The arrival of NFTs—non-fungible tokens—into the fashion realm seemed inevitable, especially after this nifty acronym has implanted a firm grip on the collective imagination of the art, music, and film worlds over the past year. It has quickly infiltrated almost every sector of fashion—from streetwear to haute couture. For now, people might still be asking what the three letters stand for. But it’s only a matter of time before even your grandmother is shelling out thousands in cryptocurrency to own a unique digital asset of the garment that has caught her eye.
Amid this blockchain-enabled revolution, eight key moments stand out, outlining a tale of innovation and daring that was catalysed by the Internet of Things and accelerated by the digital demands imposed during the pandemic. Read on for all you need to know about the intersection between NFTs and fashion. The next time your friends launch into yet another conversation about digital art and cryptocurrency, you won’t just understand all their references, you’ll even be able to name drop some of your own.
March 2019: Creation of the world’s first-ever NFT fashion item
While NFTs have only really taken off in fashion over the past three months, fashion’s first brush with it came much earlier—more than two years ago, to be precise. Jointly created by Dapper Labs, digital couture house The Fabricant in Amsterdam, and Johanna Jaskowska, iridescence is the first of its kind: an entirely digital outfit that was auctioned off on blockchain for US$9,500, and subsequently custom-fitted on a portrait provided by the winner.
May 2019: LVMH launches world’s first blockchain-based luxury authentication
French conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, who owns some of the world’s top fashion brands such as Dior, Fendi, and Givenchy, became the first major player to leverage the immense potential of blockchain-based tokens as a means of validating an item’s authenticity. Together with Microsoft and blockchain software company Consensys, LVMH established the Aura platform, a blockchain system that enables consumers to trace the origins and lifecycle of their purchases.
February 2021: RTFKT sets record-breaking NFT fashion sale
Founded in 2019, RTFKT became the first luxury brand in the crypto fashion space, specialising in the sale of virtual hypebeast sneakers in its bid to become the Supreme of the metaverse. Earlier this year, the company partnered with Fewocious, an 18-year-old crypto-artist, to design three new styles of virtual shoes that bidders could “try on” via Snapchat. In under seven minutes, 600 pairs were sold, earning RTFKT a sweet US$3.1 million. Since then, the company has soared to even loftier heights, partnering with The Fabricant to create a seven-piece collection and securing US$8 million in its latest funding round.
April 2021: Prada and Richemont partner with LVMH to establish luxury blockchain consortium
LVMH was a pioneer in the luxury blockchain field, and it was only in 2021 that its rivals, Prada and Richemont, recognised what LVMH had seen two years ago. In what the trio called an “unprecedented collaboration”, these fierce competitors came together to set up the Aura blockchain consortium. Aura offers luxury brands worldwide a single blockchain-based solution for consumers to verify a product’s history and authenticity. Bulgari, Cartier, Hublot, Louis Vuitton, and Prada are just a few of the brands already active on the platform.
June 2021: Gucci becomes the first major luxury brand to sell an NFT
While the NFT revolution has led to an outcrop of new digital fashion companies such as RTFKT and The Fabricant, Gucci became the first established luxury brand to venture into the NFT design realm. Surprisingly, the Italian maison’s debut NFT offering was not a fashion item, but a film inspired by its Aria collection. Co-directed by Gucci’s creative director Alessandro Michele and award-winning photographer Floria Sigismondi, the four-minute video clip sold at a Christie’s auction for US$25,000.
June 2021: Burberry joins the NFT game—literally
Hot on Gucci’s heels is Burberry, who announced its own foray into the NFT fashion world just two weeks later. The British luxury house will design an exclusive line of digital accessories for Blankos Block Party, the first play-to-earn video game by Mythical Games. The limited-edition Burberry Blanko, to be launched this summer, will allow fashion aficionados to own a piece of the renowned brand while ensuring their chicly-attired game avatars will be a source of envy for everyone else. Before the in-game battle is even waged, it is already clear who has won the style stakes.
June 2021: NFTs break into fashion week
Even before the NFT craze took over the world, fashion weeks had already undergone a digital makeover thanks to the socially distanced demands brought about by the pandemic. For much of the past year, shows were streamed online or broadcasted in augmented reality. But the entry of NFTs into this institution of the fashion world represents yet another paradigm shift. The French Fashion and Haute Couture Federation joined forces with NFT platform Arianee to offer NFTs to select guests at Paris’s spring/summer 2022 menswear shows and haute couture shows. Through those tokens, users obtained access to exclusive content such as a digital artwork by fashion illustrator Richard Haines.
With more and more fashion brands hoping to break into the NFT market, a new need has surfaced for platforms that gather NFT creations from different houses into one place. The Net-a-Porter of the nascent fashion metaverse, so to speak. The upcoming Singapore-based Brytehall is one such aspirant, curating premium NFTs from the art and digital fashion worlds for luxury consumers with a taste for sophisticated and rare products. OpenSea, backed by major investors like Andreessen Horowitz and Ashton Kutcher, became the latest crypto unicorn earlier this month with a US$1.5 billion valuation. Meanwhile, start-up Nueno is another platform to keep an eye out for ahead of its launch later this summer, promising original fashion content straight from the world’s top brands, including red carpet moments, campaign footage, bespoke bridal pieces, and ready-to-wear items that can be worn in video games.
At one point, NFT fashion items were seen as nothing but a flash-in-the-pan fad designed to cater to Zillennials who didn’t know any better beyond their hypebeast aspirations. But it is a vastly different story now that these blockchain-based assets have secured the stamp of approval from the world’s top luxury houses, even entering the jealously guarded realm of haute couture. With plenty of developments to look forward to from both designers and marketplaces, the fashion world’s dalliance with NFTs looks set for an exciting future.