This week, the teams behind It’s A Working Title and Blockchain Style Lab will be authoring a three-part series of exclusive articles for The Interline, looking back at Metaverse Fashion Week 2023 and using it as a springboard for thinking about the future of digital fashion as a whole. This first instalment, from Jessica Quillin, PhD evaluates the user experience and artistic value of MVFW, and considers why endless possibilities don’t automatically translate into great user experiences.

Key takeaways:

  • As a lightning rod for digital fashion, Metaverse Fashion Week (MVFW) 2023 had a fractured reception, and the experience of taking part in an open-access digital fashion show seemed to register differently with different users.
  • Other industries – especially entertainment – appear to be achieving greater success, and attracting much larger audiences, with immersive events. Fashion is behind the curve in this respect.
  • Current real-time platforms, most notably Decentraland, would benefit hugely from better onboarding, wayfinding, and discoverability.
  • Brands adopting a more strategic, gamified, and user needs-focused approach to emerging technologies will continue to win over those that treat them as short-term opportunities.

Do we need metaverse or AI fashion weeks? What is the goal of a “metaverse” or “AI” fashion week as opposed to a traditional fashion week? What do these digital variances mean for the future of the fashion and luxury industries, if anything?

Evaluating the second annual Decentraland MVFW had me questioning the role and value of fashion weeks in today’s diffuse omnichannel physical-digital ecosystem. As a content strategist and former fashion editor, I approached MVFW from two slightly contradictory points of view: the effectiveness and utility of the content and user experience; and the storytelling and aesthetics of the overall experience.

Decentraland’s Tangpoko, MVFW 2023.

On the whole, I found points of interest within MVFW but not all of these were contained within the Decentraland platform. The addition of partner platforms, including Spatial and OVER, as well as more interoperability gave users more options, more things to see, and more places to go. What users could actually do within different events and areas of MVFW varied widely by activation, brand, and platform.

Within Decentraland, the Coach activation stood out because it was visually striking and gamified. The area was all decked out in pink with a huge Tabby bag hovering over the cityscape. Users were greeted with clear guidance (such as signs with actual content that said “Stand under the Tabby”) and were challenged to find five mini bags to win a free wearable. 

Tommy Hilfiger, for MVFW 2023.

Similarly, both the Tommy Hilfiger and Ben Bridge Jeweler’s booths were striking and involved some level of gamified immersive experience. The Tommy Hilfiger space featured an interoperable “hub” created by Emperia that would transport you to DressX, ReadyPlayerMe, Spatial, and Roblox for a variegated experience, which was interesting, though in Decentraland it appeared as an interactive logo wall. Also, the treasure hunt-like game you had to complete to find various Lego-like pieces kept freezing the screen (I was on the Mac desktop version of Decentraland that was still in beta), so I never finished the game because it did not save the pieces I found when I came back. Another interesting activation was the space created by Ben Bridge Jewelers with metaverse firm Verse Digital. The Ben Bridge area demonstrated a well-articulated gamified content strategy that engaged users with challenges, treasure hunts, and quests with exclusive wearables as prizes over the course of several days.

Ben Bridge Jewelers, Verse Digital, for MVFW 2023.

Not surprisingly, the user experience of MVFW varied widely across platforms. On the whole, the UX of Decentraland remains “clunky,” as more than one critic called it, and is, frankly, obfuscating for inexperienced users perhaps because it is web-based. Decentraland would benefit from more opportunities for truly guided experiences and improved wayfinding for discoverability. And guided tours are not enough. For one, I found the Decentraland avatar difficult to control at first; and the map with coordinates as a way of navigating feels unintuitive even if you know your way around. Spatial, OVER, and Roblox, on the other hand, are inherently much more flexible than Decentraland, though they, too, have their own UIs, which have both strengths and weaknesses. 

Aesthetically speaking, year two of MVFW involved so many brands, events, and platforms that it is almost impossible to take a position. Suffice to say, the experience of MVFW seemed to register differently with different users. Off-main event Artificial Rome’s Soil platform was the sleeper hit of MVFW with its simply breathtaking, well-rendered graphics and beautifully-presented storytelling. Within the main MVFW event, it is hard to discuss the aesthetics of MVFW without noting that each platform has a distinct look and feel and widely divergent user bases between the essentially social gaming focus of Roblox with its at-times cartoonish graphics to the more hyper-futuristic, more photo-realistic approach of Spatial.

SOIL, Artificial Rome, for MVFW 2023.

But, in an immersive environment where the experience is anything we can imagine, do we in fact need to change our expectations for digital fashion and fashion events? Is a traditional timed runway show no longer relevant when you can showcase a collection in motion through a live action game or an immersive challenge? Who wants to watch even digital avatars walk a virtual runway or to wander passively around a digital museum if you can jump over buildings and have adventures, dance the night away, and network with fellow fashion lovers, all while wearing brands you cannot afford IRL?

So, if anything is possible what happens then if you put the theater in the metaverse, only make it fashion? One of the most fascinating events of MVFW was perhaps the least talked about: the premiere of the world’s first metaverse fashion opera, #CAPITAL, composed by Alastair White. The opera was semi-staged, combining pre-recorded video with live action avatars, fully in the round with participants part of the experience. 

#CAPITAL, composed by Alastair White, for MVFW 2023.

During an interview, White was effusive about the creative possibilities of staging an opera in a fully digital environment. He noted, “[T]here was a genuine sense of awe…. [The event] was wonderfully participatory, but not the way I expected. I’d expected … [that] there would be lots of different perspectives within the show and together that kind of communal element…. [But] it was much more immersive in that sense and everyone became part of the show. And that was a really exciting, interesting thing because obviously everybody there is already in an artwork because they have an avatar.”

If it is possible to stage an opera in the metaverse, the potentialities for fashion events within immersive environments are, in a word, endless. If we judge MVFW a failure (or at least “not a success”), we fail to identify the nascent stage of development of these emerging technologies and the very real extent to which it is, like all metaverse activations of the past several years, a big brand experiment. If AI Fashion Week received more positive media accolades than MVFW, it is perhaps because AIFW was at once more tangible (it had a physical runway component) and we are currently in the middle of the AI hype cycle, putting AI in a more positive place in the public imagination. 

What should the experience of fashion weeks in the metaverse look and feel like? Do we even need them? The jury is out. What is clear is that brands adopting a more strategic, gamified, and user needs-focused approach to these emerging technologies will continue to win over those that do not.