Production impresario Sara Blonstein has teamed up with LA-based creative studio Actual Objects to conjure up a magical digital alternative to in-the-flesh menswear shows – and it might just be the saviour of the world's fashion weeks.
Although it was allegedly Plato who first coined a version of the phrase “Necessity is the mother of all invention” in his Socratic dialogue The Republic, it was Agatha Christie who, some 23 centuries later, made the phrase Covid-19 pandemic appropriate. “Invention arises directly from idleness,” said the world's best-selling fiction writer.
And though the latest innovation from Sara Blonstein – the British production impresario responsible for mounting many of the most dynamic and memorable shows during London's various Fashion Weeks – is the result of anything other than laziness, it has been spurred on by the fact that we're all still stuck indoors.
Blonstein, after all – with her some three decades in the business – has been at the coalface of many of the questions and conversations that have swirled around regarding the fashion industry's survival since the Covid-19 pandemic took hold.
With global travel all but cancelled for the foreseeable, for instance, how will the world's buyers be able to see the collections from the industry's most important designers and, in turn, make their purchases? Likewise, how will brands drum up all-important column inches without the drama of a live fashion show to shock and inspire? And, most importantly, for Blonstein at least, what shape will fashion showcases take if, indeed, they can no longer be mounted live?
The answer, according to Blonstein, lies in the realm of virtual reality. Since lockdown the producer has teamed up with LA-based rendering studio Actual Objects to formulate an entirely digital means of mounting a fashion show. From virtual backdrops crafted to each designer's specifications to state-of-the-art motion-capture suits that will allow casting directors to digitally capture the movement and characteristics of the models and celebrities they represent – not to mention Actual Objects' cutting-edge digital fabric capture capabilities – Blonstein's fledgling new venture could just be a solution to the pandemic-induced challenges faced by big and small name designers alike.
“We have been producing shows and experiences for over 30 years and we are the main production company for the BFC. We've worked with clients including Roksanda, Molly Goddard, Ozwald Boateng, Oliver Spencer, A-Cold-Wall*, Charles Jeffrey Loverboy and Christopher Raeburn, to name a few,” Blonstein tells me. “But designers and brands now need to emerge from the kind of paralysis that they are understandably currently in. The fashion world, historically, is all about show. It's about show and it's about people. It’s still quite conservative in that way – that's the way it’s always been done,” she continues. “We want to offer this platform to the new brave. Or at least start the conversation with the less brave, so we can perhaps set ourselves free from the thinking that the old way was the only way!”
Arguably one of the most innovative things about Blonstein's new project is the fact that the only limit to the environments in which these virtual shows can be created is the respective designer's imagination. “Every time I work with a fashion designer they always struggle to convey what they want to convey – particularly when they have small budgets. Most of the time designers don’t have the money to create the worlds they want their clothes to inhabit,” Blonstein tells me. “But with this process you can create any environment or any world – as simple as a white studio or a warehouse on fire.”
Likewise, and perhaps most extraordinarily, Actual Objects – which started out bringing to life pixelated avatars for the gaming industry – have developed the technology to digitally re-create even the finest garments, with everything from the weight and texture of the cloth considered. “Actual Objects take the patterns from the designers and then they remake the look onto the model they’re creating,” says Blonstein. “They like to have the garment, ideally, but they can work entirely from the pattern. So it gives them the ability to do the actual weight and movement of the cloth on the body.”
And the best thing about the whole project (particularly during this time of economic crisis) is, in the words of Blonstein herself, that it makes a fashion show “much cheaper to do”.
Are virtual fashion shows the stuff of the future? From where we're standing, it looks like they might just be.