Fashion NFTs: Going beyond the designers

Digital artists in the growing fashion metaverse of NFTs and web3 are not necessarily fashion designers but could pave the way for a level playing field

We can create NFTs, mint them, scrutinise them… but can we wear them too? The fashion world is tightening its grip on the metaverse through not just digital fashion but also NFTs (non-fungible tokens).

Over the past few weeks, I watched the newscape fill-up with headlines of this year’s Paris Fashion Week during which FHCM (Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode) revealed a team-up with French NFT platform Arianee. The plan was to give away NFTs to selected attendees, buyers and journalists during Paris Fashion Week Men and Haute Couture Week, to fuel the ‘exclusive ownership experience.’

Curiosity about Indian fashion NFTs got me thinking and I spoke with some disruptors in this space.

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Could India crack this bubble too, as it has done with art and music?

To my dismay, the Internet deep dive I went on was not very fruitful. But it brought me to Brooklyn-based digital creator Ravi Singh who minted the first traditional Indian fashion NFT collection. He was inspired by the US$69 million Beeple NFT purchase back in March and that it was by an Indian-origin duo. Singh’s collection was 3D-modelled by digital fashion designer Madrid-based Lorena Bello, with all scenes, animation and renders created by the world’s first NFT fashion marketplace Digitalax. This was a new level of decentralisation and it reflected in the designs, one of them a lehenga choli with a ‘binary flower’ and the other a sherwani with chip lines.

Ravi Singh and the Indian fashion NFT he created with Madrid-based designer Lorena Bello, with all scenes, animation and renders created by the world’s first NFT fashion marketplace Digitalax

Singh is urging more digital artists to dabble in this new space – and best of all, he is not even a fashion designer!

He predicts the fashion metaverse – or web3 fashion space – will see more entrants like him, along with the established names such as Gucci, Stella McCartney and Nike. He tells me that the NFT fashion space, still finding its footing, has the potential to create “an anarchist Utopia”.

While fashion NFTs include visual art and design, it is not often everyday functional items like bags, watches or shoes. That is why when designer-artist Viraj Khanna (also designer Anamika Khanna’s son) explains the buying habits of fashion regulars in the luxury space, I pay heed. “People would want to own the NFT related to something that no one else would be able to own, almost like buying a painting. In addition to more limited-edition collaborations, the one-off rare samples that couture designers have will also be in the picture,” he predicts.

Couture label Aelis’ Fall 2021 collection ‘Luce ImmorTale’ comprising five NFTs

Couture label Aelis’ Fall 2021 collection ‘Luce ImmorTale’ comprising five NFTs
| Photo Credit: Aelis

Adding to this, Digitilax founder Emma-Jane McKinnon-Lee piques my interest when she says fashion NFTs are also fighting the good fight against fast fashion; there is no possibility of a complete duplication or under-the-table exchanges, given the security of the authentication protocols on the blockchain.

Who are the buyers?

I had this mental image in my head of libertarian, futuristic fellows who only wear oversized Supreme hoodies and neon sneakers. If we are going by the Air Force One-esque sneakers that were a collaboration between design studio Rtfkt and Seattle artist Fewocious (of which 621 pairs were minted for US$3.1 million), then probably.

Artist-designer Viraj Khanna (left), ARTSop founder Arushi Kapoor photographed by Sigthor Markusson (right)

Artist-designer Viraj Khanna (left), ARTSop founder Arushi Kapoor photographed by Sigthor Markusson (right)

Los Angeles-based art collector Arushi Kapoor – who recently founded ARTSop, a consultancy space for art buying – seemed to have some answers. “I think people collecting these fashion NFTs could also be investors that see the value going up because of limited quantities and high demand by fashion lovers,” she points out.

Luxury shots

  • Christie’s and Gucci: In June, Christie’s made a splash with its curated NFT sale series ‘Proof of Sovereignty’ with Lady PheOnix, a strong voice in the new media landscape. Gucci joined in with its first NFT – artwork featuring digital animation from Gucci Aria, its fashion presentation. The sale closed at US$25,000.
  • Watch industry primed for NFTs: Watch luminary Jean-Claude Biver took the NFT plunge in March with the Bigger Bang All Black Tourbillon Chronograph Special Piece. It was a bold move and saw a traditionally physical art form (watches) converge with emerging technology. The NFT itself is a digital photograph or ‘digital twin’ taken by Biver of the prototype Hublot Tourbillon Chronograph that sits in his very enviable and private collection. So no, he was not selling the actual watch. Meanwhile, Jacob & Co. turned its SF24 Tourbillon timepiece, a striking travel watch, into an NFT and sold the digital watch for US$1,00,000 during a 24-hour auction on ArtGrails.
  • Couture calls: Italian label Aelis’ Fall 2021 collection ‘Luce ImmorTale’ comprises five NFTs, all of them attached to real-world physical collectibles. They will be sketches created and signed by founder Sofia Crociani and a photo of the dress, all professionally framed with a block transaction number embedded onto the frames. If more than three NFTs are obtained by a sole collector within two years, they will be able to claim the Haute Couture dress, which would have been presented at the show.

I was intrigued to discover the futuristic ways in which these buyers consume their investments, some even experimenting with Mixed Reality. “With fashion, you’re enjoying your asset on a screen and only a screen. There aren’t many ways to use them,” continues Kapoor. “One can sometimes get a corresponding garment to the NFT but that’s not innovative enough. Development in AI might help make these fashion NFTs more usable.”

As Singh points out, the NFT fashion space sees the elimination of the middleman of a brand so there is no value chain exploitation. Digitalax (which has seen more than 1300 Ethereum in sales so far), where Singh’s collection is hosted, makes sure all parties involved – the designer, the digital rendering artist, the marketplace – get a cut of the profit or royalties whenever the NFT is traded. Digitalax’s global fashion designer network is more than 50-strong with non-fashion and new Indian names such as Viraj Patel, founder of MirchMe clothing brand, and NIFT graduate and illustrator Sourav Agarwala.

Mainstream designers missing

Despite a thriving physical fashion market, Indian designers are not active in the metaverse. Where are the Anamika Khanna NFT bundles? When will we see an edgy Shantanu and Nikhil range? Or even a line of tech-infused ensembles from Falguni Shane Peacock? This could be the lingering hesitation given the country’s cloudy regulations around crypto.

Singh suggests that there could still be a revenue stream for the ubiquitous area of digital fashion, which could eventually segue into NFT if a designer so chooses.

Read More | What India’s NFT artists should know before entering this metaverse

Viraj Khanna speaks for Anamika Khanna when he says, “It is not something that we will enter now but once the market emerges in India, we will definitely think about it. I think there is a general lack of awareness about this space especially with Generation X. The younger generations are more tech savvy but they do not have the same spending power.”

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