Will the future fashion showroom really live online?

02 : 10 : 2017 Fashion : Retail : Digital
Emancipath by Zeitguised for Kvadrat My Canvas at London Design Festival Emancipath by Zeitguised for Kvadrat My Canvas at London Design Festival

Until there is a way to recreate tactility and touch in virtual reality (VR) environments, brands should focus on how they can use VR to enhance the showroom experience rather than offer purely digital showrooms.

Josh Walker, journalist, LS:N Global

Diane von Furstenberg (DVF) has partnered with online wholesale platform Ordre to create a VR showroom featuring the brand’s spring/summer 2018 collection. According to DVF, the technology, which offers 360-degree views of garments in the collection, will help buyers to develop an understanding of their overall fit, movement and fabrication. Digital showrooms could potentially revolutionise the industry as they enable brands to facilitate wholesale orders without the need for a person to travel to a location to view the collection.

‘It’s becoming increasingly difficult for our valued retail partners to constantly travel to showrooms,’ says Melissa Sussberg, executive vice-president of US sales and global merchandising at DVF. ‘Our partnership with Ordre will allow them to understand the detail of the collections and place wholesale orders remotely.’

While the idea of facilitating orders remotely presents an exciting next step in the evolution of the fashion industry, it also raises a number of questions. Will the rise of digital showrooms prompt the decline of the traditional showroom and catwalk model? And will fashion buyers be willing to put their money on collections they haven’t experienced first-hand?

The VR industry is growing rapidly and is expected to radically transform a variety of industries. According to Statista, the total number of active VR users will reach 171m by 2018, and the VR software and hardware market is predicted to reach a value of £30.2bn ($40.4bn, €34.2bn) by 2020. A 2017 study by Ericsson shows seven out of 10 early adopters expect AR and VR to fundamentally change their everyday lives across their media, work, education, social, travel and retail interactions. It is clear that consumers are ready for change.

Will fashion buyers be willing to put their money on collections they haven’t experienced first-hand?

At present, successful applications of VR in the fashion realm focus on using the technology to elevate the showroom and store experience rather than replace them. In 2015, Tommy Hilfiger introduced VR headsets into its stores to enable consumers to immerse themselves in the brand’s collections, while Dior designed its own VR headset to take users behind the scenes of its catwalk shows.

To ensure the success of the digital-only showroom model, brands will need to ensure that they translate the tactility and physicality of their clothes into the experience. At London Design Festival, design studio Zeitguised explored this idea in Emancipath, a series of short films that explore the nature of tactility in the digital world. A set of moving digital sculptures visually communicate the properties of their components, giving each a distinct character and sense of realism.

Until there is a way to recreate tactility and touch – values so vital to fashion – in VR environments, brands should focus on how they can use VR to enhance the showroom experience rather than offer purely digital showrooms. In our 2015 Virtual Reality Market, we emphasised the need for brands to prioritise the functionality of the technology over its aesthetic value, and this rings true in 2017. Despite its optimism, DVF still hosted physical showrooms in fashion capitals around the world throughout the season alongside its VR showroom, showing that fashion brands may not yet be ready to make the transition to digital-only showrooms.

For more on how your brand can prepare for the future fashion landscape, book one of our in-house Fashion Futures presentations.