Proof that the Virtual Vanguard’s interests are no longer niche, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have officially taken a hold of fashion. The Decentral Art Pavilion in Venice was the world’s first clothing NFT exhibit; Vogue Singapore dropped an inclusive NFT collection; and Bella Hadid is selling NFTs that grant owners access to an exclusive Discord server.
This cohort is shifting away from mega-platforms like Instagram and engaging with smaller communities and content creators elsewhere. That includes tuning into their favourite streamers on Twitch or subscribing to artists, writers and musicians on Patreon and Buy Me a Coffee. Socialising often happens on gamified, fashion-driven apps (like Korean platform Zepeto), or old-school favourites enjoying a revival (such as Second Life, IMVU and The Sims Mobile). My Little Star and anime-inspired Genshin Impact are sources of cute digital style inspiration.
Thanks to the Virtual Vanguard’s efforts, digital culture is becoming more diverse even as it becomes more localised. In the US, And Also Too is a group fighting for a fairer internet at the intersection of art and design, while Black Beyond is an art collective imagining “alternate realities for Blackness” through digital methods. Elsewhere, Zimbabwean start-up Lalaland.ai creates hyperrealistic plus-sized digital avatars, and UK-based student-led The Unfur Project is an NFT collection of ‘fur’ garments designed to replace inhumane real-world practices.
With Covid-19 restrictions all but lifted in most parts of the world, even the internet-obsessed are venturing outside to take part in real-life activities like raving, going to festivals and travelling. This year saw the return of huge music festivals like Coachella, Tomorrowland and Wireless Festival, while US rapper Megan Thee Stallion debuted an immersive virtual reality concert tour called Enter Thee Hottieverse, which sold out quickly.
Events with hybrid elements are popular among members of this cohort, who like having the option of switching between digital and physical worlds (see more in Retail & Engagement Preferences below). In London, multimedia exhibit Our Time on Earth envisions a gender-fluid, sustainable future, while department store Selfridges’ Superfutures exhibition displays artworks that imagine a “positive and ever-expanding future”, alongside sustainable products. Elsewhere, Germany-based Pylon-Lab’s phygital showcases explore time as an artistic medium, and American designer Paris of futurewear brand 69999 is partnering with e-tailer Depop for an exhibit-cum-pop-up highlighting the impact of fashion overconsumption in Los Angeles.
In addition to rap and hip-hop, the sounds favoured by this cohort are eclectic, moody, experiential, and mostly electronic. American singer Grimes remains the poster girl of the techno-imbued, dystopic tone and lifescapes of the Virtual Vanguard, but there are plenty of other names to know. These include virtual artist and anime character Teflon Sega (who releases one song a week), UK-based body-positive e-girl pop sensation Shygirl, and Japanese musician Aya Gloomy (who makes surreal bedroom electro and has been a DJ at digital fashion shows).