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A Timeline of Fashion’s Early Experiments With Virtual Reality

Fashion and tech are always eager to grasp at one another; working together, each stands to gain a great deal. When fashion embraces tech, it looks cutting-edge, forward-thinking, smart. When tech aligns with fashion, it looks high-end, in-touch, sexy. Naturally, the two are making eyes at each over the very latest and greatest in applied science: virtual reality.

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"The possibilities for VR to revolutionize the fashion industry are endless," Jaunt's VP of marketing communications Miles Perkins tells Racked by e-mail. Jaunt has been fast and furious to take the lead in fashion VR content, working with Elle, InStyle, 7 For All Mankind, and The North Face. "Wouldn’t we all want to be able to go to Fashion Week in Paris or New York?" he muses. "We can make experiences like attending a Paris runway show from your living room a reality. In the not too distant future, we think consumers could even buy clothes directly from the virtual runway."

"The possibilities for VR to revolutionize the fashion industry are endless."

Runway shows have been an early and obvious experimentation for fashion's use of virtual reality. Topshop recorded its fall 2014 runway show with the help of 3D agency Inition, making the experience available in stores for three days following the February 2014 live event. Tommy Hilfiger added a VR video to flagship stores in US and Europe this past October, showing its fall 2015 runway show. "These days, you can’t just wait for people to come into the store and try on your jackets. You have to provide entertainment," Tommy Hilfiger CEO Daniel Grieder told The Times. "It’s not about turnover by square foot anymore. It’s about surprise by square foot, or newness."

Rebecca Minkoff went a step further with accessibility by not only making a VR recording of its fall 2015 runway, but making it available to anyone with a half-decent smartphone by selling a customized version of the Google Cardboard headset.

Rebecca Minkoff's Cardboard headset

Cardboard is Google's inexpensive VR viewer made of, yes, cardboard. The viewers are crafted to Cardboard's specs by a handful of manufacturers, starting at just over $20. The low cost of entry is key to Google gaining an early foothold on the emerging category. Its main competitors at the moment are the Samsung Gear VR (released late November, starting at $99), Oculus Rift (that's the one Facebook bought, requires a gaming PC to run, and is due early 2016 with pricing estimated between $300 and $500), Sony PlayStation VR (which hooks up to the PS4 and should arrive in the first half of 2016 at a cost of "several hundred dollars"), and HTC Vive (which requires a gaming PC like Rift, will come out April 2016, and is thought to be the most expensive of the bunch).

"It's important that we are allowing as many people as possible to experience VR for the first time," says Aaron Luber, head of partnerships for VR at Google. The moment we're in now, VR's early stages courting mass audiences, "are the building blocks to get people of all ages excited about new content formats and ways of seeings things."

Rebecca Minkoff CEO Uri Minkoff proudly told Racked, "We're the first fashion brand to democratize access to VR by making it available to our audience at home, or anyone who has a Google Cardboard headset." Casting a wide, easily accessed net was a draw for the brand, too. "For $20 you can put your phone into a cardboard headset and be transported to the front row at our fashion show," he furthered. The production was filmed with the help of Jaunt, who are eager to be first-in with the fashion crowd. "Fashion and VR seem a natural fit for us, allowing us to give audiences a lot of firsts," Perkins explained.

"We're waiting for the technology to evolve a bit."

The promise of being virtually transported to the front row of a fashion show, or on the set of a photo shoot with a celebrity, is glittery, but the technology is imperfect. "We're waiting for the technology to evolve a bit," Minkoff said following the release of their video. "We are still in the early days," Luber notes. "Tip of the iceberg." The number of notable fashion VR experiments are fewer than a dozen, and date back under two years. We timelined the nine hallmark moments in fashion's early flirtations with virtual reality, from a Drew Barrymore photoshoot to Dior's announcement of their very own headset.

"We are still in the early days of VR," says Luber. "The important thing is that these brands are not looking to use VR to sell their product; rather they recognized that VR provides an opportunity to get closer to their users, their fans, and speak them in a new medium," he says, citing Mattel's embrace of the technology as a standout example. "The work Mattel is doing for younger audiences is very important. It's the industries that are catering to these younger audiences that might see success faster." Satisfied being early in with VR, Minkoff says, "We'll let other brands follow in our footsteps, and we'll come back in a few months with a VR experience that sets the bar even higher."

VR provides an opportunity to get closer to fans and speak them in a new medium

Those close to the content-production side of virtual reality are forecasting rapid growth. "The next 12 months will be exciting," says Luber, explaining there will be more mobile devices able to deliver improved VR experiences, more platforms to host content, and more 360 VR cameras readily available to the public. "There will be an order of magnitude higher of people using cameras and creating content which will in turn result in an explosion of more great VR experiences," he says. We wouldn't at all be surprised to see increased VR coverage of the fall 2016 fashion shows taking place in February and March. It would be remiss for the tech-themed spring show at the Met's Costume Institute, "Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology," to be without some immersive experience, perhaps accessible to those who won't make it to New York City for the museum's spring 2016 exhibition.


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