As the world quickly advances with innovations in digital technology, fashion is one of the rare industries that will always have one foot in the physical space, since clothing is unavoidably a tangible product to be consumed and experienced IRL. Perhaps this is why Fashion Week today feels a bit outdated, when most of our time is spent behind screens, superficially interacting with the latest in arts and culture. Why go and see a fashion presentation unfold in person, when you can more conveniently watch it happen digitally?
Belgium-based, Canadian designer Devon Halfnight Leflufy answered to both experiences during his NYFWM showcase, pairing a physical fashion presentation with three digital environments that attendees could only see through virtual reality headsets. His spring ’17 collection, titled Selected Feelings, reflected on our cultural addiction to all things digital, acknowledging its benefits, while also addressing the solemn reality that all these online experiences have become meaningless.
The ambiguous date, “May 18, 2014,” was printed throughout, alongside references to 2015’s Art Basel stabbing and the existential words, “Why? Why?” DHL’s collection was heavy with Internet-bred motifs, almost to the point of over-saturation, which directly mirrored the inundation of information we’re exposed to daily—bits of news that seem major in one minute, but become minor by end of day. We’ve learned to all select our emotions based on the webpage that’s loaded—the social media platform that’s open.
We recently caught up with the designer and Tom Galle, who collaborated with DHL on the show’s digital art, to learn more about the brand’s virtual dream world.
Take me through the theme, Selected Feelings.
Devon: Selected Feelings—it’s not meant to be a profound statement or a slogan for the collection. It just embodies a sentiment that I think is very prominent within society, and it also makes reference to the referencing of cultures. People just choose what they like and make it their own. A subculture is irrelevant because every kid from here to Mumbai is making their own subculture by selecting things on the Internet. It’s an interesting concept, but it is also a meaningless slogan that prompts people to look introspectively.
How does that connect with the larger presentation?
D: We should speak about the presentation and collection together as one because they go hand-in-hand, (even though you wouldn’t believe it) a reduction of elements within my palette. We wanted to use as few prints as possible and create collages, in the most rudimentary and diverse way we could, with those selected amounts of images. It was an exercise in how far we could go aesthetically and, I suppose, emotionally. This again ties back into the idea of selected feelings because these where my selected feelings. I strive to avoid making a personal narrative within collection, but perhaps it is unavoidable.
I saw the date May 18 appearing throughout. What’s the significance?
D: I don’t know Tom, where you doing on May 18?
Tom: On May 18? I have no idea. Somewhere on the Internet probably?
D: Terrible, me too. It is a meaningless date and I think that is the profundity of it. It implies importance, but it has none. Again you are hitting on the more intellectually heavy references, but I think it is interesting to use a date in this way, implying that it is quite important, but in fact it could mean anything. This combined with the slogan ‘Selected Feelings’ in the official Twitter font hits you on so many different levels. It is introspective [and] existential because no one knows what the fuck that day means.
T: Also, it’s a symbol for our dependence on technology and the Internet.
D: That makes it sound terrible, but the Internet is one of the most beautiful things, so we don’t want to make it sound like that. I just think it is a bit ironic the way it effects society and social interaction.
Why virtual reality?
T: We started talking about a collaboration and the idea of using VR grew naturally out of our conversations. We realized that a lot of our references and ideas were overlapping, and there was a feeling that Devon’s brand and aesthetic is much more than only the collection. Using VR allowed us to make the brand come to life in an immersive way where people could experience much more of the story, rather than simply having a presentation where only the clothes would be shown.
Talk me through the process of creating this virtual environment.
T: We rebuilt the exact same space in VR, but created three levels, each with a different theme in which we let the brand come to life in crazy ways. The idea of offering a real life and a VR experience for users to discover the collection was very appealing to us. We started involving two of my very talented friends Bert Vermeire and Moises Sanabria, with who I collaborate a lot and from there on all of the ideas started flowing naturally.
D: If you separated all the pieces of the collection, you run the risk of losing context or appearing disjointed. What makes showing so much of the aesthetic ‘history’ at once so impactful is when you put them together, [so] it is extremely harmonious. By choosing to achieve this through VR, we are not just showing people another aspect of the collection’s atmosphere.
Inside your virtual reality, there’s the line, “If regret is useless, then why do I love it so much?” What’s the importance?
D: Honestly, the poetry is randomly chosen. Some were written by us and some were taken out of their original context. It is meant to mean something different to everyone and just shed a slightly morose light on a digitally polished thing. Each room had its own atmosphere, whether it was angelic or psychedelic. Can I come up with another ‘-elic?’… I don’t know.
T: I guess that’s what I always found interesting about [Devon’s] work. There is so much to discover in each collection and then when you start to follow it more closely, the links and references become more abuntant. It feels familiar, but also new at the same time.
D: Even though they’re unrelated, it gives you this hyper surreal or uncanny feeling that might be super familiar, but that can also be very confronting because familiar things are often a bit scary—David Lynch style. Because there were so many nuances in the 3D world, you could just put on the goggles and be like ‘sweet technology,’ or you could look through and see all the very subtle, strategically placed elements that created something really interesting. Together, the images and objects are more than the sum of their parts.
Do you think it’s important technology begins forging a closer relationship with fashion?
D: [Tom and I] were just talking about how wearable tech is done in such a terrible way. It is not even fashion technology, it is just [putting] a different strap on your iWatch or something.
T: Personally I’m not a fan of that whole vibe of wearable tech. To me that has nothing to do with fashion. It’s purely a technology showcase that can look interesting or be useful, but doesn’t do anything interesting fashion-wise or contribute to fashion. There’s this brand that 3D-printed a complete collection, and all it does to me is yell, ‘IT’S 3D-PRINTED!’ In my opinion, it only makes sense to merge tech and fashion if it pushes the idea of the collection [and] brand forward. In Devon’s last collection, he played around with charger cables. To me that’s an interesting way to integrate technology in a collection. It felt like commentary on contemporary culture driven by the Internet. He used very little technology, yet a simple and very relevant idea was expressed throughout his collection.
D: I think there is a lot of talk about incorporating tech into garments and what it could do for the wearer. Maybe there is a lot of stuff they’re developing that they haven’t told the general public about, but at this point I think the biggest effect technology has had on clothing is the advent of, what I always call subcultures of eclecticism. People are just soaking things up and interpreting them however they like. They don’t need to know where it came from. They just have to know that they like it. Unfortunately, that is kind of a negative effect, but that is also interesting because there are subcultures everywhere—they’re just exposed too early and don’t get vital incubation time.
I suppose “technology in fashion” is very open-ended.
T: Technology can mean sewing batteries into jackets to anything imaginable. But it could also be incorporated in a more conceptual approach, like how social media influences fashion.
D: And that is why people know there is going to be some sort of game-changer in this field, but nobody knows what it will look like yet. Isn’t Google doing something crazy? Haven’t they hired all these people to do something with clothes, but no one knows what.
T: Not that I am aware of, but there are always tech-based startups. No high fashion brands of any kind that I know that are inherently working on technology.
D: It’s funny because I’ve never met a more backwards industry. Name another industry where you get asked for faxes. Some of the most avant-garde companies in the world are fashion businesses and they are known for aesthetic innovation, but still use fax machines. It’s ironic because today people view fashion, besides contemporary art, as the propeller of contemporary culture, but fashion is just a dinosaur. We are still just making clothes.
What was the aesthetic goal for your spring ’17 collection?
D: My collection was really about reduction and that’s something I’m continually working around. I found myself in a place where I wanted to, or I felt that it was more relevant to, articulate my aesthetic ideas by reducing them into a more potent form. So last season, it was very particular colors and iPhone cables. The collection seemed very simple, but it resonated with me because there was something extremely honest about taking away all the things that I didn’t feel were necessary or important. I have continued with this dialogue within my work.
There seemed to be a strong emphasis on prints.
D: I gave myself the restriction to reduce my palette of elements because, of course, I work a lot with graphics. I basically sat down and I picked 5-6 textures [and] images and I wanted to collage together and see how well I could articulate the aesthetic or how far I could take it. The collection is made with extreme craftsmanship in mind. There’s a lot of chiffon and luxurious fabrics, like reversible sequins, but it is also an exercise in seeing how you can make two seemingly unimportant, or unrelated images mean something and tell a story when you put them beside each other just like a child collage.
What’s the core message of your brand?
D: People say that branding or over-branding is the name of the game, and that is all fine and good, but my messages are complex and diverse. I don’t want to sound like I have something important or profound to say, but to give context to something that is shirt and pants. That’s basically what is going on with my clothes. I do not want to have this heavy aesthetic concept creating the value of my work. I prefer to offer desirable, powerful clothes that have more behind them, but the back-story is not necessary. It’s there if you want it, but that’s it. We combine ideas in the way they need to be combined, and in the end it’s just a wardrobe proposition. We push it to the max, but it is just some shirts and pants and jackets.
T: That’s why your brand was so appealing to me. If you look at a Cottweiler or Astrid Andersen item, you easily understand what their brand is about. With Devon, you would only see part of a bigger story and get intrigued to discover more. It takes a while to really ‘get’ his brand, but that’s what makes it interesting—there are always different layers to discover.