At the start of the pandemic that has currently put a halt on a majority of our everyday lives, one of the major questions of the fashion industry was how are we going to showcase designs without the use of traditional fashion shows or in-person events? Luckily for them, in the age of digital communication, it is easier than ever to reach consumers across the world without the need for any real life contact. One of the surprising ways in which designers decided to showcase their products was through a game that released right around the start of our new normal– Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
Prior to the pandemic, the fashion industry was already struggling to keep up with the rapid pace of fashion that has been slowly set forth by reigning fast fashion companies that pump out collections bi-monthly nowadays. As Julia Hobbs states in her article for them about a similar topic, “Cracks in the fashion calendar… had begun to show long before the pandemic struck.” The sudden setback for the industry was more so a blessing in disguise than anything else, it seems. It gave creators the opportunity to find new, innovative ways to express their feelings about the current situation in unconventional ways, giving a breath of fresh air to an industry that was spiraling down an admittedly redundant path.
On March 21st, Animal Crossing’s latest installment was released and it set the world ablaze as a majority of people suddenly found themselves without jobs or classes to go to for weeks on end. It was the perfect storm, leaving players staring at their Nintendo Switches for hours on end (and an embarrassing amount at that, speaking from personal experience). The creative opportunities presented in the game, such as creating custom designs to put onto furniture or to wear on your character as clothing, encouraged bored creatives to put their efforts to new use. Accounts like @acnhfashion on Instagram began to pop up, showcasing their in-game takes on designer garments and posting codes so that others were able to download and wear the pieces as well. These efforts were not lost on the original designers either, as brands began to take advantage of this unique opportunity to engage with their consumers in a fun, new way in an otherwise complicated and lonesome time.
One of the first designers to actually publish their own collection on the game was Sandy Liang. Pop-up shops are one of the best ways to introduce new collections to the public in an exciting way. It gives passersby the opportunity to stumble in and learn more about the brand, as well as providing the unique opportunity for fans of the designers or brands to experience new pieces in person before deciding what to purchase. On Saturday, April 25th, Sandy Liang hosted a virtual pop-up shop on her Animal Crossing island. This event allowed players to visit her island, save cute versions of the latest collection from her clothing shop, and interact with her and fellow consumers in a way that was innovative as well as personal. It also gave those who do not live in larger cities the chance to attend a pop-up shop when they may not normally have the abilities to do so in real life.
In order to pull this event together, Paige Rubin teamed up with Sandy to actually create the designs pictured above and produce lookbooks of the outfits using their islands as the shoot locations. This kind of creativity is something that most people may overlook when they imagine a digital fashion show. There may not be as much labor that goes into hosting digital fashion events, but it is evident that designers should still put thought and hard work into displaying their products in a way that stays true to their brand even when it is in an untraditional format. Through this event, Sandy Liang set forth a trend that would dominate the industry for a short moment, thrusting the fashion industry into a new medium in an era of already-rapid evolution.
"It was really funny because, since AC has sunrise and sunset, we had to be mindful of good light just like on a real shoot." - Paige Rubin
Following the suit of Liang, Marc Jacobs created virtual pieces for the game as well. They partnered with the Instagram account @AnimalCrossingFashionArchive, which posts designer clothing codes as they come out, to publish six unique pieces for players to download and wear so they could continue to express themselves through their fashion even during a time where no one was leaving their houses. The pieces included striped sweaters, dresses, and blouse and skirt combos straight from their SS20 and FW20 collections. Valentino also created twenty exclusive designs based off of their SS20 and FW20 collections, providing a broader range of garments for girls, gals, and nonbinary pals to choose from for their in-game counterpart.
Though these official collaborations were unprecedented for the Animal Crossing franchise specifically, designers have partnered with video games in the past to introduce their collections to new demographics in an unprecedented 2010s century format. Video games have come to dominate mainstream culture more so in recent years than ever before, seen in the growth of streaming channels on Youtube and Twitch and the overall increase in the quality of games that developers are able to produce.
For the 25th Anniversary for the game Final Fantasy, Prada allowed the developers to dress the game’s characters in garments from the latest Prada collection. This showcased their designs to the millions of players the game had in 2012, and even prompted a full spread in the fashion magazine, Arena Homme +. Another example includes Moschino’s collaboration with the Sims franchise in their fourth edition of the game. “The Sims 4 Moschino Stuff Pack” is an expansion pack for The Sims 4 that includes exclusive clothing from the Sims-inspired capsule collection that was released in coordination with the pack, but it also introduced the opportunities for your in-game characters to pursue a career as a fashion photographer, opening up a world on new possibilities in the game for the players to experience this digital version the fashion industry.
These kinds of partnerships are incredibly beneficial to both parties, as each respective demographic is then encouraged to venture into a realm that they may not have otherwise had any interest in. Many consumers of high fashion may not spend their time playing video games, and those who are avid video game players may not necessarily care too much about where they buy their clothing from, making this an opportunistic venture for the companies involved in these collaborations.
So clearly, Animal Crossing becoming the lone venue for spring fashion shows around the globe may have already been written in the stars. It stands out as a representation of the times we’re living through, though, in a way that other collaborations cannot. A brand choosing to put their clothes on video game characters in 2012 was not representative of the state of the industry, or of the consumers, but the fashion shows taking place on Animal Crossing in 2020 are definitely going to be featured in at least one future Fashion Merchandising student’s textbook. It’s just one example of the ways in which this creative industry can adapt to any circumstances, the way in which creativity never falters in the face of uncertainty. This may be a deep cut for such a happy little game, but I do believe that this marriage of virtual and real is something to be properly appreciated in all of its fabulous glory. I mean, who wouldn’t get excited about being able to wear their favorite brand in their favorite new video game? It gives people a way to represent themselves truer in video games, which is more important now than ever before. If this trend dies out as pandemic-life phases out, I have to say I’ll be disappointed. I hope brands recognize the advantages of this creative outlet and include digital collections in the future so we can all continue to live out our sugar coated fantasy lives in peace.
Article illustration by Beyza Çelikmenemail@example.com (IG)