The luxury fashion brands embracing the digital world of NFT art

As NFTs continue to boom, we look at the ground-breaking collaborations shaping the digital fashion landscape in 2022

Last year, NFTs hit the big time. Although they date back to 2012, it was the $69 million sale of Beeple’s Everydays at Christie’s last March that thrust them onto the world stage. An NFT gold rush duly followed, with pop stars, savvy investors and tech giants all tapping into the blockchain. Now fashion’s luxury brands are following suit, with some of the biggest names in the industry embracing this new art-world trend. 

Bought and sold using Ethereum or Bitcoin, NFTs are digital tokens that are linked to the blockchain and provide certain ownership rights to an asset, typically a digital one, such as a digital work of art. They also authenticate the originality of design and artworks. NFTs are non-fungible, so unlike Bitcoin, they are unique and not interchangeable. This is what makes them so valuable to collectors.

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Beeple’s Everydays: The First 5000 Days sold for US$69,346,250 in March 2021. Image courtesy of Christie’s

When it comes to fashion, sneakers and streetwear have been among the first categories to mine the financial and creative possibilities of NFTs and the metaverse, a virtual world that allows users to interact virtually and experience real-time activities. Leading the way was digital sneaker brand RTFKT, who teamed up with the crypto-artist FEWOCiOUS last spring to design three new styles of digital shoes that bidders could ‘try on’ via Snapchat. The sneakers reportedly sold out in under seven minutes, generating a whopping $3.1 million in revenue. 

Dolce & Gabbana, Burberry and Balenciaga, which created its own videogame for its Autumn 2021 collection, have also dipped their toes into the fast-paced marketplace. As has Gucci, whose first NFT, a fashion film inspired by its Aria collection, sold at auction in June for $25,000. A month later, Louis Vuitton entered the metaverse with a mobile video game integrated with 30 NFTs – ten of which were created by Beeple – to celebrate its founder’s 200th anniversary. 

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Installation view of a landmark exhibition of Op Art pioneer, Victor Vasarely at Selfridges, London in partnership with Fondation Vasarely and Paco Rabanne. Photography: Jason Alden for Selfridges

Like art NFTs, fashion NFTs are likely to draw new tech-savvy audiences entering the marketplace, notably millennials and Gen Zers looking for ways to bridge the gap between the digital and real worlds. In a bid to stay relevant, luxury fashion houses are jumping on the NFT bandwagon to establish their digital leadership, create new and exciting customer experiences, and increase engagement through collaborations with artists and designers.

Selfridges has clearly understood this and recently launched Universe (running until 27 March), a multi-dimensional project celebrating the work of the Op Art pioneer Victor Vasarely. Developed in collaboration with Fondation Vasarely and Paco Rabanne, it also marks the launch of Paco Rabanne’s Spring Summer 2022 collection, which is inspired by Vasarely’s geometric designs.

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Currently installed across the Oxford Street store, Universe features 55 works by the artist, none of which have been shown in the UK in over 50 years. Thirty seven of the pieces will be available for sale, along with over 1,800 NFTs created by London-based NFT platform, Substance

The NFTs, which range in price from around £2,000 to over £100,000, feature either rare artworks by Vasarely or one of the ‘Unwearables’, the first 12 iconic dresses ever created by Paco Rabanne. They can be bought online via Substance’s platform or in store using a bank card, making Selfridges the world’s first retailer to sell fixed-price NFTs IRL. 

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In addition to the NFTs, Substance has created a metaverse, accessible online at Decentraland, in which visitors can interact with Vasarely’s hypnotic patterns. 

“Coinciding with the 25th anniversary of his death, the project is a unique opportunity to introduce Vasarely’s work to a new audience,” said Pierre Vasarely, President of Fondation Vasarely. “We’re delighted to be able to bring together examples of his iconic designs from across his career which showcase the extent of his artistic universe.”

Also worthy of note is Supergucci, a three-part drop of NFTs and handmade ceramic sculptures launching on 1 February. Co-designed by Gucci’s head of design, Alessandro Michele, and Superplastic’s virtual influencers, Janky and Guggimon, Supergucci comprises a limited series of ten exclusive NFTs. Each one is inspired by Gucci’s signature patterns, icons, and symbols, and comes with an eight-inch-tall white ceramic sculpture. 

To mark Gucci’s expansion into the metaverse, Janky and Guggimon took a spin around Gucci Vault, the brand’s new online concept store, and found themselves in a virtual environment where Gucci’s past, present, and future collide. In addition to the NFTs, Vault presents its sixth drop of pre-owned vintage Gucci pieces.

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Balmain. Photo: Courtesy of Chaos SixtyNine Magazine - Editorial shot by Norbert Schoerner Featuring Georgia Palmer

Then there’s the limited-edition Balmain X Barbie ready-to-wear collection. Even more exciting than the hot-pink fashion drop is the collection of accompanying NFTs, which form part of the companies’ first foray into the metaverse. Barbie’s creator Mattel is offering three unique Barbie and Ken avatars, clad in digital renditions of the Balmain collection, in an NFT auction hosted by MintNFT. The highest bidders will also receive a physical set of doll-sized Balmain clothing.

What comes next? With more luxury brands poised to break into the metaverse in 2022, we could see everything from ‘the Net-a-Porter of NFTs’ to a boom in digital fashion skins, created especially for AR, VR or multiple metaverses. Hong Kong-based Brand New Vision, for instance, is looking to establish itself as ‘the Dover Street Market of the Metaverse’, while digital fashion house The Fabricant is developing experimental couture looks that could not exist in real life. With the NFT craze in full swing, here’s to fashion’s exciting future.

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