A fashionable leap from London to Macau with augmented reality
“Augmented reality is going to change the way that the fashion industry creates, showcases and retails its products. The year ahead will see an explosion in opportunities for this immersive technology to totally redefine what we understand as fashion today,”
-Matthew Drinkwater, head of the Fashion Innovation Agency
Bringing together fashion and new technologies takes imagination, creative vision, and, for a live fashion show, nerves of steel!
When the Fashion Innovation Agency (FIA) partnered with ILMxLAB and fashion designer, Steven Tai, the use of immersive technology in fashion was taken to the next level, blurring the lines between the real and digital worlds during London Fashion Week in February 2018. The project represents the first step towards a new type of live performance, one that connects real-time visual effects and human-driven expression.
For FIA and ILMxLAB, the collaboration marked the culmination of a two-year exploration of the possibilities of technology. It gave them the chance to experiment with the vision of what the world could look like with a digital layer over the top of it. By working together with the Steven Tai to digitally enhance his collection, the project gave the collaborators a chance to create something new and unique that could capture the imagination of the fashion world – and beyond.
Taking a new and experimental approach could have been a risk for the designer, however embracing new technologies had a real synergy with the steventai brand, which had previously integrated innovative technologies in fabrics to create its unique garment ranges. By experimenting with immersive technologies alongside FIA and ILMxLAB, Steven had the opportunity to position his fashion brand as a leading industry innovator, helping to raise the profile of his brand.
What was produced
Truly stunning and unique, guests at the show were taken on an immersive experience, witnessing the global debut of LiveCGX, ILMxLAB’s performance-driven digital augmentation technology.
The show was held over two hours in the stunning Durbar Court at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. This prestigious venue wasn’t simply chosen as a spectacular space to hold the show; but it was an integral part of it. Throughout the event the space was re-covered with a changing digital layer, taking guests from central London to a Macau city scape and through to a jungle environment.
Although this new and innovative approach to stage setting was a visual spectacular in itself, this wasn’t the end of the immersive experience. A virtual model, in digitised garments from the collection was also integrated into show, driven by a live model and ILMxLAB’s unique LiveCGX technology. The digital model could walk around throughout the presentation on digital screens, giving audiences the chance to see her modelling two steventai-designed garments.
Storytelling is central
With technology at the forefront of the show, everyone on the team was clear that the driving force behind the presentation should be a strong narrative. “Fashion is about storytelling,” explains Steven. “It’s about representing a concept, to sell a dream, or just selling an idea that is close to the designer’s heart. Having a digitally augmented presentation this season allows us, and our guests, to achieve and experience things beyond our physical possibilities.”
Steven’s own story was at the heart of the show, highlighting places and people that have influenced his work over the years. “What is exciting about this collaboration with steventai and London College of Fashion’s Innovation Agency is the opportunity to bring the stories and worlds that have inspired Steven’s designs to life by exploring augmented live performance as a means of sparking intimate and compelling relationships with the people and characters who inhabit those worlds,” notes Vicki Dobbs Beck, ILMxLAB’s executive in charge.
How it was done
By using a unique combination of cutting-edge techniques and technologies ILMxLAB can create amazing immersive experiences. With LiveCGX, by controlling special visual effects in live, improvisational performances with real-time computer graphics, artists can extend their worlds. included placing cameras and depth sensors around the space to track the audience.
A crew of seven members of the ILMxLAB team came over to London, to manage the live event, with a larger group of creators developing content prior to the show. Given the importance of the movement and texture of fabrics to all fashion designers and their shows, it was crucial to digitally replicate as authentically as possible. If the digital version didn’t look real, this could have potentially compromised the whole show, so a significant amount of time was spent recreating garments in Z brush to get this right.
The challenges of a live immersive show
The two-hour live immersive show had never been done before, and, as much of the content was being created in real time, there was the risk that if something went wrong it could compromise the whole show. This was coupled with the fact that the team were working within a space they couldn’t have 100% control over, even though a significant amount of testing had been undertaken in advance of the live show. For example, having a large audience in the room could have impacted negatively on the presentation. “Over 1,000 people came through the room throughout the two hours, and it was impossible to accurately plan what impact this would have on the sensors placed around the space; and, if needed, how to address this” explains Matthew.
Lighting provided an additional challenge, as the conditions within the space were constantly changing. Matthew notes, “it was reassuring to know that if something went wrong or needing tweaking, we had the best people in the world present to fix it as quickly and effectively as possible.”
The show created quite a stir for the guests in attendance, with many spending far longer at the presentation than is usual for a fashion show. Additionally, it received widespread coverage in both the fashion and tech press, as well as TV coverage on BBC World and BBC Click, helping all collaborators to raise the profile of both the garments and the technology used, reaching out to a global audience.
“Augmented reality is going to change the way that the fashion industry creates, showcases and retails its products. The year ahead will see an explosion in opportunities for this immersive technology to totally redefine what we understand as fashion today,” says Matthew.
The steventai show gives a tantalising peek into the possibilities that immersive technology offers the world of fashion.
For complex, immersive projects to work, months of planning is required, which has obvious financial implications. In spite of this, Matthew doesn’t necessarily see this as a barrier to designers and brands looking to embrace technologies. “Although creating immersive content for shows may be costly, for established, high profile brands, fashion shows are traditionally expensive, so in this context, cost becomes less of an issue.”
Moreover, the future of mixed reality technologies in the fashion world isn’t necessarily reserved for high end designers showing their latest collections, but has the wider potential to become a tool for making and selling high street fashion too.
“Immersive technologies are leading us to a new narrative for the fashion industry. Imagine a world where you can augment everything from the clothes that you’re wearing to the environment that surrounds you, in real-time. That is the glimpse into the future that this technology offers us. LiveCGX will force us to redefine what we experience in fashion today, allowing for creative possibilities where we are limited only by our imagination.”