Designers Tap Virtual Reality Buzz For Retail, Fashion Week

Virtual Reality headset at Tommy Hilfiger's
Virtual Reality headset at Tommy Hilfiger's New York flagship
Courtesy of brand.

Fashion has a new tech toy, and the potential for retail is big.

With the release of the Facebook-owned Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset next month, the expected debut of the PlayStation and HTC headsets this fall and the recent success of Google Cardboard, it’s no wonder fashion is buzzing about the possibilities of virtual reality.

While brands have already used the technology to take their consumers behind the scenes during Fashion Week and to promote specific brand initiatives, experts said it also opens doors for a new level of physically immersive e-commerce without spending on additional physical space.

“Fashion as an industry has been flirting with VR, but it hasn’t dived in yet,” said Henry Stuart, co-founder and CEO of virtual-reality production company Visualise. “There are such great applications for it: You can immerse someone in a beautiful world filled with these incredible aspirational things. In advertising, you can’t get a more captive audience than with virtual reality.”

Stuart noted that while many headsets are being released in the coming months, he expects wide adoption to take a year or two. But that doesn’t mean brands should wait to develop their VR presence.

Players already in the space have focused on films that highlight product or take users behind the scenes for a closer look at the brand and Fashion Week.

Samsung Gear headset Samsung Gear headset AP Images.

In July, Richard Chai will release a virtual-reality documentary on the creation and presentation of his fall menswear collection. And last June, Dior announced that it would release a branded headset with a focus on beauty, called “Dior Eyes.”

In September, Tommy Hilfiger partnered with Samsung Gear VR to bring virtual reality to select stores with a film that highlighted his fall ’15 show, and also offered an in-store VR shopping experience.

“This innovative technology gave us an opportunity to open the doors to a unique part of our world, directly connecting consumers in our retail spaces with one of our largest brand events. We’re continuing to research and invest in technologies that enhance the retail setting and bring our brand to life in a new way,” said Tommy Hilfiger CEO Daniel Grieder.

Rebecca Minkoff also created a film that takes fans of her label to her Fashion Week Show. She turned to Google Cardboard to create a headset emblazoned with her logo, which sold out online. For her show on Saturday, Minkoff teamed with GoPro to shoot a virtual-reality 3-D film capturing the collection.

One advantage for early adopters like Hilfiger and Minkoff is that they’re learning crucial lessons about how to implement the technology down the road for retail.

Rebecca Minkoff's Google Cardboard headset Rebecca Minkoff’s Google Cardboard headset Courtesy of brand.

“[With an at-home headset], you can be anywhere — New York or Dubai — and step into a Rebecca Minkoff or a Barneys or another branded shop and get the store experience with the headset. Over time, we see this replacing the desktop and laptop e-commerce platforms,” said Uri Minkoff, CEO of the brand.

Tech experts expect that in the next two to five years, there will be enough users with at-home headsets to offer shopping platforms using them.

Services could include full customization options that let users see their creations in real time and shopping experiences featuring celebrities or avatars.

“One of the coolest things about virtual reality is that you’re not constrained by gravity or scale — you can make a fantastical environment,” Stuart said. “You can have infinite pairs of shoes slide past you. I love the idea of a brand that scans celebrities and has them stand next to me while I try on things alongside them.”

But with all of virtual reality’s advances, there are risks. Experts say filmmakers are still perfecting how to film in VR, and the expense of production and equipment is often prohibitive. “You have to get it all right, and it’s hard to do that in VR. It’s a complicated science to get the content from a daydream to something beautiful, like you need in fashion,” said Stuart.

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