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Trend 7 May May 2021 1529 7 May 2021

Virtual catwalks, gamification and social commerce: here's how fashion has reinvented itself in the pandemic

Coronavirus has cancelled catwalks, shuttered up boutiques and scrubbed out mass events. The sector is bubbling with fresh trends and will increasingly call for new skills and professionals, such as game designers

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Balenciaga drew the curtains back this past 6 December to share its Fall/Winter 2021 collection with "Afterworld: The Age of Tomorrow”. The name is not necessarily whispered on fashion runways: rather, it is an open world video game set in 2031. All the avatars in the game were clad in the Parisian fashion designer outfits for the occasion.

This was no mere stunt to lure in Gen Z or gamers. Balenciaga's move is perfectly consistent with industry-wide trends, as virtual reality is poised to host upcoming post-COVID fashion shows. For 2021, Balenciaga has scheduled two pre-collections during the conventional fashion weeks and main collections in June and December. Only a single haute couture collection will be showcased via the classic fashion show format. Everything else will go digital.

The first major advantage of a virtual reality proposal is intuitive, and concerns the audience: Unlike a classic fashion show, which tops out at 700 guests, a virtual runway can accommodate several tens of millions of users at the same time.

Balenciaga embraced gamification as a phenomenon that has proved to be one of the most popular solutions in the industry since the start of the pandemic. After all, it was absolutely vital to find alternative avenues: coronavirus has cancelled catwalks, shuttered up boutiques and scrubbed out mass events.

Unable to dress real people, this process is implanted into the video game, offering new looks to enhance the appearance of the avatars

Gucci, for example, has fielded new gaming experiences: the Gucci Arcade platform lets users play remakes of classic video game titles from the 1970s and 1980s, in settings clearly revisited and inspired by the motifs of the Florentine fashion house.

Burberry released B-Bounce, a game featuring a deer dressed in the brand's clothing who has to hop on trampolines while avoiding clouds of rain and snow that would otherwise slow its progress.

The Valentino label, meanwhile, proposed a design very similar to Balenciaga's: twenty looks designed by Pier Paolo Piccioli for the avatars of "Animal Crossing: New Horizons", the Switch-enabled Nintendo video game that caused a sensation in late 2020.

The underlying concept of gamification is very simple: unable to dress real people, this process is implanted into the video game, offering new looks to enhance the appearance of the avatars.

It's a way to not only showcase new models but also sell garments directly in-game, using a digital version. One of the world's most popular games, Fortnite, for example, made the bulk of its revenue ($2.4 billion in total) from selling avatar "skins" back in 2018.

This of course also required new skills, know-how and abilities in the fashion industry: game designers are increasingly joining the ranks of fashion labels and may become key figures in the industry in the future.

Game designers are increasingly joining the ranks of fashion labels and may become key figures in the industry in the future

And yet gamification is hardly the only transformation for fashion in the year of the pandemic. The industry also embraced the sustainable market shift, driven by consumer preferences but also by a growing awareness of industry waste and emissions.

A further trend relates to the release of many themed films and TV series. Gucci, for one, gave the keys to director Gus Van Sant for 'Overture of Something that Never', a seven-part miniseries to present its new collection in November. The brand's social channels will show one episode a night, starring actress Silvia Calderoni on the streets of Rome and special guests such as Billie Eilish and Harry Styles.

A digital version of Donatella Versace appeared last 7 December during the "ComplexLand" virtual festival, where the brand sold 100 pairs of trainers to event participants only.

Events simply moved over to digital, thus reshaping the rules of the market. In September, Burberry teamed up with Twitch for a live stream to unveil the brand's new collection. In doing so, Burberry was one of the first labels to focus on s-commerce. Not e-commerce: the 's' stands for social. Albeit largely regarded as a small market segment, and certainly not a channel in which big brands thought they should invest to revamp their future, shopping via Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp has nevertheless been around for quite some time.

Facebook, for example, had already started work on its e-commerce portal in 2012, albeit without much success. The first lockdown in 2020, however, turned the tide completely: A 40% usage jump in Facebook and Instagram convinced the social network's developers to accelerate the launch of Shops, the virtual shopping portal that uses the company's three main brands, namely Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, though it is currently only accessible in the United States.

Compared to classic e-commerce, s-commerce also revitalises conversation and social interaction

If social media is an intriguing idea for big fashion brands, it is also an intriguing idea for small independent designers and boutiques, who can leverage the new platform to convert their profiles into virtual shops at a fraction of the cost of physical shops.

Compared to classic e-commerce, s-commerce also revitalises conversation and social interaction, which is based on active engagement by shoppers sharing information regarding a product, maybe garment matching tips and even articles written by members of virtual communities.

Yet there isn't just Facebook's Shops, which is still growing in number. In February, TikTok also inched ahead in Europe with its partnership with Shopify, riding the successful wave in the United States. TikTok and Facebook are hardly rivals, though, as they target different user groups: Roughly 40% of TikTokers do not have Facebook accounts.

Most importantly, this agreement means that European businesses using the Shopify e-commerce platform to manage their online shop can sell their products via Shoppable Ads: video content that provides direct access to the brand's online shop.

Shopify even provided some insight into the scope of the project: "This is a unique opportunity to reach TikTok's huge global community, which in Europe alone has over 100 million monthly active users, whose growth across all key demographics makes the video-sharing platform the ideal showcase for tapping into new customers and increasing brand awareness, regardless of company size or the products or services they offer."

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