Mixed Reality

Digital Realities: Augmenting Fashion


From enhancing a catwalk or retail experience to digital garments that react to your most recent tweets, the relationship between augmented reality and fashion is an increasingly attractive one. With designers and brands having to work harder than ever to keep up with the pace of technology, what influence does augmented reality hold across the fashion landscape, both today and tomorrow?
Augmented reality is, in its simplest terms, the fusing or layering of digital material on top of the real world. Not to be confused with virtual reality, which is the digital recreation of an entire environment, augmented reality’s success comes in the fact that it’s contextual, and attached to something real and physical.
Companies like Converse have used augmented reality to let customers virtually try on their products via a smartphone; Lacoste trialled something similar with their trainers and Henry Holland’s most recent LC:M show was, thanks to augmented reality, instantly shoppable from the catwalk.
One design house who has already successfully harnessed augmented reality is Hector & Karger, the Warsaw-based brand fronted by design duo Hektor Świtalski and Robert Karger. The brand presented their Autumn Winter 2015/16 collection through the world’s first ever interactive fashion look book, fully realised in augmented reality. Entitled RE_ALITY, received nominations for the Auggie Awards 2016 under the Best Campaign category.

“Thanks to an application called TAP2C, every reader of a fashion magazine where RE_ALITY was published could see the Hector & Karger collection in an entirely new dimension,” Świtalski explained as he introduced the concept. “With the use of a smartphone, a traditional lookbook was presented as a 3D image. Every reader had the chance to see an element of the collection from a different angle.”
On the release of the lookbook, the designers explained how Polish media was a fire with good reviews and in one case, after being covered in leading Polish fashion publication VIVA MODA, interest from the magazine’s readers increased by 800%. “Through RE_ALITY, we wanted the brand to come to life in the imaginations of all the people who have a broader concept of the future, of fashion and the world,” Karger added. “We believe this is the future, and it will dominate the classic tailoring we’re still faithful to. Thanks to the technology we used, a potential client could see a given outfit in every detail, without leaving the house.”

Although this proves the success of augmented reality from a stay at home smartphone stance, how should designers, both established and emerging, be using it to enhance their catwalk and presentation experience?
Matthew Drinkwater works at London College of Fashion, where he heads up the Fashion Innovation Agency. He was named amongst the ‘Top 15 people in UK tech’ by BBC3 and as a ‘fashion-tech trailblazer changing the course of retail’ by Drapers. For Drinkwater, the presence of augmented reality is only just beginning to be felt. “It’s been six years since Cassette Playa used augmented reality on the catwalk,” he says. “Fyodor Golan experimented with mixed reality in 2014 and last season Henry Holland and Blippar used their technology to hint at the future of retail through augmented reality.”
Confident that we’ll be seeing designers experimenting with augmented reality in the coming fashion weeks, Drinkwater believes “it offers artists the opportunity to entirely rethink how they showcase their collections. It’s 2016, and yet there’s still a piece of paper put on every seat to convey the designer’s inspiration for the season.”
As well as that, Drinkwater also explained how augmented reality could be used to create a memorable experience, where the designer could talk you through the collection. “By ‘touching’ pieces, you could receive information on the materials and techniques used,” Drinkwater said. “That’s very exciting. I think you’ll also see fashion houses experiment with augmented reality as a collaborative tool, where teams across the globe could be working on one garment design.”
Taking a step off the catwalk to e-commerce, the same could also be said. According to a 2015 report by TechCrunch, the technology media outlet forecasted that augmented and virtual reality could hit $150 billion revenue by 2020. Again, Drinkwater agrees that when augmented reality is introduced, the change could be “genuinely huge for the industry”. With talk of a future where we all wear augmented reality glasses and can download virtual outfits for ourselves or our friends, he feels “traditional retail business models will be challenged and how brands and designers bring their product to market will change dramatically”.
It’s when you consider augmented reality’s next step, though, that things get particularly interesting. N O R M A L S is a multidisciplinary and trans-media collective dedicated to the practice of anticipation and world-building. They look at emerging technologies and social characteristics of today, and extrapolate them into fiction, with the intention of stimulating debate about the future of our societies.
They recently released A P P A R E L, an app that, using augmented reality, gives you the chance to see your online data turned into an interactive, part digital and part physical piece of clothing. In other words, it’s an app that turns your digital data into an almost wearable fabric.
“The reason we chose the field of fashion is simple. It’s something everyone needs, and therefore something everyone relates to,” Aurélien Michon of N O R M A L S explained. “We wanted viewers to ask themselves questions about the future of objects in a digitally augmented world, so what better object than one we use every day, whatever culture we’re from. Everyone needs clothes.”
Describing fashion as “a public platform,” N O R M A L S were also intrigued by the personality we communicate through shape and colour. “Being very personal, we believe [fashion] is the most important first step for augmented reality to become more than tech and be adopted as an authentic, digitally native material.”
On explaining the technology itself, Michon states that “there is a semantic algorithm scanning through the user’s latest messages, or tweets in this case, and if certain words are identified the parameter associated with this particular meaning will evolve. If you use a lot of exclamation marks, or if you’re authoritative, your piece’s shoulders will inflate as the ‘Authoritopathy’ mod will accumulate that data. If you tweet cute things, the ‘Kawaiiopathy’ mod will go up, and your piece will start displaying all sorts of symbols and animal heads. There are ten mods, and they all evolve in real-time, as you tweet.”

When asked what part augmented reality will play in the future of catwalk and presentation showcases, as well as the future of fashion in general, Michon says that “we’re bound to see more and more projects and products incorporating the digital not just in the form of gadgets or gimmicks, but as the actual thing objects are made of. This takes a serious change of perception from designers and creatives. They need to go beyond the decorative aspect of digital technologies. We feel like this change is already underway, and we are confident this is just the beginning of brand new conceptions of aesthetics.”
Although the influence of augmented reality is one that can’t be ignored, it’s also clear that, rather than the intricacies of the technology itself, its hold remains in the fact that it’s underpinned by the real world. When you apply that idea to fashion, an industry already alive with experiences of curated escapism, you realise we may be on the brink of something rather revolutionary.
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