Dressed for success with mixed reality
“ If you think about a runway show in the fashion world, that’s a great application of AR because some of these, you want to see the dress all the way around, you do not want to just see the front. That kind of experience is all the more important now that runway shows are catering to a wider consumer audience watching online, and not just those seated in the front rows.”
— Tim Cook, Apple [in Vogue]
When the Fashion Innovation Agency (FIA) teamed up with Sabinna, a London-based fashion designer and Pictofit, a fashion app company, they created an innovative mixed reality project that positioned them streets ahead of the fashion trend.
The collaboration led to a groundbreaking mixed reality experience that showcased Sabinna’s collection at London Fashion Week in February 2017, giving attendees the chance to get up close to her garments in exciting and unique way. What was truly revolutionary was the ability to dress the AR model in clothes from the collection and mix and match individual items to create numerous different outfits, using a Hololens and the Pictofit app.
“The aim of this project was to demonstrate a meaningful use of the tech for the fashion industry.”
— Matthew Drinkwater, Fashion Innovation Agency
With recent advances in augmented and virtual realities, giving the fashion industry a glimpse into the creative and commercial possibilities that immersive technologies could bring was a primary objective for the FIA. Its involvement in the project was driven by the desire to create a platform that showcased a high quality, photo-realistic MR experience, with the ultimate aim of inspiring more designers to adopt immersive technologies in their own work.
For Sabinna, using new technologies was a logical next step to build on innovations she had already introduced into her business model. During the previous season, she had sold her collection directly to consumers straight after the catwalk; an innovation in itself for a designer at London Fashion Week. There was therefore a natural progression in embracing new technologies as it gave her the chance to connect more effectively with potential buyers. Having a mixed reality version of her collection gave customers the opportunity to get up close to her full range and interact with it in a way that would be impossible on a traditional runway. As Sabinna comments “last season we tried selling straight after a catwalk, so this season we’re going even further, so the end customer will now be able to have a whole lifestyle experience.”
Developing the project
The project took around four months to develop from concept to completion. As the experience was central to showcasing Sabinna’s collection at London Fashion Week in February 2017, there was an immovable deadline for successful delivery.
To create the experience, the full collection was shot as separate items, all worn by the same model. These, along with the model, were filmed using a 3D volumetric capture system, consisting of a rig of 64 high resolution DSLR cameras and calibrated light sources. The individual garments were then prepared using innovative mesh fitting methods, which added in the ‘mix and match’ functionality, in effect allowing participants to put different looks together, which could be matched up seamlessly.
The project was exhibited at Fashion Scout; the UK’s largest independent showcase for design talent during London Fashion Week. An audience of over 500 fashion industry representatives were present during the event where guests were invited to experience Sabinna’s fashion range through Hololens headsets. Simple hand gestures gave participants the chance to change the individual garments, which could be viewed up close and from all angles.
Challenges – building on tradition with technology
“It is important to show the opportunities of fashion and tech collaborations. It is not only revolutionary, but it improves the overall fashion experience for my customers. It is not about throwing away existing patterns, it is about taking approved methods, adding something absolutely innovative and new, mixing it all together and creating something unique that respects the past, but is excited about the future.”
Highlighting the potential of immersive technologies to an industry that is steeped in history and tradition was the biggest challenged faced by the team. “The technology had to shine and be realistic enough to be embraced by an industry where the look, feel and movement of materials is paramount,” explains Matthew. “We had to blur the boundaries of reality, to get people to question what looks real”.
The key to addressing this was to ensure that the experience was as real as possible. During development, time was spent making sure that the re-creation of the garments was as photo-realistic as possible, and attention to detail was crucial to give the user the illusion of reality at all times. This included the replication of the texture and movement of material, as well as making the model’s features and skin appearing real. The standard of the mesh also had to be perfect so that garments could be seamlessly matched.
On a practical level, the technology proved challenging throughout the exhibition. Unlike traditional exhibition spaces, using mixed reality needs clear space. As Matthew explains: “having a space to fit mixed reality into at a busy event is challenging as you always have to ensure that the user has a clear line of vision – if you have someone walking across the image, the sense of reality disappears.”
Additionally, the headgear provided a barrier to some attendees, who were reticent to have a go as the Hololens could potentially ruin a carefully planned hairstyle for the rest of the day; which isn’t ideal at the UK’s highest profile fashion event. Having well trained and approachable staff overseeing the exhibition space was a crucial to guiding attendees effectively through the experience, but also to encourage them to give it a try.
The project was hugely successful in raising awareness of Sabinna’s brand and helping to position her as an innovator in her field. Throughout London Fashion Week it gave her additional profile, drawing people to her work as the spectacle of the mixed reality sparked curiosity.
It also effectively shone a light on immersive technologies and its potential in the fashion world. The project has made a significant impact, receiving recognition from the fashion industry by winning the Decoded Fashion Futures Beyond the Runway Award for ‘the most creative use of technology to engage, promote and connect to go beyond the runway’.
The future for immersive technology in the fashion industry
“Introducing interactivity into mixed reality is a new step for the fashion industry and points towards next-generation experiences for consumers and designers. Immersive, transformative, the potential impact on the industry for this technology is huge.”
— Matthew Drinkwater
Matthew believes that “by showing the best use of technology in a meaningful way, this project was successful in shining a light on the possibilities of AR for the fashion industry more broadly.” Over the next 10 years, immersive technologies have the potential to transform the way that fashion companies make, sell and show their collections – from designers through to high street retailers.
He continues: “once the technology has developed so that we can couple photo-realistic images with touch and feel of materials, it becomes a fundamental game changer. It will offer customers the chance to try on clothes virtually; something that online shopping can never achieve. It’s a really exciting proposition for the future of the fashion industry.”