Strap on an Oculus headset in Topshop for a ride through a digital Oxford Street that evokes the thrill and freedom of a hot summer’s day
London is teeming with technology, and you don’t need to venture to Shoreditch’s Silicon Roundabout to notice it. The capital is playing host to new virtual reality experiences that can be found among the everyday, from the shops of Oxford Circus to Covent Garden’s bars. Here are the experiences just waiting for you to step in.
Shop to it
Summer is imminent — and even when London is dithering between sun and rain, Topshop’s new window display conjures a perpetually bright virtual version of the capital in VR.
The Oxford Street flagship store has previously hosted inflatables, flashmobs and Kate Moss in the flesh, and the latest arrival is no less impressive. SPLASH! is a virtual flume that customers can try out for free. Strap on an Oculus headset in-store for a ride through a digital Oxford Street that evokes the thrill and freedom of a hot summer’s day.
“It’s exhilarating,” says Topshop’s global marketing and communications director, Sheena Sauvaire. “A lot of people haven’t experienced VR, full-stop, and the fact that they can say they first tried it and were at the gateway of the new and the next in Topshop in London would be fantastic.”
Fashion has embraced VR, says Sauvaire: “VR technology is going to have a greater play within fashion and retail because of its great ability to create experience.”
Topshop is ahead of the curve, having brought its 2014 London Fashion Week catwalk to customers through headsets.
“Our customers are intrigued about being inside the industry,” says Sauvaire. “There’s a lot that we can do around that — how you put together a shoot, looking at products through a model akin to what your shape is.”
Georgia Rhodes rides Splash at Top Shop on Oxford Street (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures)
The Science Museum is embracing VR for Space Descent. Made in participation with British astronaut Tim Peake, it digitally places participants into the capsule that brought him hurtling back to Earth after his six-month stint on the International Space Station.
“VR lets you take people to places they can’t go, on an amazing journey that only about 500 people have ever made,” says the Science Museum’s head of new media, Dave Patten. “You’re probably never going to go in a real spaceship, that’s as close as you’re going to get.”
Powered by Samsung’s Gear VR headsets, it features a voiceover from Peake himself to educate audiences on the science of the journey, and has the cosmonaut’s seal of approval (“When he first tried it he said this is about as close as you can get,” Patten enthuses).
Best of all, the real capsule is housed in the museum for visitors to see for themselves.
“Hopefully you go back and look at the collection with a renewed understanding and excitement,” Patten says.
Tim Peake using Space Descent VR
The stripped-back nature of theatre may seem like a strange bedfellow for high-tech VR but the National Theatre has embraced the new medium.
Current production Ugly Lies the Bone follows a soldier recovering from PTSD with the help of virtual reality therapy — and visitors can access a version of that software afterwards in NT’s VR experience COOL!
“It’s like an extension of the show, showing where the genesis of it came from,” explains head of digital development, Toby Coffey, who compares the National’s approach to VR to a more traditional theatre accompaniment. “We sell programmes, and people that buy them want a greater insight into the world of the production. VR is akin, in a way, to an article in a programme.”
The National Theatre also recently teamed up with Canadian playwright Jordan Tannahill, whose emotional VR memoir Draw Me Close received rave responses on its debut at Tribeca earlier this year. Look out for its arrival in 2018.
Drink it in
For cocktail purists, understanding where your drink comes from is important — and One Aldwych has a novel way of showing exactly that.
Those who order The Origin receive a VR headset with a film showing views of the Dalmore whisky distillery in the Scottish Highlands. At the end of the clip, the cocktail is on the table waiting for them.
The drink is part of mixologist Pedro Paulo’s West End-themed cocktail menu, and One Aldwych’s Howard Rombough says the VR element of The Origin is aimed at “sophisticated drinkers”.
“As a small luxury hotel in a competitive market, One Aldwych always tries to stay ahead of the game. The Lobby Bar uses the first all-in-one VR headset with built-in screen on the market.”
The experience is impressively theatrical, with the sweeping Scottish landscapes, a stirring score and a wafting scent of smoked woodchips as the cocktail is prepared. Oh, and the drink itself tastes incredible.