Supermodel avatars, VR wardrobes, digital boutiques... mobile games are getting a high-fashion make-over, says Ellie Pithers.
Nigel Milles isn’t particularly famous. A former chartered accountant with the haircut to match, he’s a member of parliament in Derbyshire, a county in England. He hit the headlines, however, in 2014, when he was captured on camera, over two- and-a-half hours, matching up sweet- shaped icons on his tablet. The rub? Nigel was playing Candy Crush Saga in a government committee meeting about the future of pensions.
Step on any train, plane or bus, and chances are that you’ll spot a passenger playing a game on their phone. Gaming has gone from arcades to basements to handheld devices quicker than you can say ‘Fortnite’. By 2021, the global games market is projected to exceed R2 368-trillion, according to research firm Newzoo. But the biggest surprise?In 2019, 63% of mobile game consumers were women.
As the industry adapts to this extraordinary demographic shift – after all, female mobile gamers are 79% more likely to make an in-app purchase – brands are hoping to cash in. Moreover, with Gen Z seeing little distinction between their on- and offline lives, businesses are rushing to apply gamification to their commercial strategies. Research by investment bank and financial services company Goldman Sachs estimates that virtual and augmented reality technology will be worth more than R1 054-trillion by 2025.
The fashion industry – never missing a chance to connect with younger, female customers – wants a slice of the gaming pie. Two new apps, launched last year, are aimed squarely at women who love trying on and buying clothes. Drest is a new app from Lucy Yeomans, a former magazine editor and Net-a- Porter.com alumnus, which allows the user to dress up an avatar using in- game currency and complete a series of style challenges. Once you’ve styled up a supermodel in, say, something from Valentino’s Spring/Summer collection, zhuzhed up her hair, given her a smoky eye and put in her in a picture-perfect Clifton beach setting, you release your ‘look’ into the community to be rated by other users. You can then buy the Valentino clothes IRL via Farfetch.com, with which Lucy has struck an affiliate deal.
Similarly, there’s Ada, an app named after Ada Lovelace and co-founded by the fashion insiders Alexia Niedzielski and Elizabeth von Guttam. It lets you pick from a series of 3D luxury interiors – an apartment boasting a spiral staircase and filled with designer furniture, for example – where you can dress up your chosen avatar in Prada, then take a series of shots to share on your social media or in-message with friends. Users are invited to purchase these clothes directly from the 20 high- end brands currently signed up. The duo has joined forces with Sina, the Chinese internet company that owns microblogging site Weibo, and will launch the app in China first, because, as Alexia points out, “by 2025, 50 % of the world’s luxury demographic will be Chinese.”
Both Lucy and Alexia argue that gaming is the final piece of the puzzle in making luxury fashion more democratic. “Social media made luxury fashion accessible,” says Alexia. “Luxury fashion still isn’t affordable, but the game does make it available for all.” Lucy supports this theory. “I wanted to give people access to the things that I had as a magazine editor: clothes, models, hair and makeup.
There’s something lovely about the fact that anyone can become an amazing stylist.” They can also become amazing shoppers. Surprisingly, for someone who has worked in fashion for more than 20 years, Lucy insists she doesn’t like shopping and finds it “a difficult experience”. But since starting Drest, she’s found a renewed sense of confidence. “I bought a pair of Clergerie woven sandals because I kept using them in all my style challenges and realised they were so cute,” she laughs. This information can also be fed back to brands for product interest stats, though Lucy is quick to insist it complies with data protection laws. The increasing blurred line between real and virtual experience has also led to the rise of avatars as celebrities. In 2016, Louis Vuitton signed up the pink-haired protagonist Lightning, a digital avatar from the cult game Final Fantasy, as a campaign star. “Lightning is the perfect avatar for a global, heroic woman in a world where social networks and communication are now seamlessly woven into our life,” creative director Nicolas Ghesquière said at the time.
Numerous brands have developed their own games that play on house codes and branding. Last July, the Gucci Arcade, a new section dedicated to games inspired by ’80s arcades, was added to the fashion house’s app. Hermès, Uniqlo and Fendi have all experimented with games too, plus there’s Moschino’s lucrative partnership with The Sims. Perhaps the final frontier for those who want luxury fashion but find it beyond their means is virtual acquisition. “With the in-game currency, if you really want to buy the R10 000 Gucci dress, you can, for a fraction of the real-life price,” says Lucy.
“You can be Julia Roberts, but without having to sleep with Richard Gere.” Alexia refers me to ‘Striking Vipers’, the episode of Black Mirror in which two male best friends enjoy virtual sex, then wonder if they’ve been cheating on their wives.
“Virtual experience does trigger this real excitement and desire that can’t be fulfilled – so the virtual experience becomes heightened,” she says. Have you had your eye on a R153 000 cashmere coat from The Row for while? Well, your dream wardrobe is just a download away.
'This article originally appeared on Vogue UK'