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The Avatars Wear Prada – The New York Times




So that’s it.

Last October, after Mark Zuckerberg unveiled his vision of the new Meta (formerly Facebook) and the incredible future that awaited him in Web 3.0, and was hotly teased for his decision to do so via an avatar wearing the exact same thing that Mr. Zuckerberg wears in his daily life, in a world endless possibilities! Meta understood the problem and threw a kind of gauntlet.

Hey, Balenciaga, the company tweetedWhat is the dress code in the Metaverse?

This week Balenciaga responded, along with Prada and Thom Browne, courtesy of new avatar fashion store Metas, which has begun rolling out to users in the US, Canada, Thailand and Mexico. Although the social media company has offered a variety of free (and generic) outfits for avatars used on Facebook, Instagram and Messenger, this is the first time it has used named designers to create looks to buy. for virtual selves.

And the answer is a red hoodie with the Balenciaga logo.

Also ripped jeans and a plaid shirt, motocross suit, black skirt and low rise jeans paired with a cropped logo tee and logo briefs (four outfits total). Quintessential Balenciaga resembles, in other words, everyone who has followed the brand. Much like the Thom Brownes offering, a shrunken gray three-piece suit, pleated gray skirt suit and shorts is Mr. Brownes’ trademark uniform. And like at least one of Prada’s four looks, a white tank top with a logo triangle top and ruffled skirt seemed to come straight from the most recent runway (although they also offer the everlasting logo sweatshirt ).

But still, is that it?

These are four of the most creative and considered fashion designers working today Demna Gvasalia of Balenciaga, Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons of Prada, and Mr. Browne’s designers whose IRL clothes grapple with the way forces social and political shape identity at the most essential levels; designers whose work has addressed climate change, gender, war, capitalism, issues of value and viral stardom. And all they (or perhaps their digital, merchandising, and marketing teams) might come up with when tasked with imagining dressing in a space unbound by gravity and any sort of physical limitation are copies of cartoons among the most familiar clothes they already sell?

Well, Mr. Browne emailed when asked how he chose his outfits, it took me two seconds, not a second, to figure out what was needed. I thought the gray suit needed to engage in this world.

The argument is that by simply making these clothes, which normally sell for hundreds and thousands of dollars, available to a wider group of users (in the Meta store the price range is 2 $.99 to $8.99), they democratize what would otherwise be inaccessible. Which is true, commercially speaking, and essentially positions Meta looks as the NewGen equivalent of a lipstick: the ultimate in diffusion lines, almost all barriers to entry erased.

And while it’s good that the tech world, which has gotten rid of fashion since the attempt to make wearables chic fell flat on its stomach, realizes that if it wants to play in the world of dress, better invite the experts, these particular offers seem based on the lowest common expectations of ourselves in the virtual world.

All the interest of the fashion genre of MM. Gvasalia et al. create is that it is more than commercial: it shows us who we are, or who we want to be, at a specific moment in time in a way we didn’t even understand until we saw it.

If creative minds could imagine what a paradigm shift might look like, you’d think it would be them.

Mr. Browne already does this sometimes on his IRL shows. Recently, he designed a top that looked like a giant cross covered in cables between a tennis ball and a turtle shell, and turned a woman into a toy soldier. Mr. Gvasalia takes everyday terrycloth bathrobes, Ikea bags and makes them extraordinary by subverting all expectations. You’d think jumping to the metaverse would be a no-brainer for them.

Still, what the clothes this troika designed for the Meta store show seems to be, in large part, an opportunity to show brand allegiance and leverage their archives in the easiest way. The implication is that users want to wear the same clothes in a digital space as in a physical space or at least the same clothes they aspire to wear rather than something entirely new.

In a Instagram Live Chat with Eva Chen, Director of Fashion Partnerships for Instagram, showcasing the new store, Ms. Chen flashed sketches of Mr. Zuckerberg’s avatar in different outfits and asked him about his reactions. It takes a certain confidence to wear Prada from shoulder to toe, Zuckerberg said, suggesting he doesn’t have that confidence IRL, although he can do it in the metaverse.

But that’s a fundamental misunderstanding of fashion and the whole idea of ​​self-expression. After all, who wears an entirely designer look in real life? Celebrities paid by the brand in public situations, fashion victims and models in magazines where the brand will only lend clothes if they are not mixed with the work of other designers.

In a Facebook post on the store, Mr. Zuckerberg also said that Meta wants to create an avatar fashion offering because digital products will be an important means of self-expression in the metaverse and a big driver of the creative economy. But self-expression isn’t about swallowing a designer look whole. Self-expression is about using the tools created by designers to create something individual.

It doesn’t take confidence, it doesn’t even take the thought of wearing a look dictated entirely by a designer. It just takes the desire to be a branded advertising vehicle, which Meta currently facilitates. Maybe that’s really where some users want to go (maybe it’s always been a fantasy), but it’s not going to lead to an expansion of the world as we know it, but rather a greater factionalization.

Especially because avatars are not cross-platform creations. So if you want the virtual to wear you Prada or Balenciaga or Thom Browne, you can only do that on the Meta platforms. Just like if you want the virtual to carry you Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren or Gucci, you have to be on Roblox.

To be fair, that may change as technology evolves, just as the ability to dress up your avatar may change. Right now, when choosing any type of outfit from the Meta wardrobe, you have to choose a complete pre-made look rather than being able to build with one item of clothing at a time. In the future, perhaps, a Balenciaga hoodie could be paired with a Prada skirt and a no-name pair of shoes.

Mr. Zuckerberg said that at some point, Meta would open the store to digital-only fashion brands and other new creatives, the kind of creators/inventors already selling their wares on the DressX digital marketplace, where most of the Truly alternative interpretations of the clothes can be found.

If so, dressing your avatar in the morning may feel less like a game of paper dolls and more like a unique form of value signaling and experimentation; may seem additive, rather than merely imitative. But not yet.




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