Editor's pick technology

Hollywood steps in to give LFW a preview of an immersive augmented reality future

Those with a beady eye will have noticed a certain Blade Runner feel to designer StevenTai’s London Fashion Week presentation this weekend, thanks to a live augmented reality installation.

The augmented reality screen at steventai's LFW show
The augmented reality screen at steventai’s LFW show

Those with a beady eye will have noticed a certain Blade Runner feel to designer steventai’s London Fashion Week presentation this weekend.

While models posed onstage, a recreation of the scene was depicted on a giant screen behind them in real-time, complete with a wealth of digital augmentation – including a virtual avatar whose look transitioned from one outfit to another before viewers’ eyes, just as in a scene from the film.

It was actually a Star Wars team behind the action however. The “LiveCGX” campaign was a project between London College of Fashion’s Innovation Agency (FIA) and ILMxLAB, Lucasfilm’s immersive entertainment division. It included a transformation of the venue itself (it was hosted by the GREAT Britain Campaign at Durbar Court within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office) to look like a street scene in Macau.

Special visual effects transformed the courtyard space into a bustling scene, complete with neon digital signage, fluttering leaves and more. Meanwhile, a model in a motion capture suit backstage, made the virtual model possible – driving an improvisational series of movements reflected live on the screen amid the other models, thanks to a number of depth-sensing cameras placed around the venue. The team referred to it as a connection between real-time visual effects and human-driven expression.

As with Blade Runner, it also serves as a glimpse into a future where garments could have both physical and digital designs, worn in perfect coordination.

“Immersive technologies are leading us to a new narrative for the fashion industry. Imagine a world where you can augment everything from the clothes that you’re wearing to the environment that surrounds you, in real-time. That is the glimpse into the future that this technology offers us. LiveCGX will force us to redefine what we experience in fashion today, allowing for creative possibilities where we are limited only by our imagination. We are thrilled to bring this experience to life at this incredible venue with the support of the GREAT Britain Campaign,” says Matthew Drinkwater, head of the Fashion Innovation Agency.

The motion capture model backstage at steventai's augmented reality real-time show
The motion capture model backstage at steventai’s augmented reality real-time show

Interestingly for those in attendance, at this point you really had to look hard to understand what was happening with the technology. Drinkwater’s vision longer term is that we would all be able to be truly immersed in the experience by either looking through our smartphones to witness the augmented reality in the space around us, or better yet, by wearing smart glasses to see it.

At this point, he told me, the barrier is the technology just not quite being ready. “Give it six months and we’ll be able to do so much more,” he said. “We’re talking to Apple, we’re waiting for Magic Leap – the smart glasses are coming.”

That promise of the future was palpable, if still delivered in a relatively elementary way at this point. It fits with ILMxLAB’s mission to have people step inside stories, creating amazing worlds through pioneering immersive entertainment.

“What is exciting about this collaboration with steventai and London College of Fashion’s Innovation Agency is the opportunity to bring the stories and worlds that have inspired Steven’s designs to life by exploring augmented live performance as a means of sparking intimate and compelling relationships with the people and characters who inhabit those worlds,” says Vicki Dobbs Beck, ILMxLAB’s executive in charge.

Tai himself added that fashion is about storytelling: “It’s about representing a concept, to sell a dream, or just selling an idea that is close to the designer’s heart. Having a digitally augmented presentation this season allows us, and our guests, to achieve and experience things beyond our physical possibilities.”

By Rachel Arthur

Rachel Arthur is Editor-in-Chief of Current Daily, the leading news source for fashion, retail and innovation, and the co-host of its weekly Innovators podcast. She otherwise serves as Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer of Current Global, a transformation consultancy driving growth within fashion luxury and retail. By background she is an award-winning business journalist and consultant, contributing to titles including Wired, Forbes and Business of Fashion.