So that’s it.
Last October, after Mark Zuckerberg revealed his vision for the new Meta (formerly Facebook) and the amazing future that awaited in Web 3.0, and was roundly teased for his decision to do so via an avatar wearing the exact same thing that Mr. Zuckerberg wears in his daily life – this, in a world of infinite possibilities! — Meta picked up the problem and threw down some kind of glove.
“Hey, Balenciaga”, the company tweeted“What’s the dress code in the metaverse?”
This week, Balenciaga, along with Prada and Thom Browne, responded courtesy of Meta’s new avatar fashion store, which began rolling out to users in the United States, Canada, Thailand and Mexico. While the social media company had offered a variety of free (and generic) outfits for avatars used on Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger, this marks the first time it’s enlisted named designers to create looks-for-purchase for virtual selves.
And the answer is… a red hoodie with Balenciaga logo.
Also ripped jeans and a plaid shirt, a motocross jumpsuit, a black skirt suit and low-rise jeans paired with a crop logo t-shirt and logo briefs (four outfits in all). The quintessential Balenciaga looks, in other words, to anyone who has followed the brand. Like Thom Browne’s offerings, a shrunken gray three-piece suit, pleated gray dress suit and shorts is Mr. browne. And since at least one of Prada’s four looks — a white logo triangle tank top and tiered skirt — seemed to come straight off the most recent runway (though they also offer the perennial logo sweatshirt).
But still, is that it?
These are four of the most creative, thoughtful fashion designers working today – Demna Gvasalia of Balenciaga, Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons of Prada, and Mr. Browne – designers whose clothing IRL struggles with the way social and political forces define identity at the most essential levels; designers whose work has addressed climate change, gender, war, capitalism, value issues and viral celebrity. And all they (or perhaps their digital, merchandising, and marketing teams) could think of when they need to dress in a space free from gravity and any kind of physical limitation are cartoon copies of one of the most famous clothes they’ve ever seen. already sell?
Well, Mr. Browne emailed when asked how he chose his outfits: “It took me two seconds, not a second, to know what it should be. I thought the gray suit was necessary to participate in this world .”
The argument is that simply by 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 otherwise inaccessible. Which is true, commercially speaking, and essentially positions the Meta look as the NewGen equivalent of a lipstick: the ultimate diffusion lines, almost all barriers to entry erased.
And while it’s good that the tech world, which has scared off fashion since its attempt to make wearables chic fell pretty much flat on its face, realizes that if it wants to get into the world of clothing, it’s best to let the experts out. To join , these particular offerings seem to be based on the lowest common expectations of ourselves in the virtual world.
The whole point of the kind of fashion Mrs. Gvasalia et al. create is that it’s more than commercial: it shows us who we are, or who we want to be, at a specific point in time in ways 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 in his IRL shows† Recently, he designed a top that looked like a giant wire-covered cross between a tennis ball and a turtle shell, turning a woman into a toy soldier. mr. Gvasalia takes the everyday – terry cloth robes, Ikea bags – and makes it extraordinary by undermining all expectations. You would think the jump to the metaverse would be a good idea for them.
But what appears to be the “clothing” this troika designed for the Meta store show is largely an opportunity to show off brand loyalty and leverage their archives in the simplest of 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 want to wear – rather than something completely new.
in a 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 in various outfits and quizzed him about his reactions. “It takes a certain amount of confidence to carry Prada from shoulder to toe,” said Mr. Zuckerberg, suggesting he didn’t have that confidence IRL, though he might be in the metaverse.
But that’s a fundamental misunderstanding of fashion — and the whole idea of self-expression. Because who wears a look that’s all from one designer in real life? Celebrities paid by the brand in public situations, fashion casualties and models in magazine shoots where the brand lends clothes only when they are not mixed with the work of other designers.
In a Facebook post at the store, Mr. Zuckerberg also said that Meta wanted to create an avatar fashion offering because “digital goods will be an important way to express yourself in the metaverse and a big engine of the creative economy.” But self-expression isn’t about swallowing a designer look as a whole. Self-expression is about using the tools that designers create to create something individual.
It doesn’t take confidence—it doesn’t even take a thought—to wear a look completely dictated by a designer. It just takes the desire to be a vehicle of branded advertising, which Meta currently facilitates. Maybe that’s really where some users want to go (maybe that’s always been a fantasy), but that won’t lead to an expansion of the world as we know it, but rather more factionalization.
Especially since avatars are not cross-platform creations. So if you want the virtual you to wear Prada – or Balenciaga or Thom Browne – you can only do that on Meta platforms. Just like you want the virtual you to wear Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren or Gucci, you have to be on Roblox.
To be fair, perhaps this will change as technology changes, just as the ability to dress up your avatar may change. At this point, when picking out an outfit in the Meta wardrobe, you have to choose a whole ready-made look rather than being able to build with one piece of clothing at a time. In the future, maybe a Balenciaga hoodie could be paired with a Prada skirt and a pair of unnamed shoes.
Mr. Zuckerberg has said that at some point Meta will open the shop to digital-only fashion brands and other new creatives — the kind of designer/inventor who already sell their wares on the digital marketplace DressX, where most of the truly alternative interpretations of “clothing” can be found.
If so, dressing up your avatar in the morning may feel less like playing paper dolls, and more like a unique form of value detection and experimentation; may seem additive, rather than just imitation. But not yet.