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Digital Fashion: Avatars and Virtual Identity

Inspired by two stories last week—Ralph Lauren thinks people want to shop their Bitmoji, and Helsinki Fashion Week Explores New Frontiers With Purely Digital Format—I made this short film about digital fashion:

Not long after I made it, I read Is Direct To Avatar The Next Direct To Consumer?, an excellent article by Cathy Hackl with Ryan Gill explaining digital fashion and the D2A model:

Direct-to-avatar (D2A) refers to an emerging business model selling products directly to avatars (D2A) – or digital identities – bypassing any supply chain management like dropshipping, logistics of how to get a physical product to a consumer’s door.

Ryan Gill, co-founder and CEO of Crucible

And then a further article, From Animal Crossing To Digital-Only Dresses, Is Fashion Becoming Our New Virtual Reality?, by Hannah Banks-Walker, on digital fashion in gaming and social:

The pandemic has accelerated our acceptance of blending the real world with more and more digital experiences.

Matthew Drinkwater, Head of Innovation Agency at London College of Fashion

There’s an interesting point where three accelerating trends—the use of avatars in virtual spaces, the digital intermediation of our identities, and fashion brands exploring digital tools—are meeting.

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COVID-19 and the QR Code Comeback

I read a story about Coca-Cola updating some of it’s vending machines across the US, which are touchscreen-based vending machines, and they ran an over-the-air software update to convert them to be touchless by using QR codes. And it’s funny, isn’t it? So many changes have been accelerated by COVID-19 and I didn’t think that necessarily QR codes would be; but perhaps they will.

Because as well as the Coca Cola vending machines, there’s also the UK’s test and trace system. Now, you probably know the story of the app that never was, but instead there’s a web-based system that many places (like pubs) are using where you scan a QR code, which takes you to a website where you check in your details. And it’s kind of training people to use QR codes.

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Believability and Persistence in AR

There are two important concepts arriving in smartphone AR technology at the moment: believability, and persistence.

Believability comes from digital and physical objects appearing to naturally occupy a space together: for example, if you move a physical object in front of a digital object, the digital one should appear to be partly obscured. In AR parlance this is occlusion, or blending.

You can see the advantage of blending in the two photos at the top of this post: in the photo on the left I’ve disabled blending so the image of the goat appears in front of the table, flattening the depth in the picture; in the second, blending is enabled so the goat appears occluded by the table, as you’d naturally expect it to be; it’s believable.

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COVID-19 and London’s Great Fire

There have been a lot (a lot) of articles written about life after the COVID19 pandemic, and there are no doubt a lot more to come (like this one). Some are fairly prosaic, others imagine radical changes to our way of life. They all reflect the existing biases of their authors. My own bias is towards this take by Mark Ritson:

When we emerge out of lockdown the consumers, the media and marketing itself will quickly snap back to former heuristical norms. That does not mean society and the consumer will not have evolved from the late 2019 period, but that the evolution that was taking place will continue, perhaps catalysed slightly by the events of this strange period. But it won’t be drastically different.

Mark Ritson

I think that a useful historical parallel is the ‘great fire’ of London in 1666. The fire destroyed somewhere in the region of 13,200 houses, as well as a great number of civic and mercantile buildings.