The collaboration comes less than a year after Balenciaga launched its first digital game, Afterworld to debut its Fall 2021 collection, its inaugural foray into the virtual world with Epic Games’ creation tool, Unreal Engine.
This new campaign extends beyond an advertising stunt. In addition to creating a handful of rare cosmetic skins for Fortnite characters, there are aspects of this partnership signalling the metaverse is not far away.
Blurring the digital and physical is becoming more familiar through collaborations like this. It stands to reason that luxury brands forge this future, as fashion is a common denominator across cultures and countries. International high-end fashion brings theatre, status, and hype – necessary ingredients to encourage early adoption and mass engagement with digital natives.
Virtual and physical fashion
Balenciaga incorporated styles from previous collections to give four well-known Fortnite characters a makeover. The luxury fashion house provided Epic Games 3D versions of garments and accessories to be rendered onto characters, then further embellishments and enhancements were added.
Once items are brought into a video-game environment, fashion can transform in endless ways, from simply switching garment colours to choosing an outfit that reacts to certain in-game triggers. Unique fashion in games suddenly becomes a collectors item.
The Balenciaga Fit Set features Fortnite’s beloved Doggo character receiving a streetwear look with Balenciaga cat eye sunglasses and hoodie. Players can change the hoodie colour to white, black, or red. Two female characters, Ramirez and Banshee, have been decked out in high-fashion runway-ready outfits. Banshee’s animal-print catsuit comes in two styles and reacts during gameplay.
This isn’t the first time luxury fashion has collaborated with big-name video games; however, it is a unique partnership. As Fortnite released the digital fashion Fit Set, Balenciaga launched a physical Fortnite collection, giving players the opportunity to wear the same white, black, or red hoodie and sunglasses as Doggo. The collection includes co-branded tees, caps, denim jackets,sweaters, and more. Fans can also purchase the Speed 3.0 sneaker and Hourglass Top Handle bag, which feature in Fortnite as the Balenciaga pickaxe and glider.
The brand awareness game
As much as this partnership sits on the fringes of the metaverse, it’s also a clever marketing campaign. There are about 350 million registered users on Fortnite. Of those, 62.7 per cent are aged between 18 and 24 and more than 72 per cent identify as male.
The Balenciaga Fortnite collection consists mostly of unisex pieces, clearly appealing to the high percentage of male Fortnite players. This collection also garners the attention of thousands of hypebeasts (a slang term for usually males who enjoy wearing on-trend streetwear), as it’s well known that Fortnite is one of the most popular video games in the world. Several items from the physical collection are already circulating on secondary marketplace StockX.
High-end heritage brands are at risk if they don’t take the necessary measures to stay relevant. Maintaining a brand’s reputation and couture aesthetic while mixing it with popular culture trends is a difficult balancing act; it’s no surprise that some of these campaigns don’t land. They can be seen as a short-lived merchandising ploy rather than a campaign that authentically aligns with a brand’s DNA. Brands that put effort into understanding a niche audience achieve richer engagement that goes both ways.
The Balenciaga/Fortnite collaboration doesn’t necessarily appeal to everyone; however, the campaign is a necessity for exploring the new digital frontier. Because the only way to know what’s coming is to create it.
People all over the world interact within digital platforms more than ever. Put simply, the tools we use online are the building blocks of the metaverse. We’ve become comfortable with direct messaging on social media, using personal and professional email accounts, streaming content, playing games, participating in video calls, interacting with augmented reality, and even exercising in virtual reality. The next phase will be Web 3.0, further autonomy online, advanced cross-platform engagement and interoperability between systems and platforms.
It takes monumental collaborations to design virtual worlds that can accommodate regular tasks, behaviours and connections. The Balenciaga Fortnite campaign is only the beginning for technology behemoth Epic Games. For now, these limited-edition in-game items are an affordable way of obtaining a micro-slice of the Balenciaga brand. Some time in the near future, we may have the ability to wear our favourite digital fashion and gamer skins in virtual reality for work meetings and socialising.