Illustration by Ben Beechener
Gucci appears to be ahead of the game with the launch of the Gucci Virtual 25, as creative director Alessandro Michele has coined it. The trainers, which run alongside the Gucci mobile app, are the brand’s first trial in augmented reality clothing. The aim of the Gucci Virtual 25: to be worn within virtual reality, but also to be shared online. It seems to be a fashion faux pas, but it may in fact be a very effective marketing strategy.
But let me begin with the visuals: the trainers, or if I am going to use the correct term: ‘the skin’, are a luminescent green colour. They immediately give off an aura of the futuristic. Gucci are presenting a pending future: a future of neon colours, mad technologies and digital bliss. There is also a definite hint towards the cyberpunk aesthetic, reinvigorated and brought back into the mainstream consciousness through the release of the video game Cyberpunk 2077. I think Gucci are definitely dreaming up a future, but whether this future is a dystopia or not is still up for debate.
These trainers (if we can even call them that?) encompass the transhuman, but also the punk. In their design, they show off the fact that the relationship between humans and technology is becoming ever more intimate, and it does so boldly. But, this partnership is taken to the next level as these trainers exist solely online, within the virtual realm. Our bodies must become avatars to even consider trying them on for size. This upheaval to the world of apps is no doubt a product of the pandemic as offline shopping has diminished; this step into VR is the brand’s new initiative to recreate their unique shopping experience. However, unlike the purchasing of a pair of trainers in store, these are linked to NFTs. In other words, these trainers can never be sold on once bought; you are only purchasing the right to wear (in virtual reality) the shoes. The art market seems to be heading in this direction, with the latest piece of NFT art being sold at Christie’s for $69 million. Albeit occurring slowly, this transition is evident, and the CEO of the AR fashion brand Wanna believes “in five or maybe 10 years a relatively big chunk of fashion brands revenue will come from digital products.” If we are to believe this estimate, Gucci and their virtual trainers are clearly ahead of the game.
Despite the technological leap forwards that these trainers represent, this inevitable step into our virtual existence does unsettle me. The fact that this year we have had to exist online is exacerbated by this release of the so-called ‘future of fashion’. Techno-glamour has popped up all over the world as a direct reaction to the pandemic, while we are coming to terms with an uncertain future. This kind of fashion presents it all: the struggle and the fight to survive. Like with all fashion trends, these specific trainers are bound to expire, yet the existence of digital fashion is here to stay. Despite the impending dystopian future that this trend presents, the cyberpunk aesthetic will remain.
They may adhere to a world where humans and technology are integrated, where fashion becomes immaterial and our presence entirely online, but is this truly feasible or even what we want? We will surely never entirely move our wardrobes online because we are too obsessed with materiality and the tactile. Without touch, our future becomes completely inhumane. Despite their marketability, I won’t be purchasing a pair of Gucci online trainers today, but in reality, and sooner than we think, there may be no decision to make at all. If this is the future of fashion, we will all inevitably be part of it. But in the meantime, I would like to say that I have not given myself up to this online world…yet.