with virtual products, and meeting fellow visitors should look at least as good as what consumers are used to, otherwise it runs the risk of looking deficient right out of the gate.

To be clear: most videogames are a very different beast to decentralised virtual worlds where land is sold parcel-by-parcel for real-world money. There is a lot going on under the hood that, for now at least, can excuse the lack of presentational sheen. But at the same time, if any virtual world is going to hold itself out as “the MetaVerse,” it, by definition, opens itself up to scrutiny and for benchmarking against comparable experiences.

And the same applies to controls and interactivity. The Interline operates in social media and real-world circles frequented by people who should, by dint of doing this kind of thing for a living, be able to intuitively move around in a MetaVerse experience – whether it’s VR or flatscreen. But both on LinkedIn and in person, frustration abounded with locomotion, navigation and interaction. And here, again, the bar is set incredibly high: videogames have tuned their controls (from layouts to analogue stick response curves and dead zones) to perfection over decades, and even the VR industry has largely settled on methods of free locomotion and static or teleportation-based movement methods, along with motion sickness mitigation measures.

There is, to be blunt about it, a lot of best practice and many road-tested templates that MetaVerse experiences – including MVFW – have either not yet implemented, or have discarded in favour of unnecessarily reinventing the wheel. And when an experience is positioned as being the vanguard of a new model of virtual world, those reinventions appeared to be hurting more than they were helping.

On the whole, The Interline remains optimistic about the crossover between the fashion industry and interactive media. This week saw the videogame industry in the UK reach a new milestone – exceeding £7 billion in revenue – and this provides considerable evidence that the market for digital expression, and people’s willingness to pay for virtual cosmetic items, is a slam-dunk. But at the same time, that industry – along with other interactive industries – is extremely mature, and its pipelines, tools, and end user experiences demonstrate that fact constantly.

As of the time of writing, none of this can really be said about the fashion MetaVerse, which is still asking its audience to accept a lot of compromises and to meet it halfway on aesthetics, interactivity, commercial models, and much more.

Things will, of course, change and evolve. But the difficult thing for any fashion brand to consider at this point in time is how to counterbalance the considerable amount of work required to support that evolution at the same time as new threats to the continued operation of their existing, physical, operations are emerging.

To put it another way, fashion has a lot of problems to solve already. And while the MetaVerse has real potential, it also still seems to come with a laundry list of problems of its own.

Luckily, there are new tools, workflows, and talent pools that could very soon be applied to solve those problems in a potentially sweeping fashion. Look for more from The Interline and its technology partners on precisely that subject very soon.

And the best from The Interline:

Since our last news analysis, The Interline has published a range of different web exclusives and reports, and has been a co-host of the inaugural Fashion Technology Festival. Key reading includes:

The Fashion Reset Report 2022, written by a global, multi-disciplinary team of fashion industry veterans who believe passionately that the historic disruption the fashion industry has undergone over the last two years has also created historic opportunities for change. With a foreword by our Editor, and support from The Interline, the Fashion Reset Report 2022 is a unique stake in the ground – a strongly-argued case for fashion to seize the chance to do things differently with the help of digital tools.

This report will also be followed later this spring by the 2022 PLM Report – the first deep-dive benchmark of the PLM industry for fashion jointly branded by The Interline and its sister publication WhichPLM, reflecting the heightened importance that digital transformation strategies (which are comprised of a range of different upstream and downstream process changes) now place on PLM as a centrepiece of the technology ecosystem.

Banner artwork for The Interline's supply chain data podcast

The third episode of The Interline Podcast is due for release very soon, but last month’s episode – The Data-Driven Supply Chain – remains vital listening for anyone interested in the evolution of sustainability strategies, the ways that fashion can take action on time-critical humanitarian issues like fair wages, and why data remains an essential building block of any future proof, resilient, agile supply chain.

Those same themes are explored in even more depth in our virtual workshop, produced in partnership with Coats Digital, which examined the the barriers to fair labour compensation, and which includes guidelines for how brands, retailers, and their supply chain partners can begin to evolve their sustainability strategies to prioritise people as well as planet.

A different angle on supply chain transformation appears in our next exclusive, co-written by two of The Interline‘s newest contributors. This piece examines why the drive towards transparency in sourcing and manufacturing from the brand’s perspective could represent a threat to intellectual property rights and trade secrets for suppliers.

Finally, our latest collaboration with PlatformE looks at the growth of organic online communities (including influencers, streamers, and celebrities) and why those communities could represent a new wave of post-brand fashion – provided they are supported by a new era of production and distribution on-tap.

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