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Luxury Brands Push Boundaries with Virtual, Wellness and Sex-Focused Fashion

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No stranger to setting the tone for the fashion world and beyond, luxury brands are stepping up to the plate this year and taking notes from society’s evolving values to create products that reflect the changing paradigm.

Labels like Balenciaga, Fendi, Versace, Dior and Louis Vuitton—all of which ranked among Lyst’s hottest brands of Q4 2021—are some of the labels incorporating the pandemic-charged emphasis on themes like virtual fashion, wellness and sex.

The looming threat of new coronavirus variants has nudged society deeper into the virtual world, opening consumers up to the idea of digital fashion and unlocking the floodgates to the metaverse, a 3D virtual space disrupting a range of industries. The virtual world’s gaining popularity has inspired recent initiatives that combine tangible and digital apparel, like Balmain’s and Mattel’s 50-piece ready-to-wear collection centered on three one-of-a-kind tokens featuring Barbie and Ken avatars styled in Balmain’s designs. Each token is accompanied by a unique bespoke set of Barbie-sized pieces.

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In its latest report on 2022 trends, British luxury advocacy group Walpole also called attention to the wave of boundary-pushing collaborations involving luxury groups and video games. Spearheaded by Balenciaga’s 2020 collaboration with the popular video game “Afterworld: The Age of Tomorrow,” followed by its buzzy partnership with gaming platform Fortnite in 2021, labels like Marc Jacobs, Valentino, Louis Vuitton and Burberry also joined forces with video games to solidify their move into the digital space.

Balenciaga furthered its positioning in the digital space with a 10-minute virtual Fall/Winter 2022 presentation featuring characters from “The Simpsons” sporting the label’s latest pieces.

A new Walpole report indicates that virtual fashion, wellness and sex will shape trends in the luxury sector in 2022.
Balenciaga x Fortnite Balenciaga

As society prepares to emerge from the pandemic, consumers are also embracing bolder fashion choices in the form of loud colors—Walpole indicates that “eye-watering neons” will be a top choice for socially starved party-goers—and sexually charged looks. Dolce and Gabbana’s Spring/Summer 2022 show, which Elle UK editor-in-chief Farrah Storr called “one giant gyrating paean to hedonist chic,” was rife with skin-baring pieces like sheer bras, and micro mini dresses, skirts and shorts dominated the runway.

Mugler, founded by Manfred Thierry Mugler who died on Jan. 23, drove similar trends in the form of “thong jeans” and cat suits modeled by the fashion elite. According to retail intelligence platform Edited, in early 2021 the French label’s provocative designs triggered a 30 percent increase in searches for products described as “sexy.” Similar themes were also a major part of the S/S ’22 runway for designers like Versace and Maximilian Davis.

Society’s shift to sex positivity is also connected to the gender fluidity movement exploring and sometimes discarding the concept of gender. Predictive analytics and retail data platform Trendalytics named gender-neutral fashion a “top market mover,” with 20 percent of new SKUs in the category out of stock. Luxury fashion houses are driving the movement forward, with Gucci and Stella McCartney just some of the top names in the space. In 2020, Gucci released the MX Project, a gender-fluid collection of apparel and accessories, while Stella McCartney debuted StellaShared, a unisex line that combines utility streetwear and classic tailoring.

The gender-neutral movement has also made its way beyond apparel. Sales of male cosmetics from luxury brands like Tom Ford and Chanel are booming after decades of cosmetics companies attempting to tap into the men’s segment. Still, trends in this space are less about adding color and flair, and more about addressing blemishes. Unisex fragrances have also taken off, with PVH Corp.-owned Calvin Klein debuting CK Everyone, a genderless fragrance inspired by the original CK One scent, in 2020.

The Walpole report documented the concept of “ambient wellbeing,” in which industries incorporate health-boosting attributes into their products. Following the onset of Covid-19, textile technology companies got to work developing solutions that could help combat microbes on clothing. HeiQ Viroblock made headlines in June 2020 when it debuted the first textile technologies in the world to be proven effective in laboratory testing against SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus strain that causes Covid-19.

Depending on its makeup, even a fabric’s dye can add benefits to the wearer. Used by some natural dye companies to create yellow coloring, chamomile can evoke calming effects similar to those felt when ingesting tea or moisturizing with lotions infused with the herbal flowers.

Fashion’s continued collaborations with the hospitality space are another indicator of the ambient wellbeing concept. In 2021, a slew of retailers and restaurants joined forces to bring back a sense of normalcy and joy to consumers’ routines. Los Angeles icon Fred Segal offered a residency program that provided restaurants with a temporary, rent-free popup space at its location in Malibu Village. Around that same time, Longchamp teamed with Parisian tearoom Angelina to open a popup at its Fifth Avenue store. There, shoppers were able to enjoy a drink and dessert in the retailer’s “terrace” set up with café seating reminiscent of the French capital.

French luxury fashion house LVMH recently opened its fifth hotel, Cheval Blanc, in Paris. Perks include guest transportation to LVMH’s Samaritaine department store, a Dior spa and branded bathroom amenities and artwork curated by the team at the Louis Vuitton Foundation. More Cheval Blanc hotels are planned for the future, signaling that fashion and hospitality’s cozy new relationship is just beginning.