How To Keep Up With Fashion In 2022

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How To Keep Up With Fashion In 2022

Words by Mr Dal Chodha

2 December 2021

What role do clothes have to play in an era of digital modernism, ecological destruction and economic uncertainty? The last two offbeat years may have given the industry an opportunity to reinvent itself, but what exactly is emerging out of this period of reckoning? As we move forward into 2022, our revived sense of social and ecological responsibility is colliding with a digital revolution: next year’s fashion will channel an earthy pragmatism and the pristine gloss of the virtual. On the surface, this might seem like two diametrically opposed worlds but the reality is that these two driving forces are coming together in increasingly curious ways.

Over the past two decades, fashion has triumphed as a sort of flat costume, used to furnish photographs and short videos that we dutifully share with millions of strangers on our social media feeds. But now it’s moving into the metaverse with various platforms that are pushing the augmented agenda a step further. There’s the newly launched ZERO10 with 3D body-tracking, cloth simulation and body-segmentation technology, which allows users to wear and model garments from digital designers through sophisticated augmented reality filters. There’s the Web3 experiential fashion NFT marketspace The Dematerialised, which has launched and sold NFTs from the likes of Karl by Karl Lagerfeld and Rebecca Minkoff. Both dance on the edges of what fashion ought to be in a world that is largely lived online.

But for all the excitement around digital fashion, NFTs and wearable tech, the physical world isn’t being phased out just yet. Part of the effect of innovation in digital fashion will mean that our concept of fashion as a mode of self-expression will simply become more expansive, according to Ms Seetal Solanki, founder of research consultancy Ma-tt-er and author of Why Materials Matter: Responsible Design for a Better World. “Digital and physical textiles come together successfully when they’re not competing with each other,” she says. “The digital and the physical should be thought of as a method of co-creation, much like the film and gaming industry do with CGI and using real actors and sets. It is not one ahead of the other.”

“Maybe this is the next frontier for us – an opportunity for us to expand the dynamics of human experience”

One example of the how this is currently working out is old-school (that is, physical) fashion’s current preoccupation with digital aesthetics. Bottega Veneta’s latest Salon 03 collection included anoraks and blouson jackets shot through with metal threads that evoked the patina of a well-travelled Samsonite case. The same surreal-but-real approach to textiles is there in the spongy heft of Mr Matthew Williams’ suiting at Givenchy for SS22, and the glossiness of the fluffy foulards and silken sleeveless knits we saw at Jil Sander. These are fabrics that look – and read – like they have been created on CLO, the 3D clothing-simulation software that first launched in 2009.

What’s perhaps even more remarkable is how digitisation has affected the notion of craft. During the pandemic, fashion designers began to be considered more as social activists than stylists, but now there is an interest in how the work of the human hand borrows from not just the look but the methods of digital matter.

Mr Niyi Okuboyejo’s label Post-Imperial is produced by human hands – a community of creators and makers that span the African continent – but in a way that could only work in a digitised world. The graphic prints for every Post-Imperial collection are first drawn digitally and then shared with artisans via WhatsApp.

“It isn’t a tool for project management but it’s a very easy thing for so many people in developing countries to use,” says Okuboyejo. “Everyone understands it. When I send the digital designs to the dye artisans, they go off and express them with their own hands. So, although it begins as a digital drawing, when it comes back it doesn’t look that way.”

In the hands of a brand such as 11.11/eleven eleven, meanwhile, the virtual world becomes a tool to help a garment tell a more human story. Hover your phone over a small, covered button at the side of one of its hand-spun cotton-yarn jumpers and you are offered a glimpse into the garment’s provenance: who made it, where and how. “It connects the wearer to people in remote regions and celebrates the work and lives of artisans who are custodians of these textile traditions,” says Ms Mia Morikawa, co-founder of the New Delhi-based label.

MR PORTER’s own brand Mr P. has a similar approach to transparency. Each item inthe new collection comes embedded with a unique digital ID that also records its provenance and, throughout its life cycle, its history, along with localised repair recommendations.

“One Bitcoin exchange uses the same amount of energy the average European household uses for four days – we need to be aware of that and not see everything digital as a way of battling the destruction of the planet”

The hand-spun textiles used by the likes of 11.11/eleven eleven, Story MFG. and Post-Imperial might seem a world apart from the fringed digital denim trousers by Kseniaschnaider available on ZERO10 or a metallic AR sweatshirt on The Dematerialised. But such garments are equally a reaction to the expanding metaverse of our post-pandemic era, not just because of their focus on social responsibility, but because of their appeal to our yearning for human touch.

In this sense, as much as 2022 will be a year of NFTs and virtual reality, it will also be that of a post-sartorial softness best emphasised, in next spring’s collections, by the supernatural elasticity at Rick Owens, the extra-terrestrial cashmere volumes of Hed Mayner and the languid tailoring at Ermenegildo Zegna. These are the designers firmly and finally revelling in the human body after a period fixated on comfort, craftsmanship and community.

As we head into a world that is more virtual and more sensual, then, we may find ourselves dressing for multiple lives at the same time. Each of us will have to consider how and what we want to communicate on these different planes of existence – and what our needs might be in both real life and the metaverse.

Admittedly, on the digital side, there’s clearly room for improvement, a fact that’s recognised by Ms Karinna Nobbs, co-CEO of The Dematerialised. “We are not seeing enough differences in styles being designed,” she says, referring to the fact that, within the virtual realm, there is a tendency towards cyber, shiny, fantasy-driven styles or utilitarian space and workwear. “Yes, we want to offer consumers the classic styles that they expect to see but in order to move the genre and its adoption forward, there needs to be greater variety,” Nobbs says.

It’s also premature, says Okuboyejo, to announce digital clothing as the answer to fashion’s waste problem. “You know, maybe this is the next frontier for us – an opportunity for us to expand the dynamics of human experience,” he says. “But I’m hoping that we don’t see this as some sort of silver-bullet solution to climate change… Digital waste is still something that we have to address. One Bitcoin exchange uses the same amount of energy the average European household uses for four days – we need to be aware of that and not see everything digital as a way of battling the destruction of the planet.”

Nonetheless, you would have to be very cynical to completely dismiss digital fashion’s vast potential, particularly when you consider how much easier it will be to experiment in the virtual realm. If we’ve become excessively (if happily) comfort-focused in our day-to-day wear, the digital world promises a safe space in which we can take our style evolution even further. That, surely, will be a lot of fun at least. “In virtual or blended environments, emerging research shows that consumers are more willing to take risks and be more experimental with their fashion choices,” says Nobbs. “That’s very exciting for the future of fashion.”

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