Ophelia's Gaze: A Beginner's Guide to SL Fashion
Exclusive to NWN, Iris Ophelia's ongoing showcase of all things stylish in SL
It’s easy to talk about fashion in Second Life with Residents, but how do you explain what’s happening in-world to the uninitiated from the real life fashion industry? I recently had the pleasure of speaking at the Fashion Institute of Technology's "Teaching and Learning in Four Dimensions" conference in Manhattan for exactly that reason. [Nice reports of Iris' talk here and here. - WJA]
But what kind of style correspondent if I let the information end there? So I’ve expanded my presentation into this article-- a beginner’s guide to Second Life’s fashion industry, with renowned brands like ETD, Fleur, and BareRose as examples, plus tips for real world designers interested in learning from metaverse fashionistas.
Overview of the SL Fashion Scene
So what’s being worn in Second Life, and why? SL fashion mirrors real life in many respects. In the past two years, we’ve seen surges in SL paralleling real trends like babydoll tops, nautical themes, and even vintage high-waisted pants and pencil skirts. There are exceptions though; many trends in SL are popular because they’re so difficult to create in reality. A good example of this is the feline neko culture (below). While it draws on elements of Japanese cosplay, it is very much a trend apart from reality. Likewise the steampunk and cyberpunk aesthetics (above) have flourished in Second Life, driven strongly by a desire for style that real world fashion is unable to produce with the same level of level.
So it's an oversimplification to say the Second Life fashion is just a reflection of its cloth-and-thread counterpart. Unlike the real world industry, the fashion community overlaps all other communities in SL, as this social survey from Hamlet suggests, which allows for the dissemination of new ideas and approaches. These style “cliques” influence each other and fashion as a whole, like the aforementioned nekos, steampunks, and cyberpunks who reside in the "Roleplayers" circle.
Success Stories from Second Life Fashion
Who are the designers shaping this world? There are far too many content creators in SL to name here, but here are several notable examples of how to succeed in Second Life’s incredibly competitive fashion market.
Elikapeka Tiramisu, ETD
Second Life Relay or Life, and she was also one of the earliest designers to hire customer service representatives. She is also the designer behind Aveda’s SL presence, creating a series of unique hairstyles from their designs.
CJ Carnot and Roslin Petion, Fleur
These two had been around for a while with their brand Tête à Pied, but they grew their skin business tremendously with a new philosophy and approach to their product. The began releasing new skins and makeups far more often, at half the price. This is a particularly dramatic move because skins are traditionally one of the most expensive items an avatar wears. Their reasoning behind this move is that a woman in SL should be able to change her makeup as often as she changes her outfit. Roslin and CJ have also made it a habit to interact with their customers, responding very openly to suggestions, giving gifts to their group members, as well as hosting special contests and parties. As if that isn’t enough, Roslin and CJ also work with real world companies coming into SL, outfitting their avatars (looking like a “newbie” leaves a bad impression on Residents.)
June Dion, BareRose
The SL Fashion Industry Media
All of this success doesn’t just happen on its own, though. Just like real life, there’s a structure of fashion media and publicity outlets, in both magazine and blog form. (Among the top websites would be Second Style Magazine, Deja Vu International, and Homme Magazine for male avatars; Fashion Planet provides a feed for literally hundreds of SL fashion blogs.) This network helps consumers keep up with what’s new and hot, as well as shining a spotlight on overlooked designers. They can be a designer’s best friend.
A case example of this involves Second Life's Japanese design community. A lack of English puts these and other international designers at a disadvantage. (To cope with this, they established a close-knit community, each store having many different branches in different Japanese shopping locations, interlocking in a tight network.) Several fashion writers in the English-speaking community caught sight of this network, following them through the shopping sims and reporting on what they found. Now, many of these designers are established must-visit locations for Second Life fashionistas.
What Real World Designers Can Learn From SL's Fashionistas
Second Life provides three major opportunities for the real life fashion industry. As a marketing tool, it is excellent for spreading brand awareness. A great example of this is the Mod’s Hair Paris collaboration.
SL can also be used as a franchise location, a shop where Residents can buy in-world versions of real-world products. This does double duty as a marketing tool, and so far the best example of this is American Apparel’s presence in SL. (Popular for awhile, they have since left SL, citing low traffic and sales, but then, a big glass box store that didn't change for a year and signature AA designs that may have been a bit two-dimensional for SL are probably to blame.)
The third opportunity (and the one that gets the least amount of credit) is using Second Life as a prototyping platform. This is not only for the sake of planning and initial design, but to see how the public may respond to it. Will it be a success, or do you need to make changes before you can produce it?
Designers like MadamG Zagato of Never30 have leveraged this feature to launch real life clothing lines after creating their designs virtually first.
Tips For Real Clothing Companies
As mentioned with American Apparel, the real world industry has largely fell short in Second Life. In late 2007, for example, Armani unveiled their virtual store to many underwhelmed Residents. It was without any doubt an epic failure, and one that was not expected from one of the world’s most well known and successful fashion brands. I wrote an article on what went wrong, and it can be boiled down to two points that real life fashion industry must never forget when approaching Second Life:
Translate the values: In real fashion, the quality of your materials can be just as important as the quality of your design. In Second Life, there is no raw material. Make sure that the execution of your design as a 3D graphic texture does your design justice. Your real life brand, no matter how successful, holds very limited clout in SL-- this world is very much a meritocracy, and you need to earn your place at the top. This leads to the second point.
Never underestimate the platform (or its users): When it comes to SL, you will get back exactly what you put in. If you truly commit to what you are doing, you will get a positive community response. If you don’t, the chances of success will be very slim.
Respect the potential of Second Life’s fashion community and get involved, then who knows what amazing things will be achieved in both worlds.