Friday, September 30, 2011
Lady Gaga’s Fashion Director Plans to Sell Virtual Clothes For Real MoneyBy Ryan Kuo
Nicola Formichetti has turned heads as Mugler creative director and Lady Gaga’s fashion director. Now the forward-looking Formichetti has created a futuristic virtual outfit for the spacefaring online videogame EVE Online.
Along with a one-off version of the Formichetti design that will be auctioned for charity, EVE Online developer CCP plans to release high-fashion lines of virtual avatar clothing that may be purchased in the game with real-world money. The clothes may not have threads, but will likely play the same role as physical fashion: as representations of social status and personal taste.
Speakeasy spoke with Formichetti (who recently worked as the creative director for a short film that Lady Gaga directed and screened at the Mugler fashion show in Paris) and CCP Fashion Editor Mary Lee about their work on the project and the future of fashion.
[Mary and I] were talking about fashion designers like you embracing technology. What do you like about the virtual world and the ephemerality of it?
Nicola Formichetti: I’m not very good at that kind of stuff. That’s why I work with people like [Mary] to guide me. For me it looks sexy. I think fashion should be sexy, and their technology looks sexy. I’m into Tamagotchi stuff, of course, a little kawaii—but that’s different. Fashion and high fashion needs to look expensive and sexy. That’s why the graphics, the art, makes the clothing look very expensive.
I feel like I’m just being a punk. I’m not trying to go against the system or anything like that. It’s so obvious that we have to [embrace technology]. When I did my first Mugler show last season people were like, “Oh my god, it was like a digital experience, it’s live.” Sure, but it’s really really common sense. It has to be live, of course, and the people on the screen have to have a better seat, or as good a seat, as the front row. I made sure there were all these cameras everywhere, and it was not only one direction; you could see backstage and front row at the same time. I kept tweeting a live feed—it’s really basic stuff. For me, technology is all about communicating and being very direct. Of course you need to have the support of companies, but it needs to be more organic.
A few years ago, when photographers started doing film, suddenly everyone started doing film. It doesn’t make any sense—suddenly doing a film, but sometimes you just want to show your statement in an image. It was very trendy to do a 10-minute backstage film. Now, what I’ve discovered is that instead of doing film, you should do a moving photo, which is like a computer game; like it’s a still, but it’s alive. That feels like a natural progression from a photo becoming more digital rather than suddenly becoming moving. Or like a MySpace or Facebook GIF. For me, that feels newer.
Animated GIFs are very trendy on the internet…
Formichetti: I find everything on Tumblr or Twitter. I found this kid on Tumblr [pointing to Mary’s T-shirt], emailed him, said, “I love your work; let’s do a T-shirt together,” two days before the store opened. He was a 16-year-old kid in Russia. It’s sharing—it’s not so high-tech. GIFs are the most basic, just four pictures put together. But it feels sexy. I’m the biggest fan of black-and-white images—Irving Penn, Mapplethorpe, name it. But we’ve seen it.
Mary Lee: A GIF is quick, it’s to the point. A video or a whole film could be five or 10 minutes long.
Formichetti: A photo, I don’t even look at anymore. I think the time, the world, is becoming faster and faster. We need to run faster too.
The images have to catch up too.
Formichetti: Totally. Of course a photo will look better on an iPhone or an iPad than a magazine, even the same exact image, because it’s backlit. If you want to do something really cool in print, then you have to go the opposite way, where you make it really, really personal, like it’s so special that you’re the only one that has it. It’s all hand-drawn, uses old paper. That’s fine, but then if you start doing fashion imagery on print…
How do screens and backlit art feel in contrast to print?
Formichetti: Basically, your eyes are completely drawn to that. You like it, or not. There’s this moving, digital thing on a window [in New York]. Not so cool, but a hundred meters away, you’re completely drawn to that. It’s like drugs. You want to see more. I’m not saying that’s good, but definitely we’re more attracted to that.
Is that part of what you mean by a sexier look?
Formichetti: No, that’s not sexy. To me, sexy is sophisticated. Like, Times Square is not sophisticated, but we’re drawn to that. I think to use the technology and the base, and to make it look sexy, you need to have a twist to it. If not, it’s just a car commercial or something. We’re in fashion, so it needs to look sophisticated and desirable and cool, and all that.
How was your experience working on the Zombie Boy avatar?
Formichetti: For me, to be working with digital is mind-blowing. I’ve never done that before. As a designer, you’re always hands-on, you touch and feel and things like that. But in a similar way [in digital] you come up with research, and drawings, and patterns. It was all through digital and online. That was very fresh for me. I don’t know the exact technology; I just did the drawings and they came back to me. It almost made it feel more real, it’s really strange. When you do a drawing in real life, the physical world, you do a drawing and source fabric. You kind of have to match the fabric; it’s never exactly the same. That’s when the magic happens too, when it’s not exactly the same and you decide to use the opposite one. You start winging it, basically. But with this experience, it was so spot-on, because my drawings are closer to their things than the actual, physical things. In a way it was much, much closer to my imagination than what I would have done for the physical world.
Because it all exists on the image level?
Formichetti: Image level, yeah. I’m not saying what we’ve done is realistic, in 3D. It still has to live in a gaming world, and all these things make it sexier. If you want to do it exactly the same, like how you are now [framing me], you need to use a different kind of technology, which is boring.
Lee: In the real world, if you have a design, you put a dress on somebody, and you mess up, you have to start again. You can’t add too much. But when you’re working in the digital design, it’s easy to add extra fabric, or switch anything right away. In real fashion you’re limited by the fabric that you have.
Formichetti: Availability, yeah. We waste so much in fashion, it’s crazy, just to make one shirt. I don’t mind the research and time, but you have a sample fabric—if you start with a different fabric to mimic the fabric, and then you get a sample fabric, and then you get another—constantly to get it right, it’s waste.
You mentioned the hands-on aspect of being a stylist. There’s an intuitive aspect to being able to touch and fix something. Do you miss that in the digital?
Formichetti: I was never a hands-on person anyway. I’m not a couturier, like old-school people. Designers in the past 10 years—we don’t touch fabrics anymore, the people who have ideas. You do, but there are other people who do. You design it on a computer, or do a very specific sketch. People say this, too: It’s very flat, 2D. But I think that it feels more modern because I don’t really see anyone wearing a ball gown on the street, or something three-dimensional, so it works. Most of the designers now, they don’t want to admit it, but most of them are very two-dimensional designers.
What’s your sense of the role that fashion can play in a gaming context?
Formichetti: Fashion people cannot really play games. [Laughs] I mean, it’s too difficult. But they can appreciate it; it’s like watching a movie. Somehow, if you could make it easier… Or maybe it’s not about playing a game. It’s more about having something in your phone. Tamagotchi meets—
Lee: Maybe it doesn’t have to be so technical. Dressing your avatar, with really cool fashion.
Formichetti: Your wardrobe. Click-click-click, and you change your wardrobe.