While not entirely new, the metaverse is a concept that is still evolving. It is now described as a “multiverse” consisting of several virtual environments that users can explore and find their place in. A new roundtable organized during the Met Ams, a recently established conference in Amsterdam devoted entirely to the accessibility of the metaverse, has just highlighted this new phenomenon.
The panel, held on June 16, was made up of influential people in the digital fashion industry. Ashumi S, founder of the digital creative agency Mad XR, Giancarlo Pazzanese, lecturer at the Amsterdam Fashion Academy, and Kerry Murphy, founder and director of the digital fashion platform The Manufacturer, took turns presenting their perspectives on merging digital and physical identities in the metaverse.
The discussion quickly identified the concept of identity in the virtual world, which the scholars each described as the result of their upbringing and personal experiences in the physical world. ‘Real’ experiences that can often conflict with how we – often unconsciously – want to portray ourselves in the metaverse, even if users tend to build their characters from scratch.
“The world we live in is framed by boundaries, starting with the laws of physics,” said panel moderator Diego Borgo, a metaverse and non-fungible token (NFT) specialist. “The exciting thing about the metaverse and virtual reality is the ability to come out of the box, to become whoever you want. It becomes all the more exciting when you understand the opportunities this offers for fashion and digital fashion.”
“Create multiple characters”
For Giancarlo Pazzanese, the idea of total freedom can also be applied to clothing. The metaverse gives creators the opportunity to completely reimagine silhouettes, reshape how we think of a garment and wear it beyond the constraints that exist in the physical world. For the members of the panel, there is no doubt: fashion brands should take advantage of this freedom that the virtual space offers and explore this new field of expression, especially in terms of the fluidity of identities in virtual reality.
“We don’t have to be one person, the metaverse makes it possible to create multiple different characters,” said Kerry Murphy, founder of The Fabricator. “That’s the power of the metaverse and Web3. These new playgrounds provide the tools to express ourselves in a much more personal way. Hopefully, experiences in the metaverse will also enter our real lives, where we may be brave enough to find new ways of expression that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.”
According to Ashumi S, founder of Mad XR, children today form their identities through role-playing games that are directly inspired by their gaming experiences in the metaverse, allowing them to create their own ways of expressing themselves. However, Kerry Murphy adds that children are just as confronted with the weight of social constructs as adults, which often prevents them from adopting the mode they chose in the metaverse in the real mode, for example from a boy. wearing a dress.
“Developing a safe space”
“It’s quite remarkable how social constructs fit into the metaverse,” Murphy notes. “I still think children need to learn how to break through those barriers. It is a space where they can learn to express themselves in a much more complete way than in their “physical” life, but we must make it a safe space, and not just a replica of our society, at the risk of n ‘advanced nothing’.
For Giancarlo Pazzanese, the security of the metavers is an essential issue today, but it is often neglected. Allowing our unconscious biases to take place there could hinder their development, according to the specialist. “To be free, express ourselves and try new things in fashion, we need to feel safe,” he said. “There’s real, invisible diversity, and that’s what creates a community, when you’re recognized and accepted for the things you don’t see but want to express in some way.”
To get there, panelists emphasized the need to diversify the space itself, all noting that there is a distinct lack of gender diversity and cultural inclusion in the web industries3 and metaverses. A finding that becomes clear when looking at the often overtly sexualized female avatars present in online games and created by male designers, or in the low diversity of characters and the typology of digital creators, very often men. Everyone agrees that it is necessary to work for greater diversity.
“As designers, we are responsible for the images we broadcast,” adds Giancarlo Pazzanese. “The metaverse should be built by people with a long-term vision, not just seen as a technical challenge. It is important to involve other designers, people who can define the values of the metaverse, an environment dominated today by men, in which case we will only reproduce the same space that already exists. The metaverse is an extension of our existence and is meant to be a better world, not the other way around.”
In short, if the metaverse allows great freedom and flexibility, companies must still take responsibility for the images they broadcast. Thus, Giancarlo Pazzanese hopes that the metaverse can become this ‘safe space’ for those who want to explore their identities, deconstruct themselves and foster a more inclusive environment.
This article originally appeared on FashionUnited.com. It was translated into French and edited by Maxime Der Nahabédian.