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Fashion and Content Strategy in the Age of the Metaverse
A publication of It's A Working Title LLC
This weekly publication focuses on how business and economics trends, technology, and the drive for sustainability impact the global luxury, fashion, and experience economy industries. Prepared by the staff of content strategy agency and think tank It’s a Working Title LLC, each week’s issue provides a summary of recent trends across the globe and a leader that conducts a deeper dive into content strategy.
This week’s contents
Leader: Fashion and Content Strategy in the Age of the Metaverse
“I do fashion to tell a narrative.” - Virgil Abloh
Fashion is at its most powerful when it tells a story.
What student of fashion history can forget Alexander McQueen’s runway cum psychiatric hospital for his Spring/Summer 2001 collection (or really any McQueen runway show). There also was Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel supermarket at the Grand Palais in Paris for the brand’s Fall/Winter 2014 collection. Of course, then there was Thierry Mugler’s Fall 1995 haute couture show, which basically was an hour-long fetishistic feast of the senses, featuring Jerry Hall, Naomi Campbell, Eva Herzigova, and Kate Moss and actresses Tippi Hedren and Julie Newmar on the runway, an actual striptease from Patty Hearst and a performance by James Brown.
The recent deaths of enigmatic Vogue editor-at-large André Leon Talley and designer Thierry Mugler, two of fashion’s greatest storytellers, have left open the future of fashion storytelling. What ALT and Thierry Mugler shared in common was an innate ability to create strong fashion narratives, through clothing, words, and vision. They were able to turn counternarratives into narratives, empowering marginalized voices into the mainstream, and telling stories their own ways with excessively bold creative vision.
However, the future of fashion narrative is changing. With the advent of fashion weeks in the Metaverse, fashion NFTs, and avatars, designers and brands are faced with an entirely new set of challenges to design, market, and sell clothes physically, digitally, and, well, phygitally.
Do we need a new way of telling stories in the Metaverse to reach consumers in a more dynamic, value-driven way? Do the same rules of fashion narrative even apply in an entirely digital realm where the ideas (and clothes) being sold are themselves virtual artifacts?
What happens to fashion storytelling in the Metaverse? How do brands know what stories to tell to reach consumers in the Metaverse? Do stories even matter in a realm in which you can literally wear and be anything you want?
Here are some insights from several fashion industry insiders:
Several brand CEOs and experienced marketing executives offered essentially the same answer: “The jury is still out. We are participating but in pilot phase to study data, to understand trends, and to get a sense of the true market opportunity.” That said, more than one person noted, “Really, you don’t want my opinion.”
Fashion designer Charli Cohen offered a bold vision on fashion storytelling:
“The metaverse allows brands not just to tell stories, but to actually build story worlds for their customers and fans to immerse themselves in - which can be very powerful if done right. The most meaningful way for traditional brands to approach the metaverse is with a long term vision, not just a one-off experiment (which can come off as a cash grab). The Web3 native customer wants to know that when a brand enters the metaverse, there’s a roadmap and that whatever they’re investing in has future utility (whether that utility is digital or in the physical world).”
Fashion advisor and creative director David M. Watts provided a nuanced view of the future of story in fashion:
“The new iteration of the Internet is going to shift the way we interact. There’s no doubt but until 3D graphics become life-like or hyperreal then it's only going to be of use to the Gaming industry. That’s still billions in revenues. This, however, should evolve within five years. New VR headsets and developments in graphics are bound to ratchet up the on-ramp experience. Luxury fashion brands cannot speak Metaverse language yet and therefore should stay clear for now. The old saying ‘doing it because you can and not because you should.’
“Also, [brands] don’t [know what stories to tell] and that’s the point. Brands outside of Gaming have no clue what reaches consumers and more over fashion consumers. It’s like trying to pitch/sell a luxury bag to a gamer. Why would you even try. Learn the language and then speak to Gamers (firstly) to engage and buy your customised product. Then develop and evolve your design and creative process to expand that.”
Further, when asked if the Metaverse is still more parlor trick than serious brand marketing opportunity, Watts said:
“[It’s the] Emperor’s New Clothes. Who has actually experienced the Metaverse yet, as really the only iteration commonly known is META from FB, a smart move to try to convince consumers that they own/manage the Metaverse, which is just a rebranding of Facebook? VR goggles are still in their development infancy stage, once again dominated by FB and the OCULUS product, so the Metaverse is still an evolutionary work in progress. There are platforms like UNITY who are trying to create the software opportunity and creating the digital infrastructure for the Metaverse to exist but still early days.”
In short, the story on the Metaverse is still being written. Smart brands will dip their feet in to get the lay of the land but will not make an enormous investment until the market is further developed.
That said, as a consumer, it’s a different story. As Vanessa Friedman recently noted, clothes matter in the Metaverse. Everyone wants to look good and access clothing that might normally be out of reach.
In the Metaverse, the price points for fashion and luxury NFTs are more affordable than in real life. This means you can wear whatever clothes you want and project whatever story of yourself that you can imagine. The Metaverse is immersively, purposefully fictitious.
It remains to be seen what narrative marketing looks like in the Metaverse and how brands will turn fad into profit over time and reach consumers.
Business & Economics
Farfetch acquires its long anticipated stake in Yoox Net-a-Porter (YNAP), paving the way for the creation of an e-commerce super giant. On August 24, Richemont announced the sale of a 50.7 percent stake in Yoox Net-a-Porter to Farfetch and investment vehicle owned by Dubai mall developer Mohamed Alabar. Under the terms of the widely expected agreement, Richemont will receive an 11 percent stake in the newly created online retailer while Farfetch has a path, through a put and call mechanism, to purchase the remaining YNAP shares in the next five years. For Farfetch (backed by Alibaba and the Pinault family), the deal furthers its place as a platform for luxury e-commerce. For Richemont, the deal removes a loss-making headache from its balance sheet, and it is expected to take 2.7 billion euro write down related to the agreement. On the backend, YNAP will adopt Farfetch’s online platform, providing an elegant solution to its need to upgrade its technology. Broadly speaking, the deal is among a raft of industry-wide investments in digital services as luxury players shrug off past scepticism and embrace new channels to reach customers, spurred by a faster shift to online consumption during the pandemic.
Eurozone consumer confidence bounced back in July, but hovers near historic lows. Euro-area consumer confidence unexpectedly improved, though remained below the trough experienced during the height of the pandemic, as the rising cost of living hurts households and energy shortages threaten to further weaken economic growth.
Fig 1.European Union Consumer Confidence
A weakening European consumer is bad news for luxury brands. While this periodical has reported that the revenues of major brands exhibited resilience in H1, the Eurozone is about a third of total sales for the industry with luxury fashion the largest segment in the region.
Fig 2.Decomposition of European Luxury Revenues, 2014-2027 (forecast)
The Middle East is a growth pole for both IRL and digital retail fashion. While rising prices are putting consumers under pressure across most of the world, the Middle East is benefitting from higher oil prices, which has powered strong Middle Eastern spending on fashion with 70 per cent of shoppers in the region having increased their spending on luxury goods this year. Moreover, with a young and growing population, the region is a strong market for digital retail experiences. For example, Dubai Municipality is creating a virtual city in the Metaverse, One Human Reality, which offers people a space to meet and share ideas. This is against a backdrop of a growing gaming population which is set to rise from 65.3 million in 2021 to 85.8 million in 2025. This high level of online engagement creates big potential, long-term opportunities for brands.
Stella McCartney’s new skincare line, Stella, in partnership with LVMH brings a thoughtful approach to sustainability in beauty. The “clean” beauty trend has recently come under fire due to false sustainability claims, particularly from celebrity-endorsed beauty brands. So, the launch of yet-another celebrity beauty line has critics raising an eyebrow or two. However, Stella is a green-focused beauty line that arguably sets a new standard for sustainability in beauty. Unlike other celebrity beauty brands, Stella takes the less is more approach with three simple products: a cleanser, a serum, and a cream. Featured ingredients include squalene, made from olive oil, and phytosterols, which is plant derived. Also, products are shipped, not flown, to the US and come in recyclable wood waste packages and can fit into recycled glass containers.
What are the prospects for even deeper collaborations between fashion and gaming? Collaborations between luxury brands and the gaming industry have been around for quite a while. For example, in 2016 Louis Vuitton used an avatar from the game “Final Fantasy” to model its products. These collaborations offer the potential to benefit both industries as the gaming industry has a wide reach that can provide new markets for luxury brands while luxury can bring new consumers to games. In many cases, these collaborations can bring in almost entirely new populations of consumers; for example, many consumers who cannot afford products of luxury fashion brands can now purchase it virtually for comparatively smaller price, in-game. Moreover, an expansion of digital fashion is an opportunity to expand the creativity of designers in an environmentally sustainable way. These collaborations are not without risks. There are strong concerns that need to be addressed to protect IP and to counter the risks of counterfeiting.
There is a demographic skew to the creator economy, yet it is in the form of 40-something Millennials rather than Gen-Z. According to Adobe’s “Future of Creativity” study, published on August 25, more than 40 percent of creators are Millennials with an average age of 40. The popular perception communicated by numerous retail marketing reports is that the creator economy is dominated by 20-somethings on TikTok, yet the poll of of over 4,500 creators found that this demographic segment comprised 14 percent of the market (excluding creators less than 16 years of age). Australia, the U.S., and the U.K. have the highest concentration of Millennial creators, while France has the fewest, Adobe found. Gen Z creators are mostly in Brazil, France, the U.S., and the U.K., and are less concentrated in South Korea and Australia.