‘It’s a way to live out fantasies’: how Animal Crossing became fashion’s new catwalk | Fashion
Nintendo’s Animal Crossing, the best-selling game of the coronavirus pandemic, has become an unlikely outlet for fashion fans in lockdown. Avatars have been wearing bootleg creations inspired by Prada, Gucci, Chanel and Thierry Mugler catwalk looks or created specifically for the virtual world by designers including Marc Jacobs, who has created a six-strong collection for the game, and Valentino.
There are various ways to attain new clothes in this soothing cyber society in which players can pick fruit and make friends with anthropomorphised animals. The Able Sisters, a tailor shop in the game that is run by two hedgehogs, has become as talked about in some quarters as Harvey Nichols. Here players can “buy” anything from pleather masks to neon tights using the game’s currency of bells.
But players are not limited to preset Nintendo designs – the ability to create custom designs has led to a host of riffs on high fashion and streetwear looks. There are hoodies by the cult streetwear brand Bathing Ape and Virgil Abloh’s Off-White; outfits nodding to well-loved names in the fashion industry such as Sacai and Jacquemus; and even signature wet-look tops inspired by the cult designer of sexy menswear, Ludovic de Saint Sernin, and the now infamous “Fuck Boris” design the Tottenham-based bootleg label Sports Banger.
A number of experienced creators are fuelling the game’s high-fashion credentials. Richmond Young is a web developer who has been giving players the chance to wear cutting-edge looks from Bottega Veneta, Dries Van Noten, Louis Vuitton and Gucci via Crossing the Runway, an Instagram account dedicated to the fashion of Animal Crossing. “People plug a serial number into their game, the garment arrives in their closet, and they can wear it immediately,” he explains
It isn’t the first time fashion has crossed over into video games – Moschino’s Jeremy Scott designed clothes for EA’s simulation game The Sims, while Nike has collaborated with Fortnite on a digital version of the brand’s iconic Air Jordan trainer. But it plays a unique role in Animal Crossing because, says the Guardian’s video games editor, Keza MacDonald, “it’s a game about self-expression”,
“Plenty of games let you pick an outfit, but Animal Crossing lets you pick all the elements of an outfit, from socks and hats and shoes to dresses, turn-ups, shorts, parkas … that makes an Animal Crossing outfit feel unique,” she says. The looks range “from cute to traditional, or madcap to understated, so you can walk about in a frog hat and a pair of orange leggings or put together a blazer-and-chinos smart-casual combo.”
Shel Orock, an industrial designer and co-founder of Crossing the Runway, thinks the appeal is similar to Instagram’s #OOTD: “A lot of people can’t go outside and flex their outfit and show it off, and this has been our way of playing into that.”
In this world, unlike the real one, designer threads come free. “It’s a way to live out fashion fantasies without having to pay the steep price,” says Michele Yue, one of the founders of Nook Street Market (NSM) on Instagram, a play on the famous Dover Street Market, whose 23k+ followers are treated to looks from Molly Goddard to YSL.
While some brands may be unhappy about having their designs riffed on, in the experience of Vivian Loh, another NSM founder, “designers and their teams are often very receptive.” Orock has had similar reactions: “JW Anderson’s social media recently featured our work in their Instagram story.”
According to the New York City-based label Barragán, whose clothes have appeared in the game: “We were absolutely thrilled when gamers started to tag and DM us showing off their creations. We like to take it as a form of honour and flattery.” Fellow New York brand Vaquera, whose designs also show up on avatars from time to time, sees it similarly: “It’s been really inspiring to see how people are using Animal Crossing to live out fantasies, whether it be with clothes, gardening or a dream home.” While none of them has a Nintendo Switch and so haven’t been able to play, “we’re dying to create our own Vaquera Island”.
Despite no real-life money changing hands, there are non-digital rewards for brands, and many seem to enjoy the exposure. Plus, as Dominic Lopezone, co-founder of the streetwear brand Happy99, told industry website Business of Fashion off the back of a 30% increase after releasing a collection on the game: “I think there’s a pretty good attachment between owning a hoodie in a game and then later deciding to buy the hoodie so that you match your avatar.”
This peak in interest for digital fashion comes at a time when the pandemic has increasingly been forcing the industry, from fashion weeks to photoshoots, online. The world’s first entirely virtual fashion week took place in Shanghai in March, with Russia fashion week following suit and London fashion week men’s showcase in June being planned as a digital event.
In this context, Animal Crossing is helping open up the conversations around the shape of fashion in the future, thinks Young. “We as consumers need to see this as adapting to a new way to shop, a new way to dress up – and the fashion companies can see this as a new way that people can get into fashion.”