What’s the point in seeing fashion artwork at museums when you can virtually project it in your own living room? Maybe even try it on yourself in 3D? As museums and art institutions globally seem to struggle to keep and attract new audiences New York-based creative studio Superficial suggests a new way of experiencing fashion artwork – purely online. Their Virtual Fashion Archive goes beyond what’s possible in a physical space.
Can you start with briefly presenting Superficial, who you guys are and why you started this project?
Sure! Superficial is a creative studio using future-forward aesthetics, ideas, and techniques to create new visual experiences for digital worlds. Our work focuses on using CG and other advanced digital imaging techniques to enter into impossible new dimensions.
We’ve always had a love of fashion but found the methods for bringing physical garments into digital worlds limiting. When we began to explore virtual fashion and garment creation software as a tool to bring physical pieces into rich and expressive virtual spaces we wondered if a similar process could be applied to archival fashion.
There are countless rare and significant fashion garments housed in museums and private collections around the world. These important works are seldom on display, and when they are, they’re mostly restricted to being seen static and from behind glass.
The Virtual Fashion Archive began as an experiment to see if 3D computer graphics and simulation could be used to bring these garments back into the poetics of motion as well as give a broader audience access to appreciating their extraordinary design.
Why is it better to see these garments in 3D than in real life? What are the pros and cons of making them virtual?
Seeing these garments in 3D is an entirely different experience. When you see an object at a museum there is an unmistakable physicality and presence that can’t be replicated digitally (yet). What we’re creating with the Virtual Fashion Archive is another lens through which to see the garments. We want people to experience them in new contexts and dimensions—to form a broader perspective in their appreciation of the designs.
On your platform, you are displaying iconic fashion pieces by fashion superstars such as Issey Miyake. What would he say if he saw his work virtualized? Would he like it do you think?
Our goal with the archive is to encourage engagement with these extraordinary works of fashion as well as the pioneering designers behind them. Through the virtualization process, we construct the garments as faithfully as possible to the originals. In this way, we see the process akin to photography in the sense that they are reproducible images that enable the works to be shared and communicated beyond the original.
The added benefit of virtualization is the ability to share a greater understanding of the design’s construction as well as how they would move. For example, in the case of the Issey Miyake suit skirt featured in our first collection you are able to appreciate the innovative folding technique that makes the design truly inspiring. This is a feature that would most likely be missed by a casual visitor viewing the physical garment in a static display.
Museums all over the world have struggled with keeping up with the speed of digitization. Is this competing with the concept of a museum as a whole?
Absolutely not. Museums hold our most important cultural objects, helping to protect and make them accessible for future generations. Digitization is one method to document and share the objects. There has been a whole lineage of technologies that have been used over the years to allow museum held objects to travel beyond the walls of the institution. Virtualization brings one unique advantage to this lineage that hasn’t been possible until now: infinite views of the object.
If we take a single photograph it allows us to view an object at that precise, frozen moment in time and from a locked camera perspective. Even with the richness of video—that gives us a view across time and from multiple camera angles—the view of the object is locked to the duration of the final film and the environment in which it was filmed. With virtualization the ways in which the garment can be simulated become endless. If we want to see how a garment would look underwater, or on an aerial gymnast, these kinds of studies now become a possibility.
What do you think the future of museums will be like? And how do you think they should make use of new technologies?
We’re not there yet, but there will be a point in time where the experience of virtual objects will truly mirror the physical ones they reflect—across all five senses. At this point the museum might look more like an interactive playground, where people touch, climb, taste, rearrange and juxtapose the art. We hope that the large institutions of the world use new technologies to embrace this kind of freedom for the public to find their own way of appreciating and engaging with culture.
What’s the overall public reception of the virtual fashion archive? How are people using it?
Early reception to the Virtual Fashion Archive has been overwhelmingly positive. Seeing the garments in motion has been a driving factor that is allowing people to study the garments in a new light. Beyond this first release we’re excited to continue the work to open up further interactive possibilities for people to experience the collection in highly personal ways.
What is the next step for the virtual fashion archive?
This is just the beginning! As we look towards a future where virtualization helps to take archival fashion beyond its physical form, our ongoing mission is to virtualize as many significant fashion garments as possible while further enhancing the fidelity, accuracy, and interactive possibilities of the virtualization process.
In this first release the focus has been providing the best online experience of the garments which also comes with certain limitations when it comes to resolution and performance. Moving forward we’re looking to create content for other immersive delivery mediums and explore what richness they can bring to the experience.
If you were given a team of 20 developers and designers for free for a year. What would you develop?
We’d like to see the realization of real-time motion capture with dynamic cloth simulations to see yourself wearing the garments or holographic virtual clothes that replace physical clothes in the real world. Our goal with the Virtual Fashion Archive is to build a resource for when these immersive fashion futures manifest. We see it as an important repository of virtual fashion that has the potential to connect the great designs of the past to how we will engage with fashion in the future.