How the department store can embrace digital apparel

The Fabricant auctions the first item of virtual 'haute-couture’ for $9500; Carlings launches a collection that customers can pay to be edited onto a photo of themselves…which sells out in a week; Nike releases two pairs of limited edition Jordans for your Fortnite avatar to wear. Over the last 12 months fashion has gone digital in a big way. Is there any way for ailing brick-and-mortar retailers to take advantage of this enthusiasm for the intangible?

Selfridges certainly believe so. Their AW19 campaign – The New Order – is a thinly veiled response to its customers increasing pixel fixation. 'The digital realm has shifted the limits of fashion – we’re no longer constrained by what is humanly or materially possible,’ says Selfridges Head of Creative Emma Kidd. 'Our new digital tools are causing a revolution in what fashion looks like, and what it can do for us.’

Video works from artist Jon Emmony's swimwear campaign (cover and above image) also formed the basis of Digital Falls, an AR installation inside Selfridges' Oxford Street store (below).

A range of digital artists such as Jon Emmony, Digi Gals, Filip Custic and Ines Alpha have created work for the campaign, which will, crucially, feel as present at the department store’s Oxford Street property as on its social channels. Window displays will come alive via QR codes that allow passersby to explore and shop renderings of products, with mannequins dressed in 3D scans of apparel and accessories. This ethos extends to internal visual merchandising as well, with visitors able to use their phones to view an installation by Emmony that mixes products installs with his trademark surreal, shifting backdrops.

All this is still very much in aid of selling physical fashion, from establishment brands such as Ralph Lauren, Paul Smith and Agent Provocateur no less. But it sets strong a precedent not only for how to make a screen-first campaign feel truly at home in a physical context – something few fashion retailers have yet achieved – but also how, potentially, to sell digital fashion on the high street

And that could prove important to its survival. There’s no overall market data for virtual apparel as yet, but Fortnite is likely the biggest single marketplace. The game grossed $2.4 billion in 2018, and according to research by LendEDU, almost 50% of that expenditure is on in-game outfits. Even a small slice of that out lay might help reverse high street store closures, which in the UK reached an all time high of 2,481 in 2018.

Selfridges' The New Order campaign ran until 16 October 2019; this piece is featured in our September-October issue, St-W 130. Get your copy .

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