2020 could very well be remembered in the pages of history as the year of fashion’s mid-life crisis. An unprecedented global lockdown changed the much-revered fashion week calendar, raising existential questions about the prudence—or even necessity—of sartorial theatrics and elaborate productions. Amidst much hand-wringing about the excesses of the industry, one pawn on the chessboard found itself blessed with the momentum that it needed—virtual fashion shows. Although touted as the next big thing for a while now, virtual alternatives have never quite been able to compete with their real-world counterparts. With the fashion world suddenly finding itself caged within a global lockdown, the contactless world of virtual runway shows managed to make the transition to the mainstream.
Further proof of the same can be found in Milan-based deep-tech company, Bigthinx, that offers artificial intelligence for fashion and retail. Chandralika Hazarika and Shivang Desai, the co-founders, recently put together a live virtual runway show for Fashinnovation, a business platform that connects fashion designers with tech innovators within the industry. Hazarika confirms that the sudden lockdown served as the springboard for the virtual business model to achieve lift-off. She elaborates, “In April 2020, a client who had been hard hit by the cancellation of fashion weeks and travel bans asked us if we could create a virtual photoshoot of their clothing on the avatar of a famous supermodel which they could showcase to their buyers and distributors around the world. When Jordana Guimarães, the co-founder of Fashinnovation, saw this video and our technology, she immediately asked us to produce a virtual fashion show. Our artificial intelligence technology automatically creates life-like virtual avatars and digital clothing. These garments were showcased on the virtual avatars, which were then animated to walk a virtual ramp in a 3D setting to recreate the atmosphere of a physical runway show.”Understanding how virtual runway shows work
“We take some pictures of a runway model’s face and body, and use those to create a highly realistic, computerised 3D clone. This clone is dressed in realistic clothing also replicated from photos. A virtual, imaginary world is created for us to play, in which we make the model’s clone walk along a runway. This gives the designer endless possibilities of environments and models to choose from in order to create a memorable and unique show,” she explains.
With constant innovations being introduced across the globe, Hazarika affirms that there is much to be excited about within the realm of virtual shows. “Various formats are being explored, such as models dressing in designer outfits and recording themselves on cameras in their own homes, walking the ramp in front of green screens with the backgrounds being replaced with digital imagery and, of course, purely digital options such as ours. India is also on the path for adopting these formats, with large fashion brands reaching out to us for weighing the pros and cons of each approach. Each one comes with unique challenges on costs, setup, quality and coordination, and each one will have its own part to play in the digital transformation of virtual fashion shows,” she says.
Among the many challenges that the fashion-tech company faced while conceptualising the show was the need to educate designers and models on how to deliver pictures during the lockdown. She says, “During conventional fashion shows, designers are often working until the very last moment that the model walks on to the runway to make sure the look is exactly as per what they have envisioned. However, in order to produce a virtual show, pictures and details of the clothing need to be provided in advance to allow time to digitise them, which is something that designers are not used to. To create the computerised models, we requested a single, front-facing and evenly-lit picture of the model’s face. However, due to the nature of photoshoots that are carried out at home, we generally receive pictures taken from different angles to highlight their best features.”The scope of virtual runway shows
Hazarika believes that though digital fashion shows will not completely replace real-world runways, they will certainly make for a popular alternative. She says, “Virtual fashion shows serve as a levelling ground for e-commerce brands and upcoming designers who cannot afford to put on traditional fashion shows. As fashion shows are aspirational events, it is an opportunity for all designers to leverage a platform that has thus far been limited in scope.” In light of the ongoing health pandemic, virtual shows serve a greater purpose as well. “These shows do not require any physical interactions whatsoever between designer, models, stylists, spectators and buyers. As a result, they can be produced and showcased with all interactions happening purely virtually and thus, are free of restrictions on movement and hygiene concerns,” she explains.
When quizzed about the responsiveness of the Indian industry to virtual runway shows, she confirms that the industry has progressed by leaps and bounds over the course of a few short months. “Three months ago, virtual formats would have been scoffed at, especially for traditional Indian clothing which can be extremely detailed with embroidery and mirror work. It would have been unthinkable to showcase and replicate that in a virtual medium. However, we have witnessed a sea change in the Indian fashion industry and its awakening to the possibilities of virtual showcases. We are being contacted every day by designers and fashion brands from all around the country, with topics ranging from mere curiosity about how they can use virtual formats, to definite plans on incorporating digital solutions into their businesses,” she says.The road ahead
In the post-pandemic world, Hazarika envisions greater scope for virtual shows as a viable business model. “This period of uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic can provide further impetus for brands who are losing in-store footfalls to sell products directly to consumers online using artificial intelligence. Without sacrificing any of the advantages of in-person shopping, consumers can see how products look and fit on them, and find out exactly which size to buy from the convenience of their own homes. This maintains the consumer experience while also opening new, powerful channels of selling. We have also ventured into virtual photoshoots, enabling brands to shoot catalogs and organise virtual runway shows at a fraction of the cost of physical photoshoots.”
Looking ahead, she hopes to deploy the technology being developed by Bigthinx to several global markets, while also ushering in newer innovations for body sizing, virtual avatars and digital clothing, thus bringing the world closer to simulating virtual worlds that are indistinguishable from reality.Read more:
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