In a bi-weekly series, we’re asking female executives, founders, CEOs—basically, boss ladies—about their “power suit” a.k.a. the outfit they wear every day for easy dressing to conquer whatever the job throws at them.
When you get the chance to speak to powerful leaders in their fields, you use the opportunity to learn all you can from them—how they got to where they are, their goals and values, even why they make the wardrobe choices they do. That’s precisely what I did when I hopped on a call with Squarespace’s chief marketing officer Kinjil Mathur. Mathur has been with the company for almost four years, overseeing the business’s growth strategy. “What that boils down to is: How do we help as many people as we can to get our tools into their hands and help them become successful?” she says. “We don’t stop at just getting an ad in front of someone and buy/convert. We want to nurture and grow the business, to stay with the entrepreneurs through their whole journeys.”
Squarespace is a platform that helps people create their own websites via easy-to-use templates and other software services for brands. Mathur says that the company empowers millions of individuals to build their personal brands and make their mark on the world.
This message was especially important during the pandemic, when, she notes, many people—small business owners, the newly jobless who wanted to market out a side hustle—were in need of the platform’s services, whether that be selling merchandise or scheduling appointments via a website.
Mathur’s passion for tech started at an early age, influenced by her parents. (Her dad was an engineer while her mother was in medicine.) She got into computer programming in high school and, post-college, found herself working as a technology risk consultant. However, she found that path a bit too technical and soon an opportunity to join Neiman Marcus came knocking. There, she would dive head first into the space between data and marketing strategy, what Mathur calls the start of her actual career.
“I went into Neiman Marcus, where it was super intimidating,” she recalls. “I had the task of [helping a traditional company] use consumer data to build an online business. That kick-started my understanding of how to apply statistical modeling and data analytics to lead marketing and business strategy.”
She went on to spend a long stint in fashion media, adding names like Saks Fifth Avenue and Conde Nast to her resume. She then took all the knowledge she had gathered and finally planted her roots back in tech again at Foursquare (she was its CMO from 2014 to 2017) and now Squarespace.
Having experienced so many different industries, Mathur says that her one piece of advice for young women (and men) who want to get into tech is to keep an open mind about their careers. “Don’t ever think there is a perfect career path for you because that’s what you’ve been told you should be. The best [job], even in my own [career], is when I am open to anything. I am industry agnostic. I just want to go where I think the challenge is super interesting and the problem I’m going to solve is what I want to spend my time on,” she says.
She advises aspiring techies to talk to people, absorb content about the different roles they’re interested in, and figure out what is a good match to their skill set instead of being completely set on something specific. Finally, if anyone is really, truly stuck, you can just slide into Mathur’s DMs—she’s always happy to chat with those seeking advice.
This desire to share her experiences and give back extends to the committees she’s part of. Mathur is a member of the CFDA Fashion Trust and a member of NYCxDesign, where she helps up-and-coming design folks think about what is the business of fashion or business of design, how to build a brand, and how to get people to pay attention to it.
Ahead, Mathur chats candidly about what she wears to work (at home) as an executive and what her personal style is like. (Hint: This tech powerhouse’s style is more in line with the who’s who of fashion you follow than Mark Zuckerberg.)
“It definitely has changed because I have a little baby boy, Ceyone; he’s a year-and-a-half and I’m now at home with him in the mornings. We’re all playing a lot of different roles at home: I’m playing a full-time Squarespace exec and a full-time mom—you don’t get to turn it off even if you have help. I’m in his space, he’s my coworker. My morning routine is when I play that first role, I am a mom from the minute I wake up to when I take my first meeting.
I wake up every day at 6:30 a.m.—Ceyone’s my alarm clock. We both have breakfast together, and he’s kind of like me: We’re the brightest and most alert in the morning. I launch straight into reading sessions with him, so we probably crunch through five or six books. The saying is ‘to be a good human is life’s work’ and I believe that. We’re reading books about what it is to be a kind human. We’re going through the Pantone colors, we’re looking at shapes and architecture, we’re reading books all about diversity and inclusion. I’m trying to take him through everything I want him to experience all that he’s not experiencing in the world right now.”
Her Getting Dressed Strategy
“Pre-pandemic, I would think about what I was going to do that day and dress for it. For example, if I had a board meeting, if I was going to events after work, if I was doing a creative brainstorm or strategy sessions. My style has always been in service of whatever agenda I had for that day. I don’t think that’s changed [for COVID], it’s just a different type of agenda. Now, truthfully, I am not moving a lot, so comfort is first and foremost. Before it was about cuts and structure and now it’s texture. I want soft, huggable materials where I can pick my son up and, if he’s getting something on my shoulder or snuggling in, it’s all good.
There are moments when I’m still thinking through my agenda and whether I need to make a statement. Statements are different now—you don’t get the whole look, you get it from the chest up. I have a no-shoes-in-the-home rule, so I don’t even wear shoes anymore. That’s a big part of a whole look that’s out the door. Now I’ve been wearing written statements when I really want to make a statement. All through [the] Black Lives Matter [protests this summer], from an executive stand point, it was really important we were declarative and prioritized efforts in making space to have the conversations we needed to have, [so] I really turned to wearing my Lingua Franca sweater that says ‘give a damn.’ That was my power piece and it was a literal statement. It was worn very purposefully. I still think about that when it comes to dressing: Who am I going to be in front of and what am I trying to say?
[When the pandemic started], my husband and I never fled New York City, we stayed here and hunkered down. We felt like it was important to support the businesses around us and we were buying merchandise. The Grand Banks group is a Squarespace customer and are so awesome, and they were struggling. They launched all this new merchandise so I bought sweatshirts from them to support, and I wore those every time I was meeting with the team and [thinking about] what our COVID relief plan was.”
Her Work-From-Home Uniform
“I am a big Isabel Marant fan, always have been. What the beautiful thing is, everybody’s come out with their own versions of sweatshirts or sweatpants. Marant has these wonderful sweatshirts and over-exaggerated styles. I have these really baggy paper bag pants from her and these sweaters that I wear a lot. Aimé Leon Dore has these amazing sweatshirt and sweatpants combos. They’re thick and fitted, so I still feel put together. I have the all-black and all-cream, which I alternate between.
I’m in meetings all day. I keep my yoga mat next to me, and if I can get a stretch session in for 15 minutes in-between meetings, I’ll try to do that, so I’m not opposed to wearing fitness outfits. I switch between Nike gear and Alo Yoga. Another brand called Twenty Montreal is a go-to for me, too, because they have biker shorts, sweats, blouson sleeves, and crop tops so you can wear high-waisted leggings with stretch. I’ve worn two pairs of jeans and they’re both these Isabel Marant—super baggy and comfortable ones—but most of the time I am in elastic-waist pants, and it feels really good.
I think it’s important to find those moments to still dress up. Like if I happen to step out for dinner, I’ll use that as an opportunity to dress up. Otherwise, it’s more about the practicality when you’re at home. I try to wear jewelry when I can because you only have so much real estate to make a statement. I love Soko, which is this brand that finds female artisans in Africa and micro-finances their businesses.
I never have a bag anymore because I am always in pants. If I leave the house, I put my wallet in the back pocket and keys in the front pocket. Before, I was using this canvas Saint Laurent fit-everything tote. I love Cuyana bags, too, for work. They’re structured, not labelled, and perfect for laptops or when I was carrying all kinds of baby, new mom-related items.”
The Words That Describe Her Power Outfit
“This year, it’s my ‘give a damn’ sweatshirt. You really had to be a leader that wanted to have those tough conversations [this year], and come from a place of vulnerability and that takes a lot of empathy. It starts with giving a damn. That was the sweatshirt that I wore a lot and those three words have come to mean something [more] than when I originally bought it.”
“This year, the thing that stuck most with me is the line ‘you may be too much for some people. Those are not your people.’ I love that so much because with everything we’ve had going on—from social movements to major conversations around the elections—you can always get ‘you’re too intense, you’re too vocal, you’re too passionate, you’re too emotional, you’re too idealistic, you’re too realistic.’ I am over the toos. If you really want to have a sense of belonging, you have to be true to who you are, and I feel that more this year.”
Shop some of favorite Mathur’s favorite brands, below.
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Can the ‘Sex and the City’ Reboot Keep Up with Fashion’s Woke Evolution?
It’s been nearly 20 years since Carrie Bradshaw, the protagonist and narrator of the HBO series “Sex and the City,” (SATC) described her penchant for wearing “ghetto gold” to her three equally white girlfriends at brunch as “fun”—not the aesthetic that she envisioned for her engagement ring.
“How can I marry a guy who doesn’t know which ring is me?” she bemoaned after finding a pear-shaped sparkler affixed to a yellow gold band, tucked away in her boyfriend’s belongings.
Though it was a cringe-worthy moment in 2001—and one of many from the show that routinely used gay men as campy comedic props and fetishized Black men, to its overall lack of diversity despite famously being set in New York City, which the show’s actresses often described as the “fifth character”—it didn’t deter millions of rabid fans from tuning into the show the following week to watch Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte on their quest for love, success and Manolos in the Big Apple.
More than 10 million viewers watched the show’s final episode three years later, and the subsequent films, 2008’s “Sex and the City” and “Sex and the City 2” in 2010, went on to rake in a total of more than $713 million.
Audiences in 2021, however, may not be as generous—or uneducated. When the show’s star Sarah Jessica Parker announced on her Instagram account earlier this month that a new chapter in the SATC saga called “And Just Like That…” is going into production this spring, the news was met with cautious optimism.
On one hand, the show, which will follow three of the four original characters—Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte—“as they navigate the journey from the complicated reality of life and friendship in their 30s to the even more complicated reality of life and friendship in their 50s,” may be the kind of nostalgic romp that homebound viewers devour. A respite, perhaps, for restless viewers who are in fact navigating their own complicated realities of life and friendship in a pandemic.
On the other hand, the world is in an entirely different state of mind, especially in regard to one of the show’s biggest legacies: fashion.
The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in 2020 was the catalyst for an overdue reckoning in the fashion industry, and brought to light the ugly experiences rooted in racism many Black people have encountered while trying to survive in the business. In turn, the movement drove many fashion brands to recalibrate how they address diversity within their companies, promote inclusivity in their campaigns and communicate their messages with sensitivity. BLM also sparked online conversations about intersectional environmentalism and cultural appropriation, educating consumers about the deeper impact of their purchases.
SATC’s cultural exploitation problem didn’t start or stop with “ghetto gold.”
It was on full display in the second film, which took the four friends to Abu Dhabi, the UAE’s conservative capital, in an effort to escape their hectic—or in the case of Carrie, increasingly humdrum—New York City lives. The plot line teed up an endless parade of unfortunate opportunities to flash nonsensical wealth and more tone-deaf fashion choices like headdresses and harem pants, not to mention Carrie’s bewilderment when she finds out that shoes sold at a souk cost just $20. Shocking.
Years later in an interview at a New York Magazine event, Parker said, “I can see where we fell short on that movie, and I’m perfectly happy to say that publicly.” These issues, however, will need to be rectified for the new show to stand a chance because woke fans and influential industry watchdogs, like Diet Prada and Saint Hoax, will be watching, and maybe even salivating and the chance to catch and call out the next big blunder.
“Many of the people I’ve talked to have said ‘I’ll watch it, but…,’” Benjamin Ayer, lead consultant for Benjamin Bellwether, said of the mixed reception to news of the reboot.
“The short of it is that the movies, especially the second one, really marked a point of seemingly no return,” the trend forecaster said. “The second movie has some real pain points for people who saw it as reductive to feminism and diversity; and, that’s on top of complaints that the show, in general, was too white and too materialistic.”
With doubts like these, the reboot runs the risk of becoming another successful “hate-watch” anomaly of the pandemic entertainment landscape, like the Netflix series “Emily in Paris,” which viewers binged last fall only to trade online gripes about the show’s unrealistic portrayal of fashion on an entry-level PR salary. (Though it didn’t stop style-hungry watchers from emulating some of the show’s key style moments, like red berets.) The show, it bears noting, was styled by Patricia Field, the iconic New York City stylist who coined the signature looks of SATC’s characters.
“With conversations around inclusivity growing louder, there will be pressure on the SATC reboot to be diverse and woke,” said Kayla Marci, an analyst for retail market intelligence platform Edited. “However, efforts need to be collaborative, well-researched and authentic to avoid coming off as insincere and tokenistic. As some episodes and parts of the movies were problematic, there is an opportunity to learn from these past mistakes.”
That’s not to say that “And Just Like That…” is doomed before its first fitting.
Rather, experts say the show’s creators and costume department have a chance to sway fashion in a new positive direction. SATC, after all, debuted 12 years before the first ’gram was ever posted. It influenced fashion through the original small screen, television, requiring viewers to come back each week at the same time, Sunday at 9 p.m. EST, for 94 episodes over the course of six years—an ask that seems unreasonable in the instant-gratification age of streaming.
Integral to this change, according to Caroline Vazzana, stylist, influencer and author of Making It in Manhattan: The Beginner’s Guide to Surviving & Thriving in the World of Fashion, will be more diversity behind-the-scenes—from the writing room to the wardrobe truck. More diverse view points on the set will help ensure that the show puts its best foot forward, she said.
The reboot also presents an opportunity to tap into a more mature millennial mindset and, perhaps, reinvigorate how viewers look at their own closets after months of wearing sweats. It may even inspire new loungewear or face-mask trends, Vazzana noted, if the show is set during coronavirus times.
Ayer lauds SATC for how it wielded fashion as a means to express the characters’ personalities and emotions. Field’s ability to build characters through silhouette, color, pattern and accessory choices—many of which went on to become global trends like Carrie’s tulle skirt from the opening credits, the horseshoe necklace she wore throughout season four or her silk corsages in season three—gave consumers the green light to be playfully experimental with their own look.
“I’ve talked to so many women and gay men alike who felt they could be [bolder] in their fashion statements, especially in New York City,” because of the show, Ayer said.
Whether it was pairing two different colors of the same shoe style, like Carrie did when the ladies ventured to Los Angeles in season 3, or making strong shoulders sexy again à la Samantha, Field showed viewers how to mix and match and take risks. This adventurous approach to fashion filtered into street style, which became just as important as runway styling, Ayer added, and made designers who were once only on the tips of the tongues of in-the-know fashionistas, new household names.
Brands such as Manolo Blahnik, Fendi, Dior, Vivienne Westwood and Tiffany are just some of the labels still synonymous with the franchise, Marci said, as well as specific products like Fendi’s baguette bags and Manolo Blahnik’s Hangisi pump, which Big—a character that was likened to Donald Trump in a positive way early on in the series—used in lieu of an engagement ring to propose to Carrie in the first film. (Editor’s note: shoes, apparently, are a more acceptable symbol of love than “ghetto gold” jewelry.)
Since the show ended, Marci said many fashion houses have been reshaped by new creative directors at the helm of Dior, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Givenchy and Bottega Veneta. “These legacy brands’ redefined looks are very much in line with Carrie’s feminine and eccentric aesthetic, Miranda’s clean and minimal, and Charlotte’s polished and preppy one,” she said.
The next show, however, has an opportunity to elevate lesser known designers and brands into the spotlight. In addition to the big names that everyone is expecting to see, Marci noted that cult darlings coveted by today’s consumer, like Ganni, Marine Serre or The Vampire’s Wife, would be a welcome addition.
“I’d love to see airtime given to designers spearheading environmental change like Gabriela Hearst and Stella McCartney, or labels that champion inclusivity like Fenty, Prabal Gurung or Christian Siriano, as well as see SATC use its enormous and powerful platform to showcase emerging BIPOC designers,” she said.
Ayer shared that sentiment, adding that the show’s stylists should “reward” high-fashion brands who are embracing diversity on their runways and look books, like Erdem, Balmain, Carolina Herrera, Collina Strada and Ferragamo, with placement on the show.
“The show has the power to elevate designers, and [it] should take that power seriously,” Ayer said. “It would be great to see the same fashion independence that Field brought to the cast of SATC to represent the new fashion industry. The one where sustainability matters, ethics matter, behavior matters.”
His top picks for the characters include “modern” and “powerful” looks by Fear of God for Miranda, classic and modern pieces by Wales Bonner and Andrew Gn for Charlotte and No Sesso and Threeasfour for Carrie’s fearless style. As the shows main trendsetter, Carrie, he added, should be “mixing her vintage fashion with new pieces from local, Black-owned, queer-owned, minority-owned and future-minded brands.”
Brooklyn-based and vice president-approved designer Christopher John Rogers is high on Vazzana’s list of designers whose work should make a cameo. “Christopher John Rogers would be epic and so beautiful for Carrie to be wearing around New York City,” she said.
The reboot could bring good fortune to local talent. With the show celebrating the city, Marci said it would be great to see New York talent spotlighted. Fendi baguette bags could be traded for a ‘Bushwick Birkin,’ the nickname of Telfar’s in-demand unisex tote, or Carrie could swap her infamous Dior newspaper-print dress for Duckie Confetti’s money robe, she suggested.
A reflection of the times
Another common inducer of eye rolls about SATC was its unrealistic portrayal of wealth. The same lavish fashion that lured people to their TV sets each week also alienated some—particularly New Yorkers who knew the improbability of a local newspaper sex columnist being able to afford Carrie’s Upper East Side abode, endless closet and buzzing social life.
“This fantastical approach to luxury is what made the fashion in the show so iconic because it was very aspirational, yet unbelievable, that these ‘everyday women’ could afford to be head-to-toe in high-end designers every day,” Marci said. Following an economic crisis like the one brought on by the global pandemic, it will be important to balance the fantasy element with reality, she added.
While longtime fans of the show will expect to see a high caliber of designers, SATC must offer a measure of relatability in order to resonate with a new audience, Marci said. “A great way to show luxury in 2021 is to blend designer pieces with more contemporary and affordable brands,” she said. “Given the status of some of the items worn in the show and with sustainability becoming such an urgent and complex issue for the fashion industry, I’d love to see classic outfits re-worn or vintage archival pieces curated.”
The writers bringing the show to life “will have to make sure they reflect the times, and capture the essence of what they started out as: a show that helped normalize the timely female dynamic in mainstream culture,” Ayer added.
But that’s not to say that the ladies can’t catch up on their relationship follies while shopping in The RealReal or in small boutiques that champion diverse designers. Or why not have the characters share pieces, he added, highlighting the ever-growing sharing and rental economy.
“The show is known for the fashion, so represent the times,” Ayer said.
But be authentic
SATC is not the first show from the late ’90s and early aughts to make a recent comeback, but whereas series like “Will & Grace” and “90210” struggled to recreate the magic of their originals, “And Just Like That…” already has social media doing some of the leg work.
It also has Gen Z’s fondness for throwback fashion on its side. “A combination of social media and the revival of ’90s and ’00s fashion has helped keep SATC relevant as well as gain a cult following with a younger generation obsessed with nostalgia for an era they haven’t experienced,” Marci said.
Vazzana pointed out that SATC-themed content performs exceptionally well on TikTok. “Gen Z definitely knows about ‘Sex in the City’… young women and men are still very into that ‘moving to New York City’ mindset,” she said. Do they love the characters and appreciate their style the way older cohorts do? Vazzana isn’t sure. “Gen Z style is very different, but it is not super-eclectic and over-the-top like Carrie is known for,” she said. “Maybe it will inspire a whole new generation to dress outside the lines.”
But if everyone wanted to “be a Carrie” back in 2004—fans even snapped up “I’m a Carrie” merchandise prior to the show’s finale—Type A Miranda has emerged as the fan-favorite today. “Reopening the SATC series time capsule in the 2020s has led to an internet consensus that Miranda is the coveted character, with attributes and style resonating with young women today,” Marci said, adding that her character is defined as career-driven, proud feminist with a minimal wardrobe.
Additionally, Charlotte, the most traditional character on the show, has become the poster character for political correctness, inspiring the #WokeCharlotte meme, a viral sensation that paired images of prim and proper Charlotte with progressive captions. The evolution of these characters into today’s world will add to the show’s longevity and its impact on the Gen Z audience, Marci said.
While Ayer said the SATC reboot is really for “millennials and above who loved it the first time around,” as consumers, we are all moved by nostalgic pop-culture phenoms, no matter how we may think we’ve evolved, he added.
“Consumers will always be influenced by entertainment,” Ayer said. “As much as we may fight against it, we are creatures that crave persuasion.”
Is it Time to Invest in Virtual Fashion?
Early last year, an image surfaced of Elon Musk at the 2018 Met Gala, wearing a pair of sneakers unlike any other. The so-called ‘CYBERSNEAKER’ was designed by RTFKT Studios, and was inspired by the launch of Musk’s highly divisive Cybertruck. The sneakers boasted a blocky, brutalist-inspired aesthetic that was reminiscent of the truck’s design, finished with an exaggerated sole unit and a Nike-esque swoosh along the side. Musk was the first person ever to have been seen wearing them.
Except that he didn’t wear them at all.
In reality, the sneakers were digitally applied to an existing photograph of Musk (who had, in fact, worn a fairly pedestrian pair of patent dress shoes to the gala). The modified image was shared to RTFKT’s 600,000 Instagram followers, many of whom believed it was a real photograph, and the post’s comments were quickly flooded with enquiries about where the footwear could be bought. Though the shoes do not exist — at least, not in the physical world — they were eventually sold for $15,000 USD. One bidder had even offered $40,000 USD for the pair, until they learned that they had not, in fact, been worn by Musk.
Welcome to the world of virtual fashion, where reality and unreality are hard to distinguish.
“We see ourselves as the new age Supreme, for a digital audience.”
RTFKT was officially founded in January of last year, though its founders — Benoit Pagotto, Steven Vasilev and Chris Le — had begun posting content a year earlier, creating digitally-manipulated images designed to spread like wildfire across the internet. On their Instagram feed, Air Jordans appear to levitate in response to a Gucci-monogrammed Infinity Gauntlet; Kanye West and DJ Khaled appear side-by-side in blown-up, tricked-out footwear, and a PlayStation 5-branded sneaker (no, not the awful Zara one) is taken for a debut stroll. Though the shoes defy all logic (and, in many cases, verge onto the IP of existing sneaker brands), RTFKT’s posts have swiftly amassed a growing audience, fascinated by these virtual products and eager to obtain them.
But RTFKT is more than a content creator: their imaginative and otherworldly designs can be bought as virtual products. The brand auctions one pair each month on their website, where customers can bid using cryptocurrency. The winning bidder receives exclusive use of a custom AR filter, which allows them to virtually ‘wear’ their sneakers on Snapchat, Instagram, and other social channels. RTFKT have also begun collaborating with various video gaming engines, which will enable players’ in-game avatars to wear their purchases. So far, every pair released by the brand has sold out, even at a price tag that averages $15,000 USD, and have sold for as much as $40,000 USD. The brand is now exploring a more accessibly priced version, which will retail for around $100 USD, and will be created in limited runs of 100 virtual pairs. A series of yet-to-be-announced fashion collaborations is also slated for later this year. As Vasilev puts it, “We see ourselves as the new age Supreme, for a digital audience.”
Their success — and the scale of their ambitions — is a testament to the growing power of virtual brands, which are capitalizing on our increasingly digital existence. And their ascent has been accelerated by the COVID-19 lockdowns, as consumers have been forced to spend ever-increasing amounts of time living, working and socializing online. “We got lucky with the pandemic, in a sense,” says Pagotto. “It reinforced our vision, which otherwise might have been a bit premature. Now the fashion industry is starting to take a deep interest in virtual spaces.”
As the boundaries between our physical and digital lives become ever more blurred, brands like RTFKT challenge us to consider which of those is the most important. After all, when so many sneakerheads are seeking the clout of copping a hard-to-find style, isn’t an online space the best place to show them off to a wider audience — even if they don’t exist anywhere else? “We’re creating a kind of metaverse where you can use these items,” says Vasilev. “And in some ways, it’s more real than reality. When we posted the Elon Musk image, the internet thought it was real,” he continues. “That image got around fifty million impressions. So if that many people saw the image, then what makes it real, or not?”
The virtual market has extended beyond sneakers, too. Tribute, a ‘contactless cyber fashion’ brand founded last year by designers Filip Vajda and Gala Marija Vrbanic, offers virtual clothing to its customers, with styles that are largely inspired by ’90s clubwear. After paying for a garment, customers are invited to submit an existing (and Instagram-ready) photograph of themselves, which is edited by the brand using CGI to digitally ‘dress’ them in their purchase.
“Virtual reality is becoming mainstream culture.”
Vrbanic, who was inspired to launch Tribute by the virtual clothing offered in games like Grand Theft Auto V and The Sims, has been astonished by the reaction to such a young proposition, even with prices that can reach up to $699 USD for a garment. “The sales have been really great,” she says. “When we started, we didn’t have any expectations. We thought we’d just put it on Instagram and see what the reaction was. But almost instantly we started getting a following and orders. It has been so far above our expectations.”
Vrbanic believes the brand’s success represents the rising power of a new — and growing — Gen-Z consumer, who has grown up at the intersection of fashion and gaming. “They are two worlds that have always been perceived as being very far apart from one another,” she says. “But look at me: I’m that consumer. Video games have become much more mainstream. And that whole aspect of virtual reality is really becoming mainstream culture.” It’s a shift that RTFKT also acknowledges, and one that has unearthed a largely overlooked segment of consumers. “It’s gamers with a streetwear mindset,” says Le. “It’s the kids who are collecting pieces from Yeezy and Off-White, but wearing them to flex on stream.”
“They are overlapping,” agrees Pagotto. “Yes, there are gamers who are into streetwear. But most streetwear kids are also casual gamers, at least: the kind of guy who’s playing Fortnite once a week. So they have a virtual life, too.”
Gen-Z aren’t the only consumers taking an interest. The 37 year-old pseudonymous collector known as Whale Shark was one of RTFKT’s first customers, purchasing their ‘X’ sneaker last year for 22 ethereum (approximately $27,000 USD, at the time of writing). Whale Shark was an early investor in Bitcoin (for what he describes as a ‘fairly sizable amount’) and is now a prominent figure within the ‘crypto-collectible’ community. For him, purchasing the sneakers was a “no brainer” as an appreciator of digital objects. ”It was one of the first ever digital sneakers,” he says, “so it was just an amazing opportunity to own a piece of history.” His own inventory of digital collectibles — which includes virtual sneakers alongside digital art pieces — has “skyrocketed” in recent months, and is expected to exceed $10,000,000 USD in market value by February.
Yet the wider market may take some time to catch up. “There’s a clear divide, I think, with people who ‘get’ it and people who don’t,” says Ryan Mullins, the CEO and Creative Director of the virtual sneaker company Aglet, which allows customers to acquire digital sneakers in an addictive, Pokémon Go-like format. “Some people still look confused when you tell them that people spend money on goods like virtual sneakers, or a virtual hoodie,” he says. “They say things like “that doesn’t make sense.” But it does make sense. It’s literally happening.”
For his part, Whale Shark believes that the complexity of purchasing digital products — which often involves crypto currency, and an understanding of blockchain technology — is currently a barrier to entry for many consumers. “I don’t think it can really gain wider adoption without removing that friction,” he says. Nevertheless, he is certain that these kinds of items will, eventually, become more mainstream, and views them as a canny investment. “The mass market hasn’t really caught onto these yet,” he says, “but it’s moment is coming. I think digital collectibles are actually more suited to the next generation of collectors, because they live more than 50 percent of their life online. We’re at the start of a very long revolution.”
Indeed, the appetite for virtual products is already growing at an exponential rate. Recent research published by Statista suggests that consumer spending on ‘skins’ — which allow consumers to modify the appearance of their characters within video games — will reach $50 billion USD by the end of 2022. It was, perhaps, inevitable that fashion would infiltrate this world, even if it has been slow to capture the gaming market (with a few notable exceptions). “The dynamics of virtual fashion are no different than the social dynamics governing how one flexes in real life: it makes sense that people would want their virtual self to rock some heat, as that’s where they spend most of their time hanging with friends,” says Mullins.
Virtual fashion also has a few significant advantages over real-life clothing: for one, its sustainability. Aside from using no materials in their creation (aside from the electricity powering the machines used to build them), they also involve zero shipping, zero packaging, and zero waste. Plus, in their conception, they present an uncharted creative opportunity for designers. “There’s no limitations,” explains Le of the process behind RTFKT’s sneakers. “We don’t have to think about engineering, or how a sole unit should be constructed, or if it’ll work for an athlete. For us it’s a purely aesthetic challenge: how to make the sickest frickin’ shoes possible.”
Yet that presents its own difficulty: the prospect of limitless possibility can be a paralysing one. Vrbanic, when producing Tribute’s collections, found herself caught by surprise. “We thought the design process would be quicker,” she says. “But it takes the same amount of time, or even longer. It’s like, if you make a T-shirt, it doesn’t need to have sleeves, because there is no function for a sleeve in the virtual world. But then, is it still a T-shirt?” She believes there is a kind of ‘uncanny valley’ in virtual clothing design – meaning her creations can’t veer too far into the unrecognizable, and that the styles she creates need to have some rooting in the garments we know in real life. “At the moment, we’re making things that look like an enhanced version of physical items, so people can get more familiar with them,” she says.
Curiously, though, while the infinite space of the online world should allow for limitless quantities of their designs, virtual brands are largely opting for scarcity. RTFKT’s sneakers are currently only ever produced as one-of-one editions, while Tribute’s pieces are produced in strictly limited runs that will never be repeated. In that regard, the brands are taking their cues from their real-life streetwear counterparts. “It’s what we’ve seen with brands like Supreme or Louis Vuitton,” says Vasilev, “having collectible pieces that are hard to get – it drives value and status.” Vrbanic agrees: “It would be stupid to make digital clothing available in infinite numbers,” she says. “It’s nicer to have something that’s limited.”
That could shift, in time, as new brands enter the virtual space, and the landscape becomes more competitive. But for now, the brands are focused on expanding the possibilities of what they can offer consumers — hampered only by the limitations of what current technology can allow. RTFKT, for instance, hopes to develop a real-life shoe fitted with digital screens, whose color could be changed via the user’s phone. “Right now the technology isn’t there to create that,” says Vasilev, “but we’re working on the research now.” Vrbanic, meanwhile, is concentrating on expanding Tribute’s range, and refining its offer. “Really, we know what our customers want,” she says. “They want things that they’d never wear in real life.”
“Things that aren’t possible.”
Paris Men’s Fashion Week, Settling Into Its Digital Format, Offers Glimpse Of New Normal
Once again, PFW men’s fashion was relegated to a virtual audience. Since the pandemic all but canceled the collective men’s fashion shows last summer showing Spring 2021 collections – save for a few determined brands – a coordinated online presence is at least progress. In late September, slash early October, the women’s Spring 2021 collections proceeded with a digital presence enhanced by a bevy of live shows in Paris shown to a local audience. At that moment, it looked like the worst of the Coronavirus was behind us. But as the men’s collections debuted this past week, the City of Lights, currently under strict curfew to abet further spread, is contemplating yet a third lockdown related to the raging second (or third?) wave of the highly transmissible virus.
Fashion designers are known to interpret the events, moods and habits of the world and society around them. So, it’s safe to safe that, like the rest of the world, their daily routines have changed too, especially for any American designers who shows here who have experienced epic societal, political and environmental crises since the virus took over in March. Looking ahead to Fall 2021 begs the question, will life return to normal? Or rather, what will the new normal be? For many, and especially designers, right now is the time to rethink norms regarding fashion and dressing codes.
Overall, there seemed to be a more louche, relaxed approach to dressing, as if suits, on the whole, will be optional. After months of the hardest dressing decision being what hoodie to wear on a Zoom call, designers propose a lighter, more comfortable, but more colorful dressing approach. Other offer clothes that protect from the uncertainty of the future or make a nod to the protection of Mother Earth, whether through upcycling efforts or blatant cries to rescue the environment.
One thing that remained a constant was missing the energy of physical fashion shows, which includes a packed community that convenes together to compare notes, exchange ideas and share the enthusiasm for a show. But digital leaves the playing field on how to show wide open. Many designers have morphed into mini-directors and film producers, putting together entertaining clips that allow for more in-depth, richer storytelling. It’s safe to say that for some brands, the new normal will mean eschewing the runway altogether and continuing to create digital runway shows – which have a wider audience reach – to introduce their latest collections. In some cases, the films can be less costly than staging live shows. Theoretically, monies could also be put into other types of in-person events to promote the collection.
As for the merchandise, there will be plenty for the retailers to choose from to entice their customers. However, many younger brands have pivoted to focus on direct to consumer as store closings left them to fend for themselves to move canceled merchandise and stock. For some in luxury, the pandemic has funneled money spent on experiences into acquiring goods. How these habits and trends evolve in the sector will be exciting to watch.
Some brands were new to the Paris calendar, such as KidSuper. Louis Vuitton amped up the energy of the Fall 2021 PFW with a pop-up store, art installation, and AR activation. Brands such as Acne and Celine postponed altogether, presumably to join forces with the women’s’ collections. Other men’s mainstays such as Berluti, Walter Van Beirendonck and Thom Browne showed teaser films hinting at a new collection to debut soon. Browne’s charming vignette, entitled “Another Day at the Office,” portrayed kids wearing the designer’s signature shrunken grey suits playing office. It could have been mistaken as a commentary on the pandemic during which the only people going back to their daily ‘office’ is children who have been able to return to school while parents work at home. Digital has also stripped down some of the confines associated with showing with a specific week. Several brands have opted to combine men’s with women’s collections for a later showing. It’s important to note that following the films was a statement assuring that all health protocols, including requiring negative PCR tests, were taken in the filming of the productions as models were shown without masks and not always socially distanced.
Paris Heavyweights – The majors’ statement for Fall 2021
Dior Homme – Kim Jones is on a roll as he prepares an additional role as women’s co-creative director at Fendi in which he will make his Haute Couture debut. That didn’t deter from delivering a stellar Dior Homme. With a hint of military flare borrowed from the Academy of Beaux-Arts, the designer drew art inspiration this time from Peter Doig. He offered a new take on the men’s wardrobe that suggests daring color combos – rich deep browns and purple with a pop of acid yellow, for instance. Fuzzy mohair sweaters, notched-hem jackets and new slouchy pants with a slit kick flair hem were essential directional items of this collection.
Hermes – Filmed in French government ministry building, the Mobilier National, showed male models interacting as if in a laid-back business environment. Creative director Véronique Nichanian may be suggesting a new normal for the office mood post-pandemic. With a bit of a retro vibe – be sure to pay attention to short pants with fuller legs – her designs propose a more casual approach to being put together and comfortable too, think zip-front jackets, looser pants, and sneakers. A color palette of muted purple, ochres, tan, teal, mustard and grey added to the fresh take.
Rick Owens – Filmed on location in Venice and entitled “Gethsemane” in a nod to our uncertain times, the Rick Owens man is almost biblical in his raw energy. Tighty-whitey’s worn with thigh-high boots with a bevy of cloaks, whether in duvet style puffer coats or long cashmere knits, may be aimed at a specific niche. Still, undoubtedly, Owen’s collaboration with Converse, reimagined with a distinct square toe, will surely be a sellout.
Dries Van Noten – Filmed in Antwerp, Dries Van Noten is looking forward to getting his men dressed again. He plays upon wardrobe stereotypes such as the collared shirt and rethinks them in massive-oversized garments—ditto for shorts, pajama-like tops, cable knits, sweaters, cloaks and shortened ankle pants. Overall, the collection was less print-heavy than usual, projecting a more somber tone.
JW Anderson – In a personal ‘one-on-one’ explanation of the collection, which was depicted via a series of posters made with Jurgen Teller, designer JW Anderson breaks down the collection as an “experimentation in simplicity and reduction’ with a focus on craft and modernity. Besides quirky vegetable motifs throughout the collection, look for more versions of the popular patchwork mohair sweater made famous by Harry Styles.
Loewe – In a similar move from his namesake collection, designer JW Anderson walks the audience through the collection inspired by artist Joe Brainard. The artist’s work is worked into intricate leather intarsia patterns, a hallmark of the Spanish leather goods house expertise; shearling jackets feature a patchwork of the artists’ work and an oversize panel pant with legs that extend to two square panels. The theme of repetition in the artwork is conveyed as multi-layers of the same garment. A new tote version of the house’s Elephant bag will surely be a retail push-
Jil Sander – One of the more tailored efforts, this smart, intellectual collection of separates showed funnel neck overcoats, turtlenecks, boxy leather shirts and trim pants. It was somber but given a touch of flair with heavy jewelry statements –an emerging trend for men – and neck scarfs a la the military. An image fused onto a jacket subbed for prints.
Environment Concerns – Several designers wove their concerns for the natural world into their collections.
Reese Cooper – The California-based up-and-coming designer took on an epic staging by filming his collection runway atop the recently wildfire-damaged Mt. Wilson at the legendary astrophysics study station. The designer, whose collection takes the technical aspects of both streetwear and outdoor gear and gives them a fashion makeover, chose the location to bring awareness to California’s wildfires. For instance, one seasonal slogan read, “The Call of the Wild Should not be Help.” Additionally, some of his outerwear, hunting jackets, hoodies, anoraks, and varsity jackets came emblazoned with the National Forest Foundation logo. The proceeds from the sale of those garments will be donated to the fund.
Vetements – More a nod to social and political concerns, Vetements also addressed the environment with a ‘hellfire” set backdrop and flame print. In contrast was a more uplifting rainbow and ‘heavens’ gate” background. They set the tone for the catchy merch with slogans on T-shirts, hoodies and jackets such as “Think why you still can,” “If you were wishing for a sign, this is it,” “Restricted” while others’ relayed a unified message “we are the people.” As for trends, this show had shoulder pads on boxy tops, sheer mesh tops, bike shorts, long slinky knit dresses. Additional prints were marble and a striking multi-flag pattern.
Botter – The duo behind Botter, Lisi Herreburgh and Rushemy Botter, want to bring attention to more than their collection as well. The show entitled “Romancing the Coral Reef’ contained footage of the coral reef they sponsor in Curacao, the Dutch municipality in the Caribbean. Both natives of the island, their collections reference both life and environmental concerns there. In this outing, they added fishing lures as décor to looser suits with boxy shouldered jackets that fall away from the body, strong parka style outerwear, and seafaring staples such as a riff a sailor top or fisherman’s sweater and waterproof outerwear constructed into 3D shapes with lug pull details. Tank-style tops were given a tailored revamp and tailored and skinny paper-thin turtlenecks balanced oversized proportions, a trend emerging for men.
White Mountaineering – Living true to their name, White Mountaineering explored man’s role in nature and staged their film on a snow-filled mountain depicting models both in camping and solitary commune with the climate as well as enjoying on snowboards and downhill skis. More tailored than in the past, this collection delivered on merch suitable for the lifestyle shown.
Streetstyle Notables – As some in the industry infamously decreed streetwear dead, a pandemic hit. Some notable collections offering the casual lifestyle are proof positive it’s here to stay.
Isabel Marant – The designer’s menswear collection builds upon polish streetwear styles with a preppy vibe. Rugby shirts, retro-V-neck sweaters, bucket hats, shearling collar carcoats, duffle coats in bold prints, layered anoraks, buffalo plaids and pants made to move whether trainers or the return of pleated khakis, only this time cool
Rhude – Lots of leather and a touch of sexy in this co-ed show shot in LA at night with a McLaren holding court center stage on the smoky set. Think updated preppy styles worn in new ways, furry hoodies, leather suits with a loose fit pant, oversized double-breasted jackets and short boxy outwear for him. For her, sexy off-shoulder tops, slit skirts, a woven bustier, pleated chiffon dress and adoption of men’s oversized overcoats and khaki workwear styles.
Andrea Crews – Notably, one designer to embrace the latest technology in showing his collection was Crews. His signature sweatshirt with long below-the-knee epic proportions, for example. The designer dissects his garment, making his hybrid creations using CGI models and breaking down tech packs.
Casablanca – Up-and-coming brand Casablanca seems to be courting the aspiring Gucci customer with a look that embraces the awkward side of the 70s and 80s. Designer Charaf Tajer’s slick video depicted a bevy of young men and women living a glamourous party-filled life in celebration of the Grand Prix car race. The brand is big on patterns, thus a diamond check, plaids, and other lively prints paired with either sunglasses or eyewear on every look made for the quirky vibe. Hence the Gucci reference. Still, this is a developing lifestyle brand to watch.
KidSuper – Streetwear brand to transition into high fashion sphere, the brand shot a charming video on New York Lower East Side and even starred the designer Colm Dillane. This brand is a one-stop-shop for color puffers; in fact, if color and pattern combining and clashing is the vibe sought, check out this brand.
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