A major gripe with virtual fashion shows populated by avatars and new technologies is that they change the collaborative structure of a live fashion show. Since the show’s inception in the 20th century, designers have worked hand-in-hand with models, make-up artists, hair stylists, set designers, DJs, and others to craft a theatrical moment. If you’re dressing a virtual character, you don’t really need a hair stylist… or do you?
Carolina Sarria’s latest show, presented on Animal Crossing earlier this week, brings together all the elements of a physical fashion show, translated to a digital format. Stefan Beckman designed the set for Sarria’s show, Anthony Turner did the hair, and Mark Carrasquillo the makeup. Casting director Nicola Kast made sure the best models and stars, from Dilone to Aaron Philip, appeared on the runway. “I wanted to participate in Carolina’s show being that I think it’s a really genius and innovative way of bringing the runway to life again, even in the midst of the pandemic,” says Philip. “I think the thought of virtual avatars for real models could be very fun to utilize and it’s already happening. Personally, I really love and miss the IRL runway experience, but with everything happening in the world, it’s a very explorative and imaginative alternative that is also more accessible to people across the globe and out of fashion.”
Bringing the show to a popular video game was a natural decision for Sarria, who has long pushed the boundaries of fashion with her designs and modes of presentation. “Once I was introduced to Nintendo and Animal Crossing, I knew I wanted to use it for my show,” she says. “I wanted a full, real show, and to make everyone’s avatar.”
Siobhan Bonnouvrier, Sarria’s partner and a fashion consultant, helped make the show real. “We thought it could be really fun to take Animal Crossing to the next level and bring the moment in time that we’re all living into the game,” she says. “We also thought that part of the power of a fashion show is everyone involved.”
Aaron Philip in the Carolina Sarria show
Bringing the team together to make an Animal Crossing show was no different than a physical show, according to many involved. “It was the same process as a regular show, sending out those same emails,” says Kast, who cast the show. “Maybe it took a little less time because it’s in a virtual space, so there are no competitive other shows,” she continues with a laugh. With the goal of building a show just as elevated as a real event, Kast created a cast of models including Ruth Bell, Raisa Flowers and Indya Moore to show off Sarria’s radical new collection.
What’s more, the collection has a charitable component, benefitting the Marsha P Johnson Institute and the Andy Warhol Foundation through sales of Sarria’s garments on Animal Crossing. The partnership arrived organically, with Warhol’s Ladies and Gentlemen series starring Johnson serving as Sarria’s inspiration for her printed dresses and balaclavas. “I’m a huge fan of Carolina’s work. It’s youthful and fresh with a huge helping of rebelliousness, which I gravitate towards in a big way,” says hair stylist Anthony Turner. “I’m an advocate for trans rights and when I found out proceeds were going to the Marsha P Johnson institute I just had to be on board.”
“To be honest I didn’t know anything about Animal Crossing,” says Mark Carrasquillo, the makeup artist. “Initially I said yes to Carolina because I like her and would do anything to support her, but the more we spoke the more interesting the project became, especially when she said the Marsha P Johnson charity would be involved.”
Both Turner and Carrasquillo said that Animal Crossing, with limited personalization options, could be a bit of a struggle for someone used to the freedom of a real model, but they were excited to translate their work to a new medium. “It felt a lot like accessorizing these cute little characters, choosing hairstyles and hats to suit them and the collection,” says Turner. “I loved the range of hairstyles; they really felt like something I might do in reality—the punky cuts and colors were right up my alley.”
Raise Flowers in the Carolina Sarria show
For Sarria, designing for a video game provided its own set of challenges, but ones she was ready to rise to meet. “Designing the collection, it was a long process, a lot of long hours and days and weeks,” she says. “I wanted to make sure that it was different than usual. I love the look of Animal Crossing, but I wanted it to feel like more than that. I wanted to speak more of the inspiration of the show. I was happy we had the opportunity an exclusive mini capsule inside the show [with the Marsha P Johnson Institute] of garments inspired by Warhol’s Polaroids.”
Watch the show video here, and you’ll feel all the thrill of an IRL fashion show, as well as the indefinable bit of community at the heart of Fashion Week. Models are represented beautifully, the music is jamming, and the message of inclusion that Marsha P Johnson fought for is spotlit by more than the fashion: there’s also an avatar of Johnson. “You can still speak [about a cause] in Nintendo,” says Sarria. “I feel like the whole world right now is in this digital acceleration and there is a steep learning curve as far as technology and digital platforms, but in the end these are just new ways of communicating. To be a part of that sort of conversation is really valuable.”