During the 2010s, streetwear got lifted from the streets and taken to the runway. Givenchy’s AW11 “Rottweiler” tees and Balenciaga’s AW12 “Join a Weird Trip” sweatshirts saw signature streetwear silhouettes dominate high-end collections. In 2017, Kim Jones, the then-artistic director of Louis Vuitton, even tapped Supreme for a full-ranged collaboration. It prompted utter hysteria, with the Supreme x Louis Vuitton Malle Courrier 90 Trunk fetching an eye-watering $104,218 at a Paris auction.
This move really launched streetwear and luxury fashion’s cross-pollination into the mainstream. In 2018, Virgil Abloh took the reigns from Jones as artistic director of Louis Vuitton. Having helmed the streetwear label Off-White for the previous six years, his first show at LV was filled with utilitarian jackets, boiler suits and cross body bags. This in turn set the tone for the explosion of graphic hoodies on fashion week catwalks and the rise of high-end streetwear labels such as Heron Preston, A‑COLD-WALL* and Fear of God.
But as the new decade approached, high fashion started falling out of step with streetwear. In December last year, Abloh bluntly told Dazed that streetwear is “gonna die” in the 2020s. This prediction has started to be borne out in the decade’s first fashion weeks. Even a signature streetwear brand like A‑COLD-WALL* has veered away from its roots, debuting instead a refined capsule displaying new textures, materials, silhouettes and styles.
However, with streetwear seemingly falling out of favour, it appears that there’s a new muse on the block – gaming.
While Gucci’s front row has previously seen the likes of A$AP Rocky, Jared Leto and Florence Welch rubbing shoulders, the label’s Milan AW20 show had guests from Fnatic – a leading organisation in eSports. And their presence on the coveted FROW isn’t as unexpected as it might initially seem.
Last October, Louis Vuitton announced that they were designing outfits for League of Legends avatars Qiyana and Senna to wear while performing in the virtual hip-hop group True Damage. These LV monogrammed skins were then released for the title’s eight million players to purchase in-game, with the french Fashion house complementing the partnership with an IRL collection inspired by the game.
While this isn’t the brand’s first foray into gaming (they signed up the pink-haired protagonist Lightning from Final Fantasy as a campaign star in 2016), the multi-year partnership with Riot Games represents a deeper alignment between the two words. Indeed, LV’s creative director Nicolas Ghesquière is currently designing another Prestige Edition skin for an early 2020 release.
And it’s not just Louis Vuitton cosying up to the gaming community. Last year Moschino lent its trademark loud style to The Sims 4, designing outfits for characters in the game and even releasing a Sims-inspired capsule. Gucci hasn’t entered the eSports arena yet, but late last year they dipped their toes into the virtual sphere with a duo of 8‑bit arcade games that debuted on their Gucci App. Burberry then replicated this move with Burberry B bounce, an addictive computer game which allows players to race a Burberry-clad deer to the moon in the hope of winning custom GIFs and virtual products.
But why has luxury fashion suddenly got the gaming bug?
Well, in a way, it’s simply moving with the times. According to Statista, there will be more than 2.7 billion gamers by 2021, meaning the global games market is expected to be worth a massive £146 billion. What was once a close-knit subculture has gone mainstream, with streaming services like Twitch making rock stars out of gamers and turning teens into millionaires.
Most important, however, is the youthful demographic of this burgeoning industry: 63 per cent of all current gamers are aged 18 – 30.
“Everyone knows that Generation Z are going to be the driving force in luxury goods spending,” says Kathryn Bishop, a foresight editor at trend forecasting company The Future Laboratory. Her prediction is backed up by a PMX Agency study signposting that 45 per cent of the luxury goods market will be made up of Gen Z‑ers by 2025.
Bishop says luxury houses aren’t just asking “what are Generation Z into?” – they’re also asking where in the world Generation Z will have “a lot of disposable income and influence?” She says this “tends to be the Asian countries such as South Korea, China and Hong Kong, and the Americas.”
Meanwhile, a third of the entire Chinese population are already gamers, with women making up 58 per cent of its gaming community. Additionally, a McKinsey & Company 2019 report on “how young Chinese consumers are reshaping global luxury” found that Chinese consumers at home and abroad spent 770 billion RMB ($115 billion) on luxury items – equivalent to a third of the global spend. So, as Bishop puts it: “Two and two equals a very lucrative situation to be in.”
At the same time, it’s important to recognise that these brands aren’t just following the money. Actually, gaming and fashion share certain parallels that make them a natural pairing. “Both are fast-moving in terms of things that are coming in – the hot new products, the hot new games, the hot new players, the hot new designers and creative directors,” says Bishop. “And in both [areas], people want to feel that they are at the forefront of trying these new things out.”
Jillian Tangen, a head researcher at Dandelion Chandelier, agrees. “Gaming has always been a bit about fantasy – think of World of WarCraft or Final Fantasy,” she says. “It’s a fantasy where you take on a whole different life. Fashion is also about this.”
So for luxury brands wanting to target the fashion-hungry youth, the gaming pool is a good place to drink from. “So many kids’ lives are on their computer or phone. Marketing on there is an easy way to keep name-dropping yourself in front of a customer to eventually make them a life-long consumer,” says Tangen.
And a life-long consumer who graduates to real-life purchases. “If they have a Gucci-clad avatar for five years,” Tangen explains, “when they’re at the right age they can be like, ‘OK, now I can dress myself in Gucci, not just my character.’” Moschino’s Sims-inspired pixelated backpack goes for $1295 (£990) in real life, but the virtual version costs just $10 (£7.50), giving teens a luxury hit for pocket money prices.
As for the future of high fashion’s flirtation with gaming, Bishop predicts there will “definitely be room for growth and more nuance in how it’s presented”. With gaming and eSports yet to take over key economies and the rise of exciting ventures like gaming tourism (Atari is set to open a series of luxury hotels in the US), there are still many opportunities for the two to explore. From merch collabs to sponsorship deals, it seems the intertwining of high fashion and gaming will deepen throughout the decade.