"A styling game helped me rediscover my inner creative during the pandemic—and I’m not alone. The virtual fashion revolution is coming."
05.18.2021 09:00 AM
A FEW MONTHS ago I discovered an unexpected, mind-soothing salve: Drest, a fashion styling game I downloaded when it came out in 2019 but hadn’t yet actually played. Now I’m on it constantly.
As a thirtysomething obsessed with luxury fashion, I love the creativity and artistry of fashion, but I’m not a fan of the industry’s murky ethics. And Drest feels very much like it’s made for me, although people aged 18 to 60 around the globe are playing it (including those likely to be featured in it, like Kate Moss). Best of all, it satiates my appetite for fashion without costing me a penny. For those who want to spend, there’s ample opportunity, from in-game upgrades to buying yourself that Simone Rocha beaded bag you keep adding to every virtual outfit.
Each morning, I’ll choose a few styling challenges to do, adding stickers to a mood board or giving a model an Audrey Hepburn red-carpet look.
Drest is just one of many ways fashion lovers can consume high-fashion content through mobile and video games. Louis Vuitton partnered with Riot Games’ League of Legends on prestige skins for 2019’s League of Legends World Championship Finals. (In April 2021, Riot announced a new collaboration with UNIQLO.) Marc Jacobs and Valentino outfits have turned up in Animal Crossing; Burberry has its own range of cutesy website games like B Surf, a fun Mario Kart-meets-monogram racing game, and the brand created skins for Tencent’s Honor of Kings characters.
Drest is designed with a fashion editor’s vision. The game was created by Lucy Yeomans, former editor of Porter magazine, head of content at Net-a-Porter, and editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar UK. It features a curated selection of big-name brands as well as up-and-coming labels. One particularly pleasing aspect of the game (which doesn’t reflect how the fashion world typically operates), is how the smaller brands get as much visibility as the big ones.
Of course, it’s no surprise that luxury fashion brands want to position themselves at the center of an industry that made $175 billion in 2020, one with an increasing number of women. A 2020 report from the Entertainment Software Association found that women account for 41 percent of all gamers in the United States. Esports are also infiltrating popular culture, with an audience that’s predicted to reach 729 million in 2021, according to research from Newzoo.
Like other reward-based mobile games, Drest nurtures friendly competition and gives players added benefits the more often they engage with it. Those looking for quick upgrades can pay to unlock goodies or book supermodel shoots with digital versions of Natalia Vodianova and Precious Lee.
The game has certainly provided me with some much-needed escapism, as well as a healthy dose of fashion news and community camaraderie. I’m considered a “creative player,” someone who plays for joy and inspiration rather than trying to rise up the rankings. Having (virtual) access to amazing garments I can’t afford and don’t have occasion to wear in reality, is a source of pleasure in itself.
But Drest is more than a bit of fun; it’s also reflective of a changing fashion industry that’s embracing all things virtual and heading to games to engage directly with consumers. The same customers you’ll find gaming are the ones who view many of the traditional approaches to fashion and retail as cumbersome and outdated. Data from thredUP suggests that the secondhand fashion market, including apps like Poshmark and Depop, will hit $64 billion in the next five years. These digital platforms are thriving because they encourage a gentler, circular approach to fashion as well as nurturing a strong sense of community, much like what you find in gaming communities.
Gaming Plus Fashion Just Makes Sense
Fashion has been slow on the uptake with digital and immersive technologies, but the pandemic forced the industry’s hand. Businesses grappled with new ways to reach consumers as global fashion events were canceled and stores closed.
“The pandemic accelerated the mainstream visibility of these subcultures that are having a huge impact,” says Benoit Pagotto, one of three cofounders of RTFKT Studios, purveyors of virtual sneakers and NFT collectibles. Its recent virtual sneaker collaboration with Fewocious raised over $3 million.