Tech pioneers have long pointed to gaming — and virtual reality in general — when looking at innovative ways people will interact with each other in the future. But say those words and most of the fashion industry clams up. Perhaps it’s a lack of familiarity for non-gamers, or the fact that the gaming lifestyle has often come with an anti-social connotation.
Now with stay-at-home orders forcing everyone to be, well, anti-social, gaming is breaking records — and more fashion brands are getting on board.
This week, Anna Sui was the latest designer to officially join Animal Crossing: New Horizons, a game that Nintendo debuted for its Nintendo Switch console in March. In just six weeks, it has become the highest selling game for an individual console in a single month, and it’s already the second-best-selling game of the year (behind the popular, decidedly more violent Call of Duty: Modern Warfare). Other brands that are already working with the game are Valentino, Marc Jacobs and GCDS, whose dresses, hats and the like are available in the game’s Able Sisters shop (individual users have also been creating custom looks on their own for the game, usually without permission from labels). And dedicated Instagram accounts like Crossing the Runway are documenting it all.
It’s not that fashion has been completely absent from the gaming space. Both Louis Vuitton and Nike have been partnering with League of Legends and Fortnite on things like skins and virtual Jordan sneakers. But overall, the effort has been focused on the esports realm — not to be confused with a lifestyle game like Animal Crossing, which leans more heavily into the true fashion realm. In January, Nike announced a partnership with T1, which included specific physical gear and a future training facility for its gamers. In December, Puma debuted a sock-like shoe designed specifically for gamers.
The cross pollination has been exciting for gamers and fashion brands alike, both of which are discovering new worlds. But monetization, at least on Nintendo, is still conspicuously absent. It will also be necessary for brands if they want to continue to develop a long-term presence in the broader gaming market (which, according to research agency Newzoo was worth $148.8 billion last year).
Whether it’s charging nominal fees for virtual logo items, packaging virtual items with real-life product or creating an entirely new technology that allows product to stay front-and-center, one thing is clear: This is fashion’s new frontier.