As you’ve probably noticed, I’m really interested in the fashion scene in Second Life, a virtual world with a thriving fashion industry. This is the first in a series of interviews with Iris Ophelia, the official fashion correspondent for New World Notes, a long-running blog about Second Life, and Blue Mars, another 3D social world. You can follower her on Twitter @bleatingheart.
What real-world designers are most respected in Second Life?
Alexander McQueen is the biggest name that comes to mind. When he died, a huge event was organized with many designers from all different niches of Second Life’s fashion community creating and showing limited tribute pieces. I don’t think manyother designers would have gotten quite the same response from such a wide variety of creators, but McQueen’s designs have a mix of elegance and surrealism that is sort of what Second Life design and style is at its heart. Gravity and the natural physics of materials don’t apply in SL, so while most designers recreate the realistic there’s always this awareness that you could really do anything you wanted, bending all the rules to suit your vision, which he really managed to do in real life.
Are there a few real-world designers who’ve had an obvious impact on current fashions in SL?
Second Life designers can be a bit difficult to pin down in terms of their inspiration. There are brands like Paper Couture who are sort of a direct imitation of certain runway looks, all hand-drawn and very painstakingly recreated in virtual form (their name is definitely a nod to that) but they tend to pick and choose based on the design more than the designer.
Generally I would say that brands like Anthropologie have had a tremendous influence on the current popular aesthetic in SL, and Miu Miu is easily one of the most influential brands in the shoe world since many SL designers often try to imitate their more distinctive silhouettes.
I see a lot of bold colours and shapes in SL design that I suppose I could pin on Kate Spade to some extent, and I can likewise find a lot of Versace-esque traits in the vast majority of women’s formal dresses, but in both of those cases I wonder if it’s really designer influence or if instead it’s an issue of those real life designers and the virtual designers both designing things that are universally appealing because they suit what we want desperately to be in real life and can easily be in Second Life. Bright funky colours go pretty well with eternal digital youth, and scandalously low necklines go just as well with instantly perfect breasts, so we’re left with the chicken and the egg in that sense.
In some shops in Second Life I’ve seen signs saying that the designs are “hand drawn:” is this the equivalent of couture in SL?
I think if you were to translate the technique itself into a digital sense then yes, but that’s not the general approach or understanding of it in the community. There are really three ways to make textures for clothing (or anything) in Second Life; you can either use a photographic source, draw, or combine drawing and sourcing. What people buy comes down to their tastes. Some people don’t really appreciate the work that goes into a carefully hand drawn texture, not because they don’t appreciate quality but more because it just doesn’t fit with their look and their tastes. It’s kind of the equivalent of preferring synthetic fibers over natural fibers.
Besides American Apparel, what other labels have set up shop in Second Life? It seems like an obvious place for real-world designers to test their products . . . do you know whether this is happening?
It’s really not happening as much as it should. Armani came in briefly and built a huge store with racks and shelves and hangers all completely ornamental. I wrote about this at the time. The shop was massive, but the actual products for sale were crammed in a little room off to one side, and in addition to that they were just terribly made. When I first went there I recall being pretty offended that they had thought that this place was all they needed to appropriately represent their brand in Second Life. It wasn’t a place to test products or even really communicate Armani’s brand identity. It was a massive, empty sign that they had no idea why they were there. We’ve heard since then that there were a couple people who had been put in charge of this project and it had been really rushed so it wasn’t so much their fault as the company’s for really underestimating what it takes to get a good grasp of the virtual frontier both in terms of the technology and the community. I think that is why very few labels have wanted to get involved in Second Life: it’s rather resource intensive unless you have or can find someone who already has the right experience.
While American Apparel isn’t exactly the best possible example, they did several things right. They hired an established Second Life designer to work with them in building an effective space for their brand; they featured a good number of representative products, and they engaged the community. Things died down when they didn’t keep engaging consumers, but I’d say things definitely started out successfully.
Aveda also had a very successful campaign when they hired a popular hair designer to recreate some distinct hairstyles in Second Life under their brand.
That was all years ago now, and since then independent designers have been the ones really flourishing– boutique owners and the like. One of the earliest ones was Nyla Cheeky of House of Nyla. A more recent example is Boudoir, a very popular brand in Second Life, as well as a real-world label run by Croatian twins. They’ve been using SL as testing and marketing grounds as well as sources of alternate income pretty successfully because they’re taking the time to get personally invested in it. They develop a good grasp of the pros and cons of the platform and interact with customers on a more personal level.
It would be great to see more prominent labels get involved this way too, but I don’t think it’s practical enough for it to be taken seriously. I will say though that when mesh is added to Second Life, it will make it a lot easier to create a piece of clothing or an object without all the fiddly building in Second Life that it requires now (a huge learning barrier that Armani ran into head-first), so a designer that does 3D mockups of their design before manufacturing will have several fewer steps between them and a workable test-product in Second Life.