Dystopia Wears Prada at Decentraland’s Metaverse Fashion Week

It all started with someone sending me a billboard of my face in the metaverse.

“you are super famous,” they wrote on LinkedIn.

I clicked to make the image bigger. Low and behold, there was my (smudgy) face on a giant poster advertising a talk I did on Web 3 and what it means for artists several weeks back. My attention however, was captured. I had to find out why the expired poster was taking up residency in the Crypto Valley Convention Centre.

“Crypto mall in the FW [fashion week] event,” said my informer, “do you want the link?”

I clicked through.

Putting my magnifiers on, there are some good things about Decentraland.

It’s easy to access. A lot of metaverse platforms require a cumbersome download, or an insanely high powered computer with strange settings to function (article on The Sandbox coming soon).

You don’t have to have a crypto wallet or buy a season pass to access which in other platforms presents a massive barrier to entry.

You can play on PC or Mac. No mobile yet, but that will be a deal breaker for creating seamless cross-platform experiences.

You don’t have to read a White Paper or be a crypto bro to jump in. User onboarding is key. With a basic understanding of gaming controls, any user can figure out how to participate in Decentraland.

There are instructions when you arrive in-world. Some metaverse platforms, especially VR ones, require in-depth reading out of VR to understand how to participate which isn’t practical.

Making the metaverse is no simple task. It’s even arguable as to whether it has even arrived. However this next section is about how it has all gone wrong.

I arrived in world, looking over a vast low poly world that quickly dropped off into a grey abyss. I wandered off in the direction I was oriented upon arrival, hoping the intention was to bring me to a nearby oasis. My avatar aptly named ‘blockly’ sprinted across the turf, crashing into big green beams that looked like the outlines of some loading buildings.

Intuition correct, the landscape slowly began to sprout a few large buildings.

Decentraland’s Metaverse Fashion week, promising the most cutting edge, culturally relevant, designer trends and must-knows, welcomed me with a collection of 2D posters that blockly squinted to read. We plundered onwards, encountering QR code’s featuring crypto news, paid promotional opportunities and PR.

A brilliant flash of colour caught my eye. Rotating, I arched my head up to make out the impossibly high glossy ad for Leo Gradis Champagne. It was oddly welcoming and dazzling after the bland and muted tones of the metaverse so far.

With raised hopes, me and blockly took a brave breath, and I held down ‘W’ to take us into one of the buildings.

This is where I think I found the main exhibition space. A curvy prancing woman with massive breasts gently gliding up and down her chest welcomed me at the door from her enclosed pedestal. Visitor Worm #56b5 seemed unable to move beyond this first piece, captivated by her cleavage, staring unblinking for the duration of my visit.

A number of brands had 3D displays in this space, brands like Karl Lagerfeld and KidSuper which featured a hoodie and sweatpants combo for a grand total of $300, with a lovely brown and pink cardigan($250-see below), among other items for sale.

It would be fantastic to understand the metrics of the event. How many avatars attended, how long did they stay? How many clicked through to the website’s of each brand on display? Did those clicks result in meaningful engagement? How many of those clicks actually worked?

Pondering these questions, I strolled over to the curators note. Finally a personal touch, some information, an explanation of why I should be here.

“hello” wrote ‘davidcash’ in the chat.

I replied excitedly, for here in pixel was the curator himself. I told him about reading his note and that the fact that he was here made the whole experience worth it. He was showing his friends around the building so I eagerly followed along, discovering that one of the shafts in the middle was an elevator which I’d missed before because the writing had been on the other side. There were four stories to explore! We went up to the rooftop where music blasted from the video playing on a big screen. davidcash ushered us into a temple-like structure where they enjoyed the blissful silence to talk via voice chat.

Like many visitors just checking things out, I stayed on text chat only. While my fellow avatars were friendly and said hello, I felt a bit ignored, but completely understandable since I was somewhat crashing their party. Still, I craved meaningful recognition for the perilous journey taken so far. Undeterred by my inner cries, davidcash, JoeHunty and APL evaporated a few moments later.

On my own again, I braced myself for what might come next.

I discovered elevators inspired by tangerine bags, balconies with stellar views, informative posters, and advertisements that reflected my experience of Decentraland’s Fashion Week.

The ratio of fashion halls to crypto malls left me confused as I persisted on my mission to discover what the metaverse means for the future of fashion and cultural, social experiences.

I couldn’t decide if the interactive Axie’s I came across were cute or terrifying as they rushed towards me, but after being alone traversing the metaverse, dashing in and out of buildings to escape the blare of audio that made me doubt the quality of my speakers, I decided they were safe.

It was surprisingly meaningful that the last leg of my journey was through a half empty gallery. It resonated with my feelings about fashion in the metaverse. It feels like an empty canvas (or one that has momentarily detoured before finding its place) ready for a painter’s brush. However, it’s unlikely the canvas maker will be the one who paints the masterpiece. Equally, giving paintbrushes to everyone will not result in beautiful art (user generated content).

Despite my misadventures, Decentraland is cashing in on the metaverse craze. Whether or not they will be players in the years to come is another question entirely.

When I think of fashion shows and Fashion Week in the real world I think about vibrant colors, social events, a spectacle. I want to leave with fantastical memories and inspiration- memories that will last a lifetime. Decentraland’s Metaverse Fashion Week was a far cry from this. It’s clear that hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars (brands are paying LOADS of cash for these placements) were invested in this event, but it felt like walking into a first sketch of an ad placement world before the designers, creatives, and experience makers got to work.

Always optimistic, I went back in for the closing party that boasted a virtual concert featuring Grimes, hopeful to discover a sense of purpose in the metaverse.

I landed in a familiar low poly environment with boxy rows of stores. There were quite a few avatars running around trying to find the concert, so I did the same. Everyone was congregated in a big spiral building wondering what was going on as things were running late.

To take advantage of the delay, blockly sprinted into the shops. It looked like all the high-end brands had concentrated in this part of the fashion week as digital garments were much more lovingly displayed as 3D models in colorful stores. Some of them were actually pretty cool like the White Rabbit shop. However, every single one of these stores was empty. No one was there to shop, everyone was there to see Grimes… and Elon Musk.

The rest of my journey comprised of being ‘photographed’ in front of a banner on the red carpet by all male photographers… and further attempts to find out about the concert before things crashed (those aren’t closing credits above). Disheartened, I called it a night.

As for the original question of the mysterious appearance and disappearance of my billboard in the metaverse, that is one yet to be answered.

By donating to this crypto wallet you can help fund a valuable cause of finding my missing billboard in the metaverse. Whoever donates the most will receive regular updates on the mission and access to purchase limited edition ‘MIA billboard’ posters coming to a third party marketplace near you.

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