This month, Cicilia Brognoli looks into the digital progress of the fashion industry.

In recent months, the increase in technology has certainly affected various sectors, and fashion is no exception. The shop closure during Spring 2020 and the impossibility of holding live events challenged the habits of both consumers and retailers. The last edition of Fashion Week was probably a look at how these events could evolve in the future. Although in September there will be a return to live fashion shows, accompanied by online ones, it is not certain that in the future brands will not choose to turn towards online-only presentations.

The months of lockdown were challenging for brands that had to rethink their customer experience, focusing on digital. According to some statistics in the past few months, three out of 10 British people bought clothes online at least once. However, it is not always just a matter of needs or wishes regarding the clothes and accessories in question. Shopping is for some a real experience that takes into account every interaction with the brand. Covid19 has certainly changed consumer behaviour and has pushed the improvement of the experience offered by many brands. Generally, the main digital shoppers are young ones, but the emergency health situation has prompted people of all ages to dive into online shopping.Currently, 80% of fashion labels work with Instagram influencers and many brands use product tagging or shopping-centric features on this social network.

Influencer marketing generates $9 billion (£6.87 billion) annually, but now users are looking for a real engaging technological method to get an incentive to buy. Instagram algorithms show us products and photos similar to what we watch the most as if it were a personal stylist ready to always recommend what we like most. Although the past months have represented a difficult time for all brands, this period of uncertainty has pushed on technological innovation applied to fashion. The majority of social media users have increased their online activity, thus some platforms started to rethink their marketing potential. The success of social commerce grew incredibly during the lockdown, as Facebook saw a considerable use of its ‘marketplace’ and ‘shop’ section where people can buy things from other users, and in the second case directly from brands.

The use of the Instagram shop section spiked during these months, as the platform started populating with small businesses selling masks with any kind of pattern. Overall, Facebook and Instagram offer basic purchasing with no frills, but other social networks are considering the potential to provide a real shopping experience.

The real high-tech platform is now Snapchat, which is focusing on augmented reality and social commerce. Snapchat was not born to promote brands, however, it wants to increase its shopability in the immediate future. The new feature is called ‘shofies’ and it allows users to virtually try shoes thanks to special lenses that will access the smartphone camera. If this project is successful, many brands will increase their advertising spend on this social media platform, as customers will be able to purchase their products directly on Snapchat. This proposal looks tempting and potentially successful, because the main Snapchatters are members of Generation Z and millennials, so anyone born between 1981 and 2012. They are generally techsavvy people interested in augmented reality and hoping for a smarter shopping experience.
Apart from social media, artificial intelligence helps brands to assign understandable and exhaustive product descriptions, increasing their probability of sales. Taxonomy, the classification of a particular object, is the base of online sales. Farfetch, one of the major e-commerce sites, is partially based on manually-operated categorisation. Indeed, thousands of products are described and photographed manually, and then the taxonomic classification of the product is enriched by graphic systems created by Farfetch data scientists. This long process could take a big turn because online shopping is becoming the new normality for many people.
The Yes, a personalised shopping app leader in the taxonomy sector, makes product nomenclature automatic as computer vision can select appropriate attributes for each object.
At the present moment, high-end brands do not use standardised taxonomy and, in fact, the virtual comparison of luxury products can be more difficult. However, they are now rethinking their taxonomy process and they want to challenge the digital shopping experience by pushing on artificial intelligence more than ever.

Ralph Lauren knows how prone young customers are to post dozens of photos and videos on social media. The brand decided to partner with Snap to start the first collection of branded virtual clothing created for Bitmoji. Snapchat users can dress up their avatar with 12 garments suitable for every situation. The blending of real-world and digital realities meet in the purchase of this collection, available both in-store and online. When buying these clothes customers can also have the 3D Bitmoji Lenses identifying other users whose avatars wear the Ralph Lauren collection. This is a great opportunity for Snapchat to commercialise its technology by creating partnerships with fashion brands increasingly looking for similar innovations.
Gucci will soon rock mainstream virtual shopping with its new technology called Gucci Live, a personalised video experience. This will shortly be available in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) and then expand worldwide. The video service allows customers to connect to the Gucci staff via smartphone or computer. The sales associate appears on the shopper’s screen wearing the traditional uniform consisting of a black suit, white shirt, bow-tie and red gloves. Every detail of the video is extremely realistic to best represent the in-store experience while offering fantastic e-shopping. This is the first remote clientele service of this type and it was proudly created in Florence in the brand’s headquarters. Gucci has absolutely no ambition to replace in-store shopping with this innovation. Indeed, the goal is to bring the excellence of Gucci shopping assistance also in the virtual world, to help clients when they are unable to go to the store personally. Furthermore, a large part of the brand’s customers are Asian millennials who represent the core audience of the contemporary and future luxury market. These curious shoppers are strongly intrigued by the combination of artificial intelligence and fashion. For this reason, after the launch of Gucci Live in EMEA, this video consultation service will be immediately offered in Asia, and it aims at raising online sales.
In short, the current health emergency has led to a sudden change in the fashion system, not only in retail but also in the approach to collection presentations. In fact, in the past, some brands proposed digital events, but they always returned to the traditional catwalk. Instead, labels are now reevaluating the artificial intelligence potential for the implementation of their shows. Despite some feeling that the traditional fashion week system is the untouchable pillar of this industry, for other high-tech events, a good dose of digital features is not bad at all.
Some brands such as Ralph & Russo and Dior showed their Winter 20202021 Haute Couture collection online, transporting the observer on a digital journey worthy of praise. The British brand created an avatar wearing the gowns, inspired by the Seven Wonders of the World, posing in front of them. The beautiful ebony avatar called Hauli is super realistic, and her artificiality is hardly noticed at all. The combination of voluminous and pastel dresses and the most beautiful architecture in the world creates an exciting mix of beauty. Ralph & Russo opted for a replica of the human figure, while Dior has chosen to propose a journey into an enchanted world. The video of the French brand recalls a beautiful fairy tale. Two butlers carry a small house-shaped trunk into the woods containing the wonderful collection created in miniature. The forest’s fairies spot the small house and are enchanted by the beauty of those human-made gifts.
Valentino instead presented his collection with a collaboration with British photographer Nick Knight. Pierpaolo Picciolo, the creative director of the Italian maison based in Rome, has chosen to present his collection with a digitally immersive experience created by the extremely talented Knight. The result is a 4-minute video, available on the brand’s YouTube account, showcasing the gorgeous dresses worn by models floating against a black background. Plays of light and dance are accompanied by the music of indistinct sounds and voices, while on the part of the clothes, extremely long as if they were for waders, images that are also not identifiable are projected. The gloomy atmosphere illuminated only by the light reflected on the clothes focuses the observer’s attention on them. This video entitled ‘Of Grace and Light’ shows better than any other project the potential of hybrid fashion, a combination of physical-digital that many call phygital. In these three cases, the observer lives a virtual journey showing all the potential of the fashion and technology bond. The variety of extremely different and interesting presentations of the shows that took place between June and July 2020 gave an exhaustive idea of
how brands can find a substitute for the live shows. However, we look forward to the next technological innovations, hoping that the traditional lively Fashion Weeks will be again an option for the brands. The beauty of fashion lies in its flexible and resilient approach, always able to transport the observer into an immersive experience both online and offline.

You can read more of Cicilia’s work on Images via Instagram

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