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At London Fashion Week, technology took new forms: KWK by Kay Kwok used ChatGPT to create its catwalk playlists, and Christopher Kane used AI to design featured animal prints. What’s more, digital IDs gained traction. So much for metaverse activations.
ChatGPT and AI hit the catwalk
The metaverse was a big focus for designers last fashion week season. For fall 2023, however, designers are looking to technology as a tool versus a gimmick, using it to inform their marketing music, seasonal designs and supply chain traceability. For its runway show’s soundtrack, Shanghai-based brand KWK by Kay Kwok tapped a sound artist who used ChatGPT to generate the lyrics that played out alongside an accompanying violin. British designer Christopher Kane, meanwhile, turned to AI to design his animal prints.
Aileen Carville, founder of virtual asset management company Asset Haus, said that, for brands, benefiting from technologies like AI and ChatGPT requires understanding the technologies and using them at scale. “Education through the fashion colleges will play a big role in preparing the new generation of fashion creatives for an AI-enabled industry,” said Carville. “Fashion designers need to invest in educating their staff to allow them to become familiar with the technology and new digital workflows.” For now, ChatGPT and AI are largely in the R&D stage — particularly ChatGPT. But brands are increasingly leveraging them in a number of business areas, from copywriting and design to customer experience, with brands especially taking to AI to enable personalized search for online shopping. ChatGPT, an AI-powered chatbot on AI platform OpenAI, allows people to converse with AI and use its responses for content creation. Since launching in November 2022, it’s seen increasing use cases across different industries.
“Through tools like AI and machine learning, brands will increasingly be able to understand their customers’ preferences and create new operational changes to increase efficiencies and productivities,” said Maruschka Loubser, director of global partnerships at Microsoft. Microsoft is working with several of global designers, including Emily Bode, to help them integrate technology into their production processes.
London Fashion Week spotlights digital IDs
In the realm of technology, digital IDs offer new possibilities for designers, but not many emerging designers have begun using them. At London Fashion Week on Saturday, Priya Ahluwalia, founder of 5-year-old British brand Ahluwalia, announced a partnership with digital ID startup EON and Microsoft. The collab is intended to bring full supply chain consumer traceability to Ahluwalia’s fall collection through digital IDs. The digital IDs also facilitate authenticity of items sold through resale, as customers can scan the ID to trace the garment into its second life.
“I’ve always wanted to build a brand that is transparent and open with the community and customers,” Ahluwalia said. “Working with EON on digital IDs has been a good way to experiment with how the technology can work for us, giving our brand fans more insight into the products and the creative story behind the garments.” Customers scan a QR code on a purchased garment to access the information on its origin and materials.
Digital IDs are already being used by Chloé, which launched with EON last October, as well as British luxury accessories brand Mulberry, which partnered with EON in June. They’re also being tested by LVMH and Chanel, as well as on the blockchain by French digital passport company Arianee. EON has received backing from Net-a-Porter founder Natalie Massenet via her company Imaginary Ventures and is poised to become a key partner for high fashion brands looking to enable transparency and authenticity.
“Emerging designers are often agile and can implement new technologies and features quickly, which paves the way for larger brands to understand all potential use cases,” said Natasha Franck, founder of EON, which is based in New York. Ahluwalia is stocked in 41 stores worldwide and has doubled its annual sales since 2021.
Ahluwalia also collaborated with Microsoft to create a secondhand clothing app for the brand called Circulate, which launched in November 2021. The app, which allows sellers to upload photos of preloved garments, uses Microsoft’s Computer Vision API to analyze their suitability to be turned into new Ahluwalia garments and sort them into a database. Once a garment is accepted, a shipping label is sent to the user to mail it to the brand’s warehouse.
“This is now part of Ahluwalia’s business model. And some of these secondhand items have been used to create items in the new collection,” said Loubser.
“Technology plays a role in collaboration and preserving craftsmanship, especially in fashion,” said Ahluwalia. “Customers have responded well to our new technology integrations and enjoy having these new ways to connect with the brand.”
Microsoft is investing in educating future designers on using AI technology, which can increasingly support their processes. This year, Microsoft reportedly plans to invest $10 billion in OpenAI, the creator of the popular ChatGPT generative AI. It’s been extensively investing in AI since the launch of its own AI tool, Microsoft Azure OpenAI, in November 2021. Ahluwalia declined to specify whether her brand will also be leveraging AI, only sharing that it’s exploring different technology solutions.
In other LFW news…
London Fashion Week and the British Fashion Council have prioritized upholding London’s positioning as a creative hub for fashion. However, this season, many retail buyers and members of the press choose to skip London Fashion Week, in favor of heading straight to Milan and Paris. That was owed, in part, to delays in correspondence by event organizers and a lack of show ticket allocations.
“Influencers, celebrities and content creators are now prioritized because of easy media momentum. However, that momentum is ephemeral. Press and buyers need to be able to have a closer look at the collections to continue to do their job,” said a member of the local fashion press who asked to remain anonymous. “Building relationships with us is important. However, I often find myself writing about shows one season and then not getting invited to the following one.”
In other anonymous conversations during LFW, sources across the press and buyer categories echoed the feeling that fashion PR companies did not consider the negative impact on key relationships when prioritizing influencer attendance at this season’s shows. Celebrities making the show circuit this season included Alexa Chung; Dua Lipa’s sister, Rina; Romeo Beckham’s girlfriend, Mia Regan; and “Love Island” star Tasha Ghouri. They also called out a lack of access to information on brands’ new collections and delays in responses from PR companies.