Luxury fashion is embracing VR – but are new technologies making brands more exclusive or more accessible? RMIT University PhD researcher in fashion enterprise Tong (Tripp) Liu and lecturer in fashion enterprise Dr Carolina Quintero Rodriguez lift the lid on this conundrum. 

Louis Vuitton, Dior, and Gucci have kicked off what will be, undoubtedly, the future of virtual reality (VR) in luxury fashion.

VR will be a new link between brands and their younger target audience, primarily Gen Z. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen luxury brands increasingly expanding their presence and exclusivity in the virtual market, with the goal of convincing the public that fashion tech and virtual experiences are nothing but luxurious.

The technology that’s changing an industry

VR technology immerses users in a virtual space. There are two ways brands might use it.

First, some customers may be early adopters of hardware-based VR – tools like VR headsets and data gloves used to enter simulated 3D spaces. These allow users to feel as if they are truly present within the virtual environment. Using a VR headset, consumers can now enjoy the luxury of watching runway shows from the comfort of their own homes.

The second – and more accessible – use is through VR software. Consumers can engage in virtual experiences without the need for specialised devices. Instead, they can use a screen, such as a web page, where they can view a product from a 360° angle, providing a comprehensive perspective. Consumers can also interact with the virtual world by manipulating avatars through phone applications or laptops.

A new reality

Several designer brands have experimented with one-off VR runways. Dior, for instance, unveiled “Dior Eyes,” a VR headset that offers users a behind-the-scenes experience of runway shows, while Balenciaga released its Fall 2021 fashion collection in a simulated wonderland-style future world, with digital avatars as runway models.

VR technology has also been used to create virtual stores and enhance consumers’ online shopping experience. Dior launched a virtual boutique that simulates its physical store in Paris where customers can browse and interact with products using mobile devices and laptops, rendering 2D websites that embed 3D visualisations.

Virtual worlds and user avatars represent another application of VR. Louis Vuitton celebrated its founder's 200th birthday by launching a game app, in which players take control of an avatar and embark on a quest to collect 200 candles. Moschino has collaborated with Sims 4 and Gucci with Zepeto, introducing clothing, accessories and shoes inspired by their iconic designs for users to style avatars in their virtual worlds.

Exclusivity, or opening the door?

VR technology like VR headsets and data gloves are expensive. The cost of these devices will discourage other brands from investing in emerging and uncertain technologies. In addition to costs for the companies – which cover everything from the device, to technical staff, to equipment that can render 3D visualisations – consumers are less likely to buy in. Luxury brands, however, have been taking the plunge and many are already engaging with their consumers in this way.

On the other hand, the step into gaming has opened the door to customers who want to own luxury goods, virtually. While a Moschino shoe will set you back a few hundred dollars, the Sims 4 Moschino Stuff Pack is under $15. Gucci garments and accessories are priced between $4 and $10 in Zepeto. While this raises concerns about potential negative impacts on the brand image, it does provide a more accessible opportunity to engage with the brand universe.

We’ve also seen the price of virtual luxury goods skyrocket in the free market. When Gucci first offered a virtual handbag in the Roblox gaming virtual world, the available-for-one-hour-only item was priced at around US$6. But when players who missed out were able to buy it from other players on the Roblox trading system, the secondary market reached a peak of US$4,115.

This is only the start

While we’re already seeing VR technology used for everything from product launches to communications campaigns, brand strategies seem to be varying wildly. Many are clearly yet to decide whether VR will make their brand more exclusive or accessible, to invest in hardware or stick to software, and how their customer experience will evolve moving forward.

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