(Originally published on The Lancer).
A runway show that recently caught my eye was Balenciaga Winter 22; when I saw its intriguing title “360°” and its artificial snow storm trapped in an apocalyptic circular room, I couldn’t wait to dive into the deeper meaning.
Demna Gvasalia, the current creative director of Balenciaga, revealed the motive for the varied imagery in his show in a recent interview with the Business of Fashion magazine. First was the title—360°. Not only did it signify the circular shape of the room itself, but it also represented rising global temperatures. Denma portrays his own experience with global warming in the show: when he noticed that the Swiss Alps were covered in artificial snow on a recent trip, he began to imagine a future where snow would no longer exist, and life as we know it would only exist as digital simulations and virtual reality (essentially, a metaverse of sorts). He uses irony to explore this bleak future, as the Balenciaga show itself was created with artificial snow. “I love technology and the metaverse but there is nothing more beautiful than real life,” says Denma.
However, the metaverse may be the next big step for the fashion industry. Gucci has already collaborated with Roblox, Pokémon Go, and Animal Crossing. As the digital and physical worlds continue to blend, digital clothing may become more than just an extra skin in your favorite video game.
Ironically, neither physical fashion nor digital fashion is sustainable. While digitizing aspects of life prevents consumption and production of physical products, it uses a large amount of electricity to function. In order to create an algorithm to cater to the user experience of every individual in the metaverse, it would require AI models with large carbon footprints. According to the MIT Technology Review, training a single AI model can emit as much carbon as five cars would in their lifetimes. Furthermore, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), which play a large role in the metaverse, consume large amounts of electricity. On the flip side, maintaining physical goods, especially in fashion, creates colossal environmental impacts through pollution.
So what is the real future of sustainable fashion? Hermés has been looking at vegan mushroom leather, in collaboration with California-based biotech startup MycoWorks. Researchers at MIT are investigating using live silkworms to grow fabric instead of harvesting and killing the organisms. Adidas has committed to using recycled polyester from plastic pollution. New materials are gaining traction in the world of fashion. Though a large-scale sustainable solution has yet to be implemented universally across the industry, I do not think the future lies in meta-fashion and digital clothing. At the end of the day, I truly do agree with Demna—“there is nothing more beautiful than real life.”
Art by Ava Hennen.