What's The Future For Virtual Reality And Fashion?

The WTG team investigates.

Why just watch a video when you can step into it? That’s the idea behind virtual reality technology, an immersive experience that allows you to experience a space in 3D. Strapping on a virtual reality headset breaks a barrier, allowing you access into an artificial world where you can move about and interact with features or items that are displayed on a screen or in goggles. Think not just watching Shark Week, but feeling like your swimming beside the dangerously fascinating creatures. 
Gamers and techies went nuts when Facebook paid $2 billion for the Oculus Rift headset back in 2014, officially launching the technology into the mainstream consumer space. But for the rest of us who think emojis and Uber are the coolest thing in the digital world right now, we kind of missed the memo, despite competing technology developed by mega companies like Google. 

While designers like Rebecca Minkoff have already seen the possibilities of virtual reality in fashion – imagine experiencing a runway show from the front row no matter where you are in the world — the fashion community may be less open to this introduction of new-age tech when the goggles' design don't follow suit. Many headsets are bulky, uninteresting in their design, made of cardboard, or can’t fit in a purse, leaving the fashion community excluded by nature from this interactive, digital realm. 
Roy Peer has set out to make the virtual reality world more accessible to all with an affordable, hands-free design that’s pretty cool to look at and won’t mess up the morning’s makeup job. The result: the 2VR by Stimuli. His half-rimmed glasses are sleek (at least, compared to a cardboard box) and come in a range of colors. They're even customizable, which is pretty in right now as far as fashion is concerned (hello, Pop & Suki). The glasses also fold up to the size of an iPhone, which change not only one's capacity to carry them around, but add a social element to the experience. If we've learned anything from the world's addiction to social media, it's that 'shareability' is a game changer when accessing and experiencing cool content.

Peer believes the virtual reality opportunities in fashion go beyond the runway, and the first step to getting us there is by design. Videos can take you backstage to see what’s happening pre and post show. These videos exist already. The push we need to start accessing them is a design that fits the industry. He also believes the real future in virtual reality lies in what happens to the looks when the runway show ends. 

"We can 3D-scan these pieces into a virtual world," Peer said. "You can have a 360-degree look which could be fantastic post-runway. No more galleries, no more endless photos – that’s less intuitive than how you look at clothes in real life. Virtual reality environments are more natural."

Imagine shopping for an item you want against the backdrop you see fit. Looking for a winter coat? Escape the monotonous slides of an online retailer. See it against the snowy backdrop of the Swiss Alps. According to Peer, there's enormous potential to make this happen using virtual reality technology. And he's not the only one that thinks so.
We spoke to Professor Andy Nealen from the Computer Science department at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering who teaches classes in Game Design, Computer Graphics, and Digital Shape Modeling. For Professor Nealen, when one considers the opportunities for global design collaborations in fields such as fashion and product design, it's hard to imagine a future without shared virtual spaces where designers can not only communicate but also work together. And if he's right, that will allow for a significant opportunity in online commerce and fashion design. While Peer thinks we'll be looking at clothes in the settings where we want to see them, Nealen predicts we will be able to try them on in a virtual setting. 

"The commoditization of virtual reality headsets will enable new ways of exploring and previewing designs. Researchers have been working on simulating the real world, including intricate motion of cloth, for decades," Professor Nealen explained. "Thus, it's very likely that, given a virtual version of one's own body, it will be simple to see how new designs will look on oneself, even under different lighting conditions, all from the comfort of home. In other words, the technology is readily available and will not be the bottleneck to the success of creative and technologically proficient entrepreneurs." 

Virtual reality can even revolutionize the design process, Professor Nealen said. Digital prototyping and 3D printing means factors like length, size, and other details will be easily adjustable by simply changing the parameters and observing the results in the virtual realm.  "Designs can be stored for later use, or sent off to the factory for fabrication and delivery. If the current state of social media is any indicator, one could even envision a system in which fashion shows are held online in virtual reality, and the whole process of design is open to the public." This could mean not only collaborating in a new space, but giving more people tools to design for a bigger audience. 

As it stands, the headsets allow us to explore. Peer's goal is to introduce us to what we've been missing. The future of what gets built within that world, however, will be determined by the best and brightest of this generation. But who better than the trendy team of editors at Wheretoget to decide whether or not something as simple as design could entice them to explore a new digital space? 

We set up an experiment for five editors, unaware of what product they'd be testing out. With three samples of Peer’s glasses set out on the table (orange, black, and clear) we asked them to identify the objects before accompanying them into a new virtual world. While some thought they were trying out a new Halloween outfit, others immediately recognized the glasses as a high-tech gateway into some kind of cyberspace. 

Before trying them on, two editors asked if the design was inspired by the round-shaped frames we've watched rise in popularity over the past few years  — think Paul & Joe or Charlotte Ronson. But Peer's design is modeled after a hybrid of the half-rimmed, circular glasses famously attached to his own domain: architecture. While his creation is redesigned with a modern look, Peer looked to Philip Johnson and Le Corbusier for inspiration. For the orange glasses, the pair of choice for our team, copy editor and Doc Martin diva Alice Brace was ready to swap in dark lenses and use them as sunglasses. Our editor Elena Pavlevski called the same pair futuristic. There was a reference to Donald Duck's uncle, Scrooge, but we've been covering why we love the influence of cartoons in fashion — so that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. 

Then, glasses on, our editors were transported to another world. They found themselves in a foreign country, sitting front row at a fashion show taking place inside a cathedral. Some grooved to the music, commenting on the trends they liked as models passed by. Others clapped at the end, attempting to touch the attendees placed next to them. 

However, each editor pointed to the weight of the glasses as a downside. Peer explained: "I have heard some comments about the weight...[but] people say it is a feeling that they soon get used to. We did beef up the nose pad to soften this affect, and the ear grips work to balance the phone on your nose."

Stepping out of virtual reality and back into our real-life offices, the editors seemed to enjoy their trip. "I think it’s a really good first step, not without its hiccups, but a really strong first step in making this more accessible to everybody," said editor MaryFrances Knapp. "And making it fashionable, why not? Very cool. I could see myself getting this as a good Christmas gift."

As for Brace, she saw the potential of the virtual reality realm way beyond fashion. "Sexting," she said, "will never be the same."