Last night, celebrities, models, costume designers and New York City's class of elite gathered in Manhattan to celebrate the world of fashion at the 2016 Met Gala.
This year, the theme was "Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology" and while some red carpet swooners decided that meant elegant black ensembles with wisps of silver threaded throughout, others decided to lean more heavily into the theme. Former One Direction singer Zayn Malik suited up with a pair of metallic robotic arms, for example, while others wore outfits that responded to tweets and changed color based on commands sent in.
What caught our eye at Polygon, however, was Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom's integration of Tamagotchis into their formal wear. Some ridiculed the duo for the gimmicky look and some applauded them for their embracement of nostalgic sentiment, but it got us thinking about just how much of an influence video games have had on fashion over the years.
From companies building entire brands around including fandom on t-shirts, hoodies and dresses to couture fashion designers like Louis Vuitton using characters and imagery from Square Enix's Final Fantasy XIII for its new line, gaming has undoubtedly become a major influence in the world of fashion.
Polygon reporters Allegra Frank and Julia Alexander sat down to discuss the continuously evolving relationship between video games and fashion, and whether or not Tamagotchis should be attached to lapels from now on.
Allegra, I have to tell you, I love what Orlando Bloom and Katy Perry did. I think it not only touched on the theme of the Met Gala, but it was also one of the more fun outfits that we saw on the red carpet. While most of the attendees decided to go with a cyberpunk or goth look, Bloom and Perry kept it light. But best of all, I think, is that there weren't any questions about what they were wearing. Everyone knew what Tamagotchis were and everyone seemed to appreciate the playful addition.
It's funny, because even though I probably wouldn't wear a Tamagotchi on my sweater (although I won't say never), I had the same reaction to it that I've had when out doing errands or with friends and coming across someone in an N7 sweater from Mass Effect. It made me realize that video games went from being a niche part of street apparel to mainstream fashion that most people get. Subculture becoming culture, if you will. What did you think when you saw the photos of Bloom and Perry rocking the Tamagotchis? (We won't even get into the fact that Bloom wasn't properly taking care of his pet.)
I am a huge fan of the Tamagotchi as a fashion accessory, personally. I rarely have praise for either Orlando or Katy (and now that I hear they're a couple, I mostly have a lot of questions for them), but the Tamagotchis were a subtle touch. Using those to keep within the Met Gala theme probably has several reasons behind it: The Tamagotchi accessories are subtle and classy, yet immediately recognizable once you do see them. And not just to those young enough to have owned the digital pets, but on a broader cultural level. Maybe they're rocking them ironically, but I agree with you that games and gaming artifacts in fashion — especially high fashion — have become a more frequent occurrence.
The Tamagotchi accessories are subtle and classy, yet immediately recognizable
I can attribute that to the amount of The Legend of Zelda shirts I see worn by a diverse group of people on a regular basis (hint: it's a whole lot), but I think that the Met Gala's theme was explicitly about technology suggests that there's more overlap here than it might seem. Not that high fashion or Met Gala outfits approach anything one would consider everyday looks, but we've continuously seen interesting collaborations between fashion tastemakers and gaming icons.
What do you make of these kinds of partnerships, like Pokemon getting its own classy line of lingerie — and a party hosted by Drew Barrymore, thrown in the name of the series' stylishness? Maybe it's all an ironic gimmick or capitalist ruse? Or are games a genuine source of inspiration to designers?
I think games have become a genuine source of inspiration to designers for multiple reasons, but the biggest are accessibility and popularity. Games are a division of popular culture in the same way films, television and music are. We've seen television influence fashion — after the success of Mad Men, Banana Republic created an entirely new line of 1960s inspired clothing — and we've seen film influence fashion, but as games have become one of the most popular forms of media and as they've become more accessible to people, society has become more receptive.
Think about how casual games made available to play on smartphones or Facebook changed the industry. Like how console gaming ushered in a new group of people that wanted to play games but didn't have access to relatively expensive computers, casual games available on smartphones and internet-based games caught the eye of people who may never have played before. So not only did the gaming industry undergo another boom as the consumer base grew, but its standing within pop culture was embraced by an entire section of people who may have previously ignored it.
Fashion, ironically enough since we're talking somewhat about couture designers, has always been about personalization, accessibility and inclusivity. We sport different fandoms on our shirts not only because we happen to like that game or TV show, but because it's instantly recognizable by people with similar interests. I think as more people started to embrace games and as people started to play them more frequently, it became a staple in culture. Fashion has always been about mirroring what's happening in culture.
The Met Gala, as you said Allegra, was about celebrating technology and its influence on fashion, and I think in that regard, gaming has been the most influential. Think of companies like Filthy Casual who have made entire brands based on gaming terms and symbolism. These designers took what they were seeing and hearing in games, saw a potential audience and designed an entire line around it. Same goes for massive retail stores like Hot Topic, which routinely look at what's happening in different fandoms and mass market new designs toward that audience, using specific characters, terms and even memes to merge fashionable apparel with those specific interests.
Now, we're seeing expensive, top-of-the-line companies like Louis Vuitton partner up with Square Enix to design a line of handbags, purses and clutches based on the world of Final Fantasy XIII.
Fashion has always been about mirroring what's happening in culture
Allegra, I know you've written pretty extensively about the merging of fashion and video games, and I have to ask: Do you think this is a fad or are we going to see other designers scrounge through different video game worlds for inspiration? Will this bubble ever pop or will it just become even more mainstream?
I think the extent of my relationship to the convergence is expressing incredulity at Drew Barrymore's Pokemon soirees and begging someone in Japan to buy me the Pokemon pajamas, but to your question: I think this is only going to continue happening, certainly.
Like you said, fashion and entertainment has long borrowed from one another, with designers finding inspiration in strong aesthetics. Something like Final Fantasy is known within the gaming world for having a very particular, if at times weird, sense of style. I both love and find it logical that brands with similarly notable design tastes would be drawn to those properties.
It's something that I would personally love to see more of, though. Even though there are companies that draw on games for their apparel lines, like Filthy Casual and Hot Topic as you mentioned, or even We Love Fine or, like, Target, many of these borrow from games but leave behind any actual design elements. I used to wear Pokemon t-shirts from K-Mart or wherever not because they were actually well-made clothes, but because I could wear my affinity for the games with pride. Now that I'm older, that's not enough.
I think gamers are responding similarly. Not many of us can afford the Louis Vuitton Final Fantasy collaboration, but that doesn't mean we'll settle for screen-printed t-shirts. Recently, Bandai Namco tweeted a "big announcement" that ended up being ... a hideous Dark Souls-themed shirt based on a familiar, if overdone, Olly Moss design. The response was overwhelmingly negative. That might have been become the company overhyped it, of course, but it's also because the shirt is freakin' ugly.
Now, get Olly Moss to design some clothes that feature his awesome illustrations, and then we're talking. Do you take as much issue with these easy and unattractive Hot Topic, etc. lines of clothes based on games? Or do you think that's just as much of a win for gaming subculture in the mainstream?
I think right now we're seeing the transformation of games and fashion from basic streetwear apparel, which doesn't necessarily demand more than plain recognition to succeed, into interesting, imaginative and cohesive lines. Ironically, we're seeing the move from Mario's face on a t-shirt to the incorporation of various Mario game themes spread out over an entire line of clothing. As the medium goes through its maturation, what it influences, including fashion, matures with it.
Someone is taking one art form and finding inspiration in a completely different art form
We're beyond the recognition stage, as we saw with the Tamagotchis as the Met Gala. What we're going to see now, hopefully, is the transition from blatant video game symbols on a t-shirt to chic, fashionable clothing that hints at a title. Like you said with the Olly Moss-inspired shirt, Allegra, it's clear that they wanted to go for something that fans would appreciate. It's a hideous design, but the intent was there. It's still recognizable, but it's not just the logo plastered on the front of a tee.
For me, seeing the integration of fashion and gaming is more than just a cool trend that will line the pages of Elle or Vogue. It's the idea that someone is taking one art form and finding inspiration in a completely different art form to bring those two worlds together. And as more designers emerge and more games are developed, I think we're only going to see an increase in what comes out of these types of collaboration. Allegra, what are your final thoughts on it? Do you think it's still gimmicky or is this something you're excited about?
I try to keep my cynicism to a minimum, Julia, so I'm pumped to see more high-fashion takes on popular games and franchises. I like what you said about maturation. It's weird, because gaming is a young art form — but I feel like we've only recently come into an era where we can call games art and not immediately be scoffed at.
Museum exhibits are dedicated to game design, and games themselves are becoming more diverse on artistic and other levels. Maybe the response to Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom's chosen accessory was one of bemusement but, man, they still worked it. I'm excited to see more types of gaming fashions in magazine ads and on billboards that will catch the attention of all kinds of people, not just fans. High fashion is definitely a venue that makes sense for games, I think. Not that I can afford any of those pieces, of course.
I'm just looking forward to the day when I can dream of buying a Final Fantasy/Louis Vuitton bundle that includes the newest game and a badass, cyberpunk looking clutch.