Can a leading name in fashion compete in a virtual world with its own thriving grassroots industry? When word got out that Armani was opening a branch in SL, I sent New World Notes style correspondent Iris Ophelia to review the legendary designer's contribution to metaverse fashion. She was decidedly unimpressed, and sent back this scathing diatribe. - HA
If I had to list the top ten fashion names of real life style, it should go without saying that Giorgio Armani would be included. So naturally when the company's presence in Second Life was announced, the fashion community busted at the seams with excitement.
But when that highly anticipated sim finally opened, the bubble burst. I, like many other fashionistas, found myself completely at a loss for how a company (and a man) with such an innovative style could fall so terribly short at innovation. The irony is that the media may blame Second Life for this-- but not even know about a place like Armidi, the homegrown fashion emporium which succeeds where Armani has failed.
The response to the Armani emporium (direct teleport here) from Residents has been overwhelmingly negative for quite a few reasons, but let's start small... Or rather, big.
The Armani store is huge, taking up about half of the sim itself. Empty pavement and lawn trimmed with sparse trees, along with a staging area, occupy the remainder of the sim. The store itself is a bit like a labyrinth, filled with prim clothing folded or hung on racks for show, and displays of real life products and mannequins that seem to be single-prim photographed versions of displays in real Armani stores. There is a men's department, a women's department, areas for jeans, areas for underwear, areas for accessories, a perfume counter, a book store, a lounge, some sort of lunch room, a bathroom, changing rooms, and a pay phone, all entirely represented by non-functioning and fairly simplistic prims with bare-bones texturing (if any at all.) You can't even click a book cover to go to the Amazon.com page (which seems like a simple enough way to profit from the space.) In essence, it's a massive building that could just as easily be empty.
That isn't to say, however, that there is nothing for sale in the entire store. In a small room on the northern face of the building, there are 10 items for sale, based on real Armani branded items (sometimes quite loosely.) The majority of these items are also of upsettingly low quality, something the greenest of designers might create for their first store, but not what we would expect from Armani. Seriously, it's Armani! Are we wrong to expect the best?
The nicest item they do sell, in my opinion, is the Abito Uomo suit. If you buy it, you'll find it in your inventory in a folder confusingly named "Object". This goes for every other item in the store except for the Stivali Uomo boots, for some reason.
Hamlet's been kind enough to model Abito, as well as the Classic Italia suit released at another highly anticipated sim-opening recently, Armidi. Armidi is a line run by a couple veterans of Second Life Fashion, Nicole David and Lola Marquez of Elephant Outfitters. (I'm wearing some of their work in the first image for this article.) Armidi built up a lot of buzz during the Summer, and their opening did not disappoint. They, in fact, gave much more than I had expected.
Armani's Abito is on the left, and Armidi's Italia on the right. The most noticeable difference between them is that Italia has a lot more depth in the texturing. Puckers, wrinkles, lapels, and pockets all seem to pop out a little from the suit itself.
Abito, unfortunately, has the same problem that a lot of Photosourced clothing in SL has-- it's flat. Hamlet looks as though he's had a Looney Tunes-style run-in with a steamroller. The nice thing about this suit, however, is that the cuffs and collar are cut properly, whereas the other in-world Armani tops have quite a few rough edges.
There have been rumblings blaming the technical limitations of Second Life itself for these flaws, but I would like to point out that most of SL's talented designers manage to avoid these issues easily. How different would the in-world Armani line have looked with the skilled hands of an established SL designer shaping it?
Consider Armidi once again: Their sim has everything that Armani's has, from shoes and shirts to belts and bags, but in greater volume and of higher quality. The difference is undeniable, as Armidi's Traffic stood at about 32,000 last week, and Armani's, under 1000. That's a pretty dramatic difference, even if you aren't mathematically inclined.
All this boils down to one thing: Translation. To bring a real product or item into Second Life, you need to translate it from RL to SL values. If you don't do this, failure is as good as guaranteed, especially where fashion is concerned. Translating doesn't mean directly importing the item, but rather figuring out what makes it worth having, and figuring out how that fits into the values and culture of SL (or any other community, for that matter.) For example, an Armani suit is made of very high quality textiles, but in Second Life, fabrics are unnecessary. A quality fabric is replaced with quality texturing on our value scale, and Armani failed to realize this.
The Armani sim seems torn between being a 3-D billboard and a gift shop, and it's not doing either particularly well. So why should we care?
Armani seems destined to be added to the ammunition of those who say that Second Life is a waste of money and time for RL companies. The blame will fall on SL and not the people responsible for the build itself, and it could easily discourage other major fashion presences in the future that would have done a better job. But there are a lot of other companies putting in the effort and taking the time to grasp SL as a platform and as a community. Their presence brings in new Residents, new perspectives, and enriches our world...