Facebook Meta and fashion: Balenciaga, Prada, Thom Browne



Well, Browne emailed when asked how he chose his outfits, “it took me two seconds, no one second, to know what it needed to be. I thought the grey suit needed to engage in this world.”

All they could come up with when tasked to imagine dress in a space unbound by gravity and any kind of physical limitation are cartoon copies of among the most familiar clothes they already sell?

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 US$2.99 [$4.34] to US$8.99), they are democratising the otherwise inaccessible. Which is true, commercially speaking, and essentially positions the Meta looks as the NewGen equivalent of a lipstick: 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 the attempt to make wearables chic fell pretty much flat on its face, realises that if it wants to play in the world of dress, best to invite the experts in, these particular offerings seem predicated on the lowest common expectations of our selves in the virtual world.

The whole point of the kind of fashion that Demna, 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 ways we didn’t even understand until we see it.

Yet what the “clothes” this troika have designed for the Meta store show seem to be, largely, are 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 aspire to wear – rather than something entirely new.

In an Instagram Live conversation with Eva Chen, director of fashion partnerships for Instagram, introducing the new store, Chen flashed sketches of Zuckerberg’s avatar in different outfits and quizzed him on his reactions. “It does take a certain confidence to wear shoulders-to-toe Prada,” Zuckerberg said, suggesting he did not have that confidence IRL, though he might 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 one designer in real life? Celebrities paid by the brand in public situations, fashion victims and models in magazine shoots in which the brand will lend clothes only if they aren’t mixed with the work of other designers.

In a Facebook post on the store, 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 driver of the creative economy.” But self-expression is not about swallowing a designer look whole. Self-expression is about using the tools designers create to make something individual.

It doesn’t take confidence – it doesn’t even take thought – to wear a look entirely dictated by a designer. It simply takes the desire to be a vehicle of brand advertising, which is what Meta is currently facilitating. Maybe that’s really where some users want to go (maybe that’s always been a fantasy), but that’s not going to lead to an expansion of the world as we know it, but rather yet more factionalisation.

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Especially because avatars are not cross-platform creations. So if you want the virtual you to wear Prada – or Balenciaga or Thom Browne – you can do it only on Meta platforms. Just as if you wanted the virtual you to wear 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 an 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.

Zuckerberg has said that at some point Meta will open the store to digital-only fashion brands and other new creatives – the sort of designer/inventors 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-signalling and experimentation; may seem additive, rather than just imitative. But not yet.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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