Australian fashion label and art house INJURY has just launched – you guessed it – their first NFT. Behind the eccentric brand is Sydney-based artist, curator and creative director Eugene Leung. With popping trends in the digital fashion realm, ArtsHub can’t help but pose the question: What will fashion become if you can’t wear it?
‘To me, fashion and art always go hand-in-hand,’ Leung told ArtsHub, ‘Fashion is self-expression that can never be separated from the trend of a particular time, place, context and culture. This can exist in digital as well as in physical dimension, in the very same intrinsic way.’
For Leung, the rise of digital fashion is prompted by the desire to have multifaceted identities online ‘in a form that couldn’t have existed in the real physical world.’
Self-taught digital fashion designer and 2021 finalist of the iD International Emerging Designer of the Year, Oscar Keene, chimed in: ‘Non-wearable fashion opens up many questions – what is fashion? Why do we wear what we wear? What are we advertising when we use our bodies as the foundation of a garment, be it digital or physical? How are the hierarchies embedded in physical fashion manifesting in the digital space, and why are we rapidly manufacturing exclusivity in a digital space that is, for all intents and purposes, limitless and infinitely repeatable?‘
Keene continued: ‘NFTs are creating the illusion of exclusivity which luxury products rely on, but I would love to see a future digital fashion landscape populated by raw creativity involving shapes, silhouettes and textures unobtainable in the physical world, and open for all to adopt into their digital media presence.’
Leung is optimistic about the future of digital fashion: ‘I think the interesting thing is that, instead of digital fashion imitating what we have physically, digital fashion will in turn make an impactful influence to the physical fashion world. I can already see this trend emerging.’
There is no doubt that digital fashion will have a lasting impact on our visual culture, but delving deeper into the topic requires an exploration of fashion’s synergy with art, identity, and cultural impact.
Why digital fashion is on the rise
A waste-free alternative
In Australia – as the second highest consumer of textiles per person in the world – clothing accounts for 93% of the textile waste we generate towards landfill each year.
Leung said INJURY’s first digital collection was partly prompted by the fact that ‘it is a waste-free way to experiment with fashion in the digital realm.’
Digital fashion means less waste but more options for both designers and consumers.
‘From a designer’s standpoint, digital fashion creation allows for extensive and realistic experimentation with fabrics and silhouettes that for any number of reasons would not be possible with physical material and financial limitations,’ said Keene. This could mean reducing material waste, bypassing the risk of dead stock, and saving money on physical studio spaces, models and photographers.
The freedom of experimentation
For both Leung and Keene, the digital fashion sphere creates a whole new arena of possibilities, including interdisciplinary collaborations across arts, music, and film.
Keene added that the digital approach allows designers to pitch their collections to consumers in engaging and interactive ways, as well as providing greater accessibility.
‘While only one person may be able to wear an expensive and elaborate physical couture garment, digital equivalents can be worn by any number of avatars in digital spaces,’ said Keene, ‘It absolutely accommodates all body types, even ones that don’t exist in the real world, and inches towards manifestations of transhumanism through fashion.’
Leung echoed that the digital space not only fosters experimentation for designers, but for its consumers as well.
‘The way that the digital dimension opens up an indefinite of ideas can lead to the redefining of self-expression. For example, in a digital world, we can be anything from a jelly-shaped organism to a robotic humanoid, and fashion can be wearable pieces or just a body shape and textual form,’ said Leung.
While digital fashion is currently restricted to visual presentations, Leung is hopeful that technology will allow for more sensory experiences. Fast developing tools such as VR and sensory technologies ‘might eventually open up to new possibilities of sensory experiences that are impossible to exist in the real world. Digital sense, Digital taste is something we believe will emerge in near future.
Leung envisions ‘an avant-garde “Aura” dress that comes with a pleasant perfume pairing and an out-of-world hand-feel would become the “digital reality”.’
What fashion means in the metaverse
As someone who is accustomed to working with subcultures, Leung suggested that the concept and purpose of fashion can be very different in the digital world, opening it to entirely new cultures that exists purely digitally.
Keene sees this as an unmissable opportunity for designers: ‘Like the diversity between physical garments, be they haute couture or ready-to-wear, and between physical runways, be they ultra-conceptual or purely commercial, designers and their labels are increasingly able to decide the way they want to use this burgeoning digital space. Digital spaces allow for a never-before-experienced level of development and engagement with the conceptual framework behind the creation of a collection for both designer and consumer, and I think they play an interesting and evolving balancing act between commerce and art.’
Keene added: ‘Despite the exclusivity-obsessed NFT gold rush taking place, I maintain that adopting digital fashion into their practices allows artists and designers to freely and unrestrictedly get their bodies of work directly into the public eye.’
Ultimately, Keene said the rise of digital fashion ‘challenges what bodies are, and what fashion is.
‘The relationships that form in digital fashion spaces reflect and influence the relationships in physical fashion. Why embed the limitations of physical fashion into digital fashion?
‘I think it’s important to remember going forward that digital fashion can be for everyone, and that exclusivity in the digital landscape is artificial, manufactured and divisive, while the digital space itself is only embedded with the hierarchies we impose upon it,’ concluded Keene.