Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

From Hypebeast to Hollywood: It’s time the ‘The Red Carpet’ embraced branded virtual outfits

By James Callahan, CEO & Co-Founder of FutureDeluxe and Forever:

With the 2023 Oscars now behind us, the film awards season is over. No one got slapped. And Hollywood gave itself a helluva pat on the back. But with so many global events successfully using emerging technologies to add an extra dimension, why have these ceremonies’ formats barely changed?

Although film-of-the-moment, Everything Everywhere All at Once, gave us a peek into the multiverse, the red carpet seems yet to catch-up. Limelight-hungry celebs are missing a trick by not experimenting with new tech-led opportunities like digital fashion. If an A-lister were bold enough to experiment with a gravity-defying digital dress, they’d likely suck up the world’s attention faster than Sam Smith in his inflatable latex Brits number.

So, the time is ripe for pioneering A-lister to take a lesson from fashion’s playbook and turn heads by wearing an emerging tech outfit on the red carpet. Over a decade ago, we saw a holographic Kate Moss grace Alexander’s McQueen’s catwalk. And the Met Gala – home to the most bonkers outfits on earth (Lady Gaga meat dress, anyone?) – has played host to a cornucopia of 3D printed fashion. Taking the idea of digital fashion to the next level, model agency Photogenics even has a modelling division dedicated solely to digital avatars.

Meanwhile, over in the art world, everyone’s gone insane for NFTs. Although these three letters are a dirty word in some circles, that arbiter of good taste – Sotheby’s – is going in hard on hi-end NFTs and digital auctions.

If the fashion and art worlds are getting cosy with emerging tech, why isn’t Hollywood? Especially when the potential for cross fertilisation is huge. Film awards ceremonies already have access to the perfect CG assets: digital characters from nominated films. With a little ambition, we can bring these beloved characters to life on the red carpet.

Much like the rise of digital influencers such as Lil Miquela, taking this approach to awards ceremonies could see high-profile CG film characters come alive as they work the red carpet, blowing socials up as they go. Better still, let’s see a fully digital avatar pose for the paparazzi.

Such virtual add-ons also give brands access to the red carpet by creating endorsement, partnership and sponsorship opportunities. From CG outfits and accessories to even makeup, these digital assets can be taken into the Metaverse and monetised. So, a big tick for both the celeb and brand’s marketing strategy, but also a big tick for commercialisation too.

The pandemic forced events companies to think differently in order to replace the magic of in-person engagement with screen engagement. The sudden pivot towards virtual events saw us suffer a few hi-profile misfires, but also gifted us some incredibly insightful learnings; learnings that we can now exploit to give traditional in-person events an added virtual dimension. What’s more, with film awards ceremonies being global online and TV moments, there’s a readymade screen-based audience hungry to consume something digital and different that can’t be accessed IRL.

With the fashion world leading the way, we already have many examples to turn to. Show Studio, for example, continues to lead the way, pushing boundaries in evolving fashion through ‘phygital’ (physical meets digital) means. The NFT pioneers at RTFKT are another case in point. Recently bought by Nike, the brands continually collaborate on launches of sought-after virtual apparel, sold and traded as NFT for people’s digital selves to ‘wear’.

Similarly, The Fabricant released a limited edition ‘RenaiXance’ collection with RTFKT to much excitement. Even high street brands like H&M are getting in on the act by experimenting with CG clothing that would look incredible on any red carpet. It works for Hypebeast, so why not Hollywood?

The possibilities of branded hi-tech red carpet fashion are endless. Perhaps celebs could create their own designs using AI. Perhaps they could steal the show with digital outfits that change by the minute. Or maybe these outfits could augment according to viewer preference.

Although The Academy and its ilk tend to be a heritage-driven bunch, as the awards DEI scandal showed, they need to adapt to stay relevant. To be fair, there’s evidence they’re starting to flirt with the wonderful world of emerging tech. The Institute of Digital Fashion, for example, created an IRL X URL collab for this year’s Oscars. And this is definitely a step in the right direction. But there’s scope to do so much more.