Commentary

Hilfiger Dons VR; Sees Rosy Future For 3-D Retail

Fret not, you fashionistas who missed the 1940s’ football- and 1970s’ “Love Story”-themed runway show of the Fall 2015 Hilfiger Collection in person at the Park Avenue Armory in Manhattan last February. You now can immerse yourself in the futuristic 3D virtual reality of the brand — featuring the likes of varsity-inspired V-neck sweaters and lace-up football boots — by donning a Samsung GearVR device in a special area of the Tommy Hilfiger store on 5th Ave. in NYC.

“Retailers who still think virtual reality is just for hard-core gamers should think again,” writes Marianne Wilson for Retailing Today. As should those who think it’s about “‘hello, how are you’ and ‘how can I help you,’” Tommy Hilfiger CEO Daniel Grieder tellsWWD’s Sharon Edelson,

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“Retail is changing. In the past, it was about turnover per square meter. Now, as a brand, we have to make sure the customer gets entertainment and make sure there’s some newness and ‘wows’ per square meter,” says Grieder. “Virtual reality is a part of our future life. We’re using it to open the door on a unique part of our world.”

And, soon, in everybody else’s world, too. It plans to open additional dedicated VR areas reflecting the American football theme in London, Paris, Milan, Amsterdam, Dusseldorf, Florence, Zurich and Moscow. They will be “alongside the Hilfiger Collection designs, which consumers can shop immediately,” according to a release.

“The industry even has a new term for selling through virtual reality: v-commerce,” Hiroko Tabuchi writes for the New York Times. “Tommy Hilfiger, which had sales of $6.7 billion in 2014 and is owned by PVH Corp, is one of many retailers exploring virtual reality as a sales tool as they compete with online sellers for shoppers’ attention.”

Indeed, “last month, fashion brand Rebecca Minkoff started selling a Google Cardboard headset that lets you watch its fall-winter 2015 show in virtual reality,” reports Marc Bain for Quartz. “Burberry has been a pioneer in technologically enhanced stores for years. And in September, luxury conglomerate LVMH got serious about digital, poaching Apple executive Ian Rogers.”

But, warns Bain, “the execution isn’t always flawless — these efforts can come off as gimmicks when they feel like they’re done more for the sake of displaying the technology than improving the customer’s experience.”

The Hilfiger concept was created in collaboration with WeMakeVR, Amsterdam-based developers of 360-degree 3D virtual reality experiences. The show was captured with the WeMakeVR-Falcon, a proprietary camera.

“Our special virtual reality cameras, combined with Tommy Hilfiger’s creative vision of the Fall ’15 Hilfiger Collection fashion show, resulted in an experience that goes beyond that of VIP guests,” WeMakeVR founder and CEO Avinash Changa says in a release. “Users get an incredible peek behind the scenes; they stand next to models right before they walk out onto the runway, and they feel the excitement of being backstage after the show.”

“Cinema in 3-D was a trick, a gimmick,” Changa tells the NYT’s Tabuchi. “But VR can be relevant. We’re applying the technology beyond the gimmick.”

It’s still the early days of retail VR “but the potential is huge,” SapientNitro VP Adrian Slobin tells Adriene Hill of American Public Media’s Marketplace. “Imagine, he said, that instead of shopping for a dress at your favorite boutique, you would use VR to shop for a dress in the designer's studio in Milan. You could see the fabrics, the styles and maybe even peek at what's coming next season.”

And then, presumably, buy it. But don’t think for a minute that means the really real stores are going the way of Blockbuster anytime soon. “The brick-and-mortar store is sort of like TV,” says Slobin. “Everyone is very willing to predict its demise, but somehow it lingers.” 

Meanwhile, the February Hilfiger show was “just the beginning of a year of celebration” for the designer and his brand, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary, Vogue’s Lauren Sherman informed us at the time. “He's currently in the midst of writing his memoir, taking stock of the brand's history.”

“When I started designing this collection, I took all the inspiration from everything I loved, from sports to music to the outdoors to iconic women,” Hilfiger said. “I've always wanted to take what was cool back then and make it relevant for today.”

And, apparently, tomorrow.

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