Choose Your Fighter: Inside Fashion’s Gaming Play

Following the likes of Marc Jacobs and Sandy Liang's Animal Crossing endeavor and Balenciaga's Afterworld gaming universe, Ralph Lauren recently teamed up with Fortnite and Burberry joined forces with Minecraft to launch limited-edition merch and downloadable content experiences.

A still from Polo Ralph Lauren's Fortnite collaboration.

Despite suggestions to the contrary, fashion’s interest in the metaverse is still alive and well. The industry’s newest obsession: gaming. Last week, Ralph Lauren announced it is teaming up with Fortnite to co-host a streaming tournament and create a digital and physical capsule collection, replete with a historic redesign of the 55-year-old polo pony logo. The timeless American label and popular role-playing game (RPG) celebrated the launch earlier this week in New York City with a VIP party live-streamed on Twitch.

“Ralph Lauren has always designed dreams and created new worlds, and today, our collection with Fortnite will deliver a first-of-its-kind experience to a new community of next-generation players and consumers,” David Lauren, chief branding and innovation officer at Ralph Lauren, tells TechCrunch.

Hot on the heels of Ralph Lauren x Fortnite, Burberry unveiled a collaboration with the world-building game Minecraft that includes an in-game and IRL capsule collection, and free downloadable content (DLC) called Burberry: Freedom to Go Beyond that puts players in an alternate reality London “taken over by a malevolent entity called the Nexus.” The point of the game is to “restore the spirit of the wild” by traveling to four realms—air, water, fire, and earth—to revive their “Nature Guardian” and free trapped animals. Along the way, players encounter the British fashion house’s iconography via monogram mazes and a mounted knight that nods to Burberry’s equestrian heritage. In keeping with Minecraft’s lush virtual naturescapes, the partnership also includes a philanthropic tie-in with Conservation International.

Burberry's branded Minecraft adventure.

Fashion’s interest in the gaming world is still fairly new. Its defining moment, in the early days of the pandemic, was marked by two words: Animal Crossing. The premise was simple: players were tasked with running a village of adorable animal avatars where nothing bad happens. America couldn’t get enough of the low-stakes escapist fantasy and it didn’t take long for Marc Jacobs, Sandy Liang, and Valentino to launch in-universe pop-ups and product drops.

Then, in December 2020, Balenciaga eschewed the runway and launched its Fall/Winter collection in Afterworld: The Age of Tomorrow, allowing players to outfit their avatars in the season’s wares as they embarked on adventures in the dystopian metaverse. Taking the plunge into 3D web-based experiences was a smart strategic move. Balenciaga reached a wider audience beyond the usual crowd of editors, celebrities, and influencers. The collab earned the house and its artistic director Demna high praise for experimenting in the metaverse early on.

The appeal of high fashion in the gaming sphere may seem superfluous at first but in reality, it presents a golden marketing opportunity. Players represent a captive audience, and branded tournaments, streams, quests, and merchandise forge connections between brands and new customers. Plus many predict the metaverse will be a reflection of the real world, a theory that already looks to be proving true: Gucci released a digital version of its Dionysus bag as an in-game accessory for Roblox and a savvy buyer turned around and flipped it for $4,115—more than the price of the physical bag.

When the internet was still nascent, we sure didn’t have “luxury European fashion houses teaming up with video game nerds” on our bingo card.

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