New Clothes for the Old Emperor
November 15, 2019 7:36 AM   Subscribe

I once met someone who made decent bank selling virtual lingerie on Second Life. That was about fifteen years ago.
posted by phooky at 7:42 AM on November 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

OK Millennial
posted by pipeski at 7:43 AM on November 15, 2019 [6 favorites]

When this kind of thing ($7,500 virtual dress) starts to happen, it's a pretty good sign that the economic expansion has gone into overtime.
posted by beagle at 7:44 AM on November 15, 2019 [6 favorites]

And to think I was blown away at the prospect of someone spending $250 for a pair of decorative wings in a video game that isn't even that popular. (Ugly wings, too; they look like they're from an "antiqued" cherub made out of plaster and sold in a mall.)

Early adopters and their money are soon parted, I guess. All in all, I think I liked the fashions in the first Gilded Age better.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:45 AM on November 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

I would judge this, but having spent roughly $200 or so buying gems to buy digital skins for my shipfus, I can't.
posted by MartinWisse at 7:46 AM on November 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Jesus wept. Some people have too much money. Taxes should be much higher. How about a stupid over-consumption tax?
posted by theora55 at 7:55 AM on November 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

An over-consumption tax would just get overturned by a hand-picked Supreme Court that we are going to have to live with for many decades... What if the government just sold digital dresses themselves and then used the proceeds to fund universal healthcare?
posted by rajbot at 8:18 AM on November 15, 2019 [7 favorites]

After reading the below-the-fold links, I've been rolling around the implications of digital fast fashion (in like a social media/augmented reality context, not for game avatars) in my head. It could be great! But I can't help but think that capitalism and our crazy IP regime will make it not great. Quick note that these thoughts are about fast fashion, not all clothing.

Right now we're in a fast fashion nightmare that is terrible for the environment and terrible for labor. As a sort of intermediate step between our current state and actually ramping down overconsumption, shifting from physical fast fashion to digital fast fashion would let trend-chasers continue to post their latest trendy styles to social media while consuming only a bit more computing power.

Additionally, consumption would decrease in absolute terms because one digital pair of blue jeans should be as good as another and everything will always fit you.

But there are so many ways it can make things worse instead of better:
-What if digital fast fashion only adds to, without meaningfully reducing, physical fast fashion?
-What if the actual environmental cost of digital fast fashion is a *lot* of extra computing power/server space, instead of a little?
-What happens to the farmers growing fibers, mill workers producing fabric, factory workers making garments, retail store clerks, etc., during a switch from physical to digital fashion?
-Will there be design/coding sweatshops to crank out endless digital fashions? (I'd think it'd be significantly less than for physical fashion because producing *one* plain white t-shirt or basic blue jeans digital item replaces *all* the white t-shirt and blue jeans physical items; then imagine users can shift colors or even change the fit, etc.)
-What if, since one digital t-shirt is as good as another, this actually makes brands more important and nothing changes because to be cool you have to spend silly amounts on the same damned digital t-shirt with a brand on it?
-What if, just like streaming music, your digital fast fashion wardrobe expires because you have to "license" it from [social media platform du jour] x LVMH Design? Will free, open-source garments be allowed on fashion app stores?
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 9:08 AM on November 15, 2019 [7 favorites]

Oh man, I almost wish I hadn't seen this. I've been working on a new zine recently, an "Oops... all ads" thing where there's no comic really, just a ton of fake ads. I just finished one little one last night that I was thinking about scrapping, I was thinking the joke was too obtuse or would require to much explaining of the premise.

It was an ad for "Premium Internet Clothes," "bespoke fashion apparel for your internet." My joke was more supposed to suggest the idea of buying clothes for "your internet," whatever it could mean for an abstract thing like "your internet" to wear clothes.

Reality, once again beats me to the weirdness punch. People buying clothes that don't exist for themselves strikes me as more absurd than my premise of buying digital clothes for an abstract digital entity. And shit, phrasing it that way, I realize people already do that when they buy clothes for their game characters or avatars. Damnit.
posted by GoblinHoney at 9:22 AM on November 15, 2019 [10 favorites]

We gamer geeks call these "skins" and complain when they cost more than $3. And they're animated. OTOH you can't really put them on top of an image of you, yourself, and they tend to be in cartoony styles.

I also really admire the artistry and work people put into their Final Fantasy XIV characters. It's got one of the best posable dress-up-doll systems I've seen in any game.

Not gonna lie, what I really want is Fragile's umbrella from Death Stranding.
posted by Nelson at 9:37 AM on November 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

Nelson, given the prices I've seen in the Steam marketplace for what I presume are skins for various guns in online games, I think the going rate tends to be from $2.50 to $250, depending on the item. (The stupid trading cards that I get for playing games go for about 5 cents and I've made up to 45 cents on a foil one once. These cards are also digital and don't seem to do anything, although they may if you want to have more than three steam friends.)

A friend of mine used to work at one of the big auction houses (can't remember if it was Sotherby's or Christie's) and they once sold a conceptual piece of art for 10k or so. There wasn't a physical manifestation, if I remember correctly, the artist would sneak a symbol into various art galleries. They bought the concept of that artist doing that, with that symbol. No, I have no idea what that means, but this is not as unprecedented as people think. If you look at it from a "rich people and art" perspective, it's not too weird.
posted by Hactar at 11:06 AM on November 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

...last month, the actor James Franco put his name behind a strange new project called the Museum of Non-Visible Art, which takes what it calls conceptual art to a whole new level. Their website is here and there's an explainer video here, but in simple terms, the idea of the museum is that the works of art don't exist physically, instead they are imagined by the artist. So when you purchase the "work of art" you get a "card" to hang on an empty wall and you "describe it to your audience." (Woman Pays $10,000 For 'Non-Visible' Work Of Art, NPR, July 19, 2011)
posted by Iris Gambol at 1:14 PM on November 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Unless the BBC article left something important out. This "dress" isn't as detailed, animated, or as flexible as a game skin. As described, it's just an alpha layer you can pop on top of an image. Or perhaps a 3d file which can be manipulated first, then layered on top of an existing image.

In that state it's not "ready to wear". Someone with the relevant technical & design skills is needed every time she would want it in a different setting. But even then, it looks like its limited to static images. For £7500, I'd expect a certain amount of rigging and animation loops. That's just a base expectation of a skin. Even of the £3 variety.

I understand the appeal of skins. I understand how digital purchases can feel as real as physical items. I've bought a few mounts on Warcraft and spent a fair amount of time hunting down rare armor, mounts, & pets. Not to mention my mp3 and ebook collections feel as real to me as my shelves of vinyl and books. But I don't understand this. Feels far too limited for the price.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 1:16 PM on November 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

In "high" anything (high art, high fashion, etc.), often what are being bought and sold are attention and status, and that works of art also happen to change hands is an epiphenomenon. So if you imagine that somebody spent $7.5k to look like they're wearing a shower curtain, then yeah it seems pretty silly, but what has actually happened is they've spent $7.5k to have a news story about them as fashion trendsetters, and now here we all are, talking about them.
posted by Pyry at 1:45 PM on November 15, 2019 [6 favorites]

I keep thinking we've reached the peak of late-stage capitalism, but here we are
posted by horopter at 2:07 PM on November 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

The idea of digital bespoke fashion seems really unsurprising to me: greater flexibility of possibilities once you get rid of the physical/material challenges of clothesmaking, synchronizes well with an already carefully mediated public image (just one more tool in a toolkit of composition and staging and image manipulation), opens up new aesthetic territory, opens up new realms of social competition and performance. Rich people spending too much on a not very good execution also isn't surprising; if you're willing to spend the money, you can get a hacky version of a thing other people don't have at all.

And the comparison to game skins is tempting as a rebuttal to that—video game fans have possible outfits galore in all sorts of games, this is paying far too much for far too little!—but in a world where there's no universal digital avatar standard, where having an outfit in an MMO isn't the same thing as having an outfit on yourself on your instagram (or your private whatever), being able to buy/own/control/hoard this expensive and personalized thing even in a weird and hacky way feels like an obvious rich person cachet thing to want to do. The bad value for money just underscores the fact that having enough money to spend badly is a handy thing indeed.

the actor James Franco put his name behind a strange new project called the Museum of Non-Visible Art, which takes what it calls conceptual art to a whole new level

Which is just bad writing (or, maybe, accurately transcribing someone else's bad talking) because that's the level some conceptual art was mucking around at 50 years ago already. This may have been managing to take proactive commodification of dematerialized art to a new level on some vector? Certainly a new level of Francoization of it, I guess. But as soon as artists started talking about the idea of work that existed in unsellable forms, art dealers started working out how to sell it anyway.
posted by cortex at 2:09 PM on November 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

All the grar in this discussion reminds me depressingly of how much crap some freelance illustrators I know have gotten for being popular enough to be able to get away with charging prices that actually make for a merely decent standard of living.

Ultimately, this is just a bespoke piece of digital art. And $7500 really isn't that much? It's a few months expenses for one person. But if that's the top end of the scale that makes international news and inspires a firestorm of fury, what hope do ordinary, very skilled artists have of making much more than minimum wage doing freelance work?

I mean sure, maybe the customer could've been value conscious and gotten a better deal or a better artist to do the work, but I don't think I want to rag on anyone for making money in a creative profession. More power to them.
posted by Zalzidrax at 12:58 AM on November 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

Small world, 2 of the people in these articles were in my office this week - mostly responding to Grimp0teuthis' comment:

This is the stuff that gets headlines, but this kind of work in digital fashion / 3d clothing design / virtual photography is also paying off in less samples shipped from china, shorter production timelines, and less time and money spent on photoshoots. Of course the young and ambitious people running creative agencies are trying to push the boundaries and make headlines (by selling digital garms for 7.5k, for example) but the nuts and bolts of it is actually adding efficiency to a very inefficient industry.
posted by thedaniel at 11:05 AM on November 17, 2019

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