As the first digital fashion brand to show at a major global fashion week in London, the duo behind Auroboros are attracting technologists, influencers and the traditional fashion community.
By guest Maghan McDowell from Vogue Business
Auroboros is blooming. This month, the experimental design duo made up of Paula Sello and Alissa Aulbekova will become the first to show a digital-only ready-to-wear collection at a major global fashion week. Auroboros will show a 14-piece collection via a virtual show during London Fashion Week’s DiscoveryLAB, an immersive platform for emerging brands, on 12 June, joining a small group of other ready-to-wear brands that have been in business for less than three years.
Digital fashion is on the rise: a digital Gucci bag just resold on Roblox for USD4115, more than the cost of the physical version. Burberry and Farfetch unveiled a 3D world to promote new bags, while Farfetch and Prada are using digital try-on on Snapchat. Meanwhile, a host of marketplaces are positioning themselves to become de facto destinations for digital fashion.
Auroboros’s acceptance at LFW positions digital designs in the same context as emerging physical brands, rather than being relegated to a digital-only dedicated space. This could help the brand, and the concept of digital fashion, break through to a more mainstream, traditional audience. “It’s a huge milestone for everyone in the digital fashion community, and hopefully paving the way for a general audience to understand how exciting it can be,” says Aulbekova.
For their 10-minute LFW presentation, Auroboros is planning a mixed reality experience with physical models wearing digital garments, working with The Institute of Digital Fashion. Auroboros has tapped Sita Abellán, a Spanish DJ, model, designer and stylist, to style the show, which will also include a London billboard featuring an augmented reality try-on experience that Auroboros created using
“We wanted to amplify the collection and start the discourse that’s been the shadow surrounding digital fashion and fashion weeks: How does it actually get to the consumer and become an experience IRL? Effectively, how can we pivot from ‘to view’ to ‘to wear?’,” says Leanne Elliott Young, co-founder and CEO of the Institute of Digital Fashion. Snapchat technology.
Auroboros’s appearance at London Fashion Week is due in part to encouragement by the Sarabande Foundation, an organisation created by the late designer Lee Alexander McQueen to support creatives, where Auroboros is in residence. Accepted brands were chosen by a panel of judges made up of “key opinion formers”, media, buyers and representatives from the British Fashion Council. While the BFC declined to comment on their acceptance because the independent panel ultimately selects finalists, a representative said that the BFC was “thrilled” at Auroboros’s acceptance.
“We need to be open-minded to see things differently, especially now that the concept of a traditional fashion show has been rejected by many brands,” says Trino Verkade, CEO of the Sarabande Foundation. “This puts Auroboros in the centre of the fashion world.” Verkade says that the designers also aligned with the Sarabande Foundation’s intent to support talent that pushes boundaries.
When the two designers began working together in 2018, they created physical couture that mimics the natural world with, for example, designs that literally grow on the body. Amid the pandemic, they expanded into ready-to-wear with a similar aesthetic that references the natural world while existing only digitally. The 14-piece Biomimicry Collection, which is the one showing at LFW, is sold on their own website, on fashion game Drest and on digital fashion marketplace Dress-X for between £100-450. After someone makes a purchase, they send in a photo and Auroboros digitally tailors the item to their body. While momentum for the brand has recently focused on digital designs, they are planning a physical exhibition, in addition to a second digital collection, later this year.
Just as physical fashion is priced and valued based on the talent and intricacy of the construction, digital fashion, such as in the case of Auroboros, follows the same trajectory. “We’re not just using technology to showcase physical garments, but using that as a means to an end in and of itself,” Sello says. “We’re very proud to be doing this together alongside [the other designers]. Aulbekova adds that while the technology used in creating their designs has been used in gaming and film, it’s now breaking through to a mass audience.
Sello studied fashion at the University of the Arts London and sociology at University of London Goldsmiths, while Aulbekova studied design at the International School for Creative Arts and communications at London’s Central Saint Martins, meaning that many of their technical skills are self-taught. It’s rare for fashion-world creatives to have the digital design capabilities that Sello and Aulbekova have, says Kadine James of Ryot Studios, the creative agency that worked with the Fashion Innovation Agency on The Fabric of Reality virtual reality show last summer. “The skills that Alissa and Paula have are gold.”
The designs are unique from the visual standpoint as well as from the technical, says Natalia Modenova, co-founder of digital fashion marketplace DressX. “Using the visual language of nature and speaking this language with the tech tools and software is what makes Auroboros so different.” DressX co-founder Daria Shapovalova adds that while the designs are like digital couture, it “might take time for the wider audience to appreciate it”. Already, their vision resonates with influencers and artists, she says, and many of the influencers DressX works with request to wear Auroboros.
Luxury brands might take note. “We are seeing more and more fashion houses working in 3D and thinking about digital wearables as more than just in-game skins, but an extension of ourselves,” says Sam Field, director of creative technology at Ryot Studios, with whom Auroboros is also planning a future project. “This could have a positive impact on representation, democratisation and sustainability. For Auroboros to hone in on nature and living organisms as their design inspiration is a great juxtaposition with digital, and they clearly have aspirations of moving into our world of real-time virtual production and XR.