So that ‘s it.
Last October, after Mark Zuckerberg had unveiled his vision for the new Meta (formerly Facebook) and the amazing future that awaited in Web 3.0, and had been roundly teased for his decision to do so through an avatar playing exactly the same thing Mr. Zuckerberg wears in his everyday life – this, in a world infinite possibility! – Meta picked up the problem and threw down a gauntlet of sorts.
“Hey, Balenciaga,” the company tweeted“What is the dress code in the metaverse?”
This week Balenciaga responded, along with Prada and Thom Browne, courtesy of Meta’s new avatar fashion store, which started a rollout to users in the United States, Canada, Thailand and Mexico. Although the social media company has offered a variety of free (and generic) outfits for avatars on Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger, this is the first time it has enlisted designers to create look-for-purchase for virtual selves.
And the answer is… a red Balenciaga logo hoodie.
Also some ripped jeans and a plaid shirt, a motocross jumpsuit, a black skirt suit, and low-rise jeans paired with a crop logo tee and logo briefs (four outfits in total). Quintessential Balenciaga looks, in other words, for anyone who has followed the brand. Just as Thom Browne’s offering is, a shrunken gray three-piece suit, pleated gray skirt suit and shorts outfit is Mr. Browne’s trademark uniform. And as at least one of Prada’s four looks – a white tank top with logo triangle and tiered skirt – appears to come straight from the most recent runway (though they, too, offer the perennial logo sweatshirt).
But still, that ‘s it?
Here are four of the most creative, considered fashion designers working today – Demna Gvasalia of Balenciaga, Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons of Prada, and Mr. Browne – Designers whose clothes IRL grapple with the way social and political forces shape identity at the most essential levels; Designers whose work has tackled climate change, gender, war, capitalism, questions of value and viral celebrity. And all they (or maybe their digital, merchandising and marketing teams) could come up with when imagined dressed in a space unbound by gravity and any kind of physical limitation are cartoon copies of the most familiar clothes they already sell?
Well, Mr. Browne emailed when asked how he chose his outfits, “It took me two seconds, no one second, to know what it needed. I thought the gray suit needed to engage in this world. “
The argument is that simply by making these clothes, which are usually sold for hundreds and thousands of dollars, to a wider group of users (in the Meta store the price range is $ 2.99 to $ 8.99), they are democratizing and otherwise inaccessible. Which is true, commercially speaking, and essentially the meta looks like a lipstick of the NewGen equivalent: the ultimate in diffusion lines, almost all barriers to entry erased.
And while it is good that the tech world, which has shied away from fashion since its attempt to make wearables chic fell pretty much flat on its face, it realizes that if it wants to play in the dress of the world, invite the best in the experts. , these particular offerings seem to be predicated on the lowest common expectations of our selves in the virtual world.
The whole point of the kind of fashion Mssrs. The Gvasalia et al. create that it is more commercial than it is: it shows us who we are, or who we want to be, at a specific moment in time we didn’t even understand until we see it.
If any creative minds were going to be able to imagine how a paradigm shift might look, you would think it would.
Mr. Browne already does this sometimes in his IRL shows. Recently he designed a top that looked like a giant cable-covered cross between a tennis ball and a turtle carapace, and turned a woman into a toy soldier. Mr. Gvasalia takes the everyday – terry-cloth bathrobes, Ikea bags – and makes it extraordinary by subverting all expectations. You’d think the leap to the metaverse would be a no-brainer for them.
Yet what this “clothes” this troika has designed for the Meta store seems to be, largely, an opportunity to show off brand allegiance and leverage their archives in the most straightforward ways. The implication is that users want to wear the same clothes in a digital space as they do in a physical space – or at least the same clothes they wear to aspire – rather than something completely new.
In an Instagram live conversation with Eva Chen, the director of fashion partnerships for Instagram, introducing the new store, Ms. Chen flashed sketches of Mr. Zuckerberg’s avatar has different outfits and quizzed him on his reaction. “It does take some confidence to wear shoulders-to-toe Prada,” Mr. Zuckerberg said he wasn’t suggesting IRL, though he might be in the metaverse.
But that’s a fundamental misunderstanding of fashion – and the whole idea of self-expression. After all, who wears a look entirely from a designer in real life? Celebrities are paid by the brand in public situations, fashion victims and models in magazine shoots in which the brand will lend clothes only if they are not mixed with other designers of the work.
In a Facebook post on the store, mr. Zuckerberg also said that Meta wanted to create an avatar fashion because “digital goods will be an important way to express yourself in the metaverse and a big driver of the creative economy.” But self-expression is not about swallowing a designer look whole. Self-expression is about the tools designers create to create something individual.
It does not take confidence – it does not even take thought – to wear a look is completely defined by a designer. It simply takes the desire to be a vehicle of brand advertising, which is what Meta is currently facilitating. Maybe it really is where some users want to go (maybe it has always been a fantasy), but it is not going to lead to an expansion of the world as we know it, but rather still more factionalization.
Especially because avatars are not cross-platform creations. So if you want to wear a virtual Prada – or Balenciaga or Thom Browne – you can do it only on the Meta platform. Just as if you wanted to wear the virtual Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren or Gucci, you have to be on Roblox.
To be fair, maybe this will change as technology changes, just as the ability to dress your avatar may change. Right now, when you pick any kind of outfit in the Meta wardrobe, you have to choose an entire premade look rather than being able to build with one garment at a time. In the future, perhaps, a Balenciaga hoodie could be paired with a Prada skirt and a pair of no-name shoes.
Mr. Zuckerberg has said that at some point Meta will open its store to digital-only fashion brands and other new creatives – the sort of designer / inventor already selling their wares on the digital marketplace DressX, which is where most of the truly alternative interpretations of ” clothes ”can be found.
If so, getting your avatar dressed in the morning may feel less like playing paper dolls, and more like a unique form of value-signaling and experimentation; May seem additive, rather than just imitative. But not yet.