A new era of creative expression is emerging at the synthesis of fashion, art, and software. Kolja Pitz explores what generative art means for fashion, both physical and digital, and how it could revolutionise what we wear.
In the world of art created by code, artists fuse their programming skills with artistic talent to create algorithms that illustrate new artistic visions within a fundamentally different artistic paradigm.
Generative artists define, with their code, a field of aesthetic randomness, in which unique artistic combinations can come into existence. In principle, the resulting script can produce infinite chains of art, each piece different from any other.
Fueled by new software (which enables more complex programmes) and the blockchain (which empowers artists to directly own these inherently digital programmes), generative art is now gaining traction on a global scale. It is a vivid ecosystem with its own curatorial leaders, cultural magazines, auctions, platforms, and communities. It has a league of its own heroes and stars, such as Tyler Hobbs, who exhibited at Unit Gallery in Mayfair, London, earlier this year, and Ezra Miller, whose work with Balenciaga and adidas has brought generative art to a large and new audience.
Meanwhile, from the outside looking in, pioneering galleries like Expanded Art and Bright Moments are embracing this cutting-edge medium in the physical world, whilst digital marketplaces like Art Blocks and fxhash provide the backbones of flourishing artistic sector.
The application of art to fashion is not a novel concept, and for generative art there is no difference. Patterns generated by rigid mathematics and logic have adorned garments across cultures throughout history, and whilst the term “generative” is typically used in the context of software, the concept of using rules to create art predates computers.
For example, in the case of Islamic rugs and other Islamic textiles, patterns are traditionally designed using geometric shapes, repeated motifs, and mathematical principles. These designs follow a clear set of rules and thus resemble the ‘procedurally’ process that defines generative art, which simply scales that process up.
Although the rules that govern those Islamic textiles are interpreted by human minds rather than computer calculations, the source remains logical, and that is what matters. Another example is the ikat weaving technique, originating in Indonesia and practised for centuries across Asia and Latin America. In ikat, dyed threads are meticulously arranged in specific patterns before being woven into fabric, again following a determined set of rules and techniques.
This kind of generative aesthetic blends two elements: first, the notion of applying AI artistic tools to fashion; second, incorporating your own design rules to fabric, like cut specifications, in practice. What makes generative art groundbreaking today is the ability to formalise those constraints in code and having them interpreted not by a human, but by a computer. As a result, artists are able to create far more sophisticated rules for their art, and the computer can create a far broader set of artworks.
That expanded opportunity is best realised by digital fashion, rather than its more common physical counterpart. Generative fashion in the modern world can be applied across augmented and virtual reality applications, 3D designs (such as digital collectibles), as well as digital media (think animation and CGI). From complete uniqueness, to innovative aesthetics, to co-creation with consumers, the implications for the future of fashion, with which today’s designers will be forced to wrestle, are as remarkable as they are diverse.
Recall the magic of customising your shoes to create a design that is tailor-made for you, reflecting and communicating your personal style and identity. Globally, the custom shoes industry reached $700 million in sales in 2022, growing by an average of 41% every year since Nike kickstarted the industry in 1999 with NikeID.
The resulting script can produce infinite chains of art, each piece different from any other.
In a decade in which the concept of individuality will lie front and centre (the industry is forecast to double in the next ten years), customisation will be propelled to the next level, and generative art is perfectly positioned to enable that consumer trend. Verifiably unique via the code and the blockchain, generative fashion will let customers choose a generative artwork and apply its unique instance to a garment. Specifically your garment, one that nobody else can own. And when it comes to the blockchain, you can prove it.
Think what this could mean for the future of digital fashion. Code-based art allows for dynamic textures and real-time behaviour. That could be used to react to the wearer’s actions, and could be integrated with games and other digital experiences to respond to specific decisions, like when you meet a friend or, in a game, an enemy.
Compared to the constraints of physical garments, digital fashion unlocks a vast array of creative opportunities, as code-based artworks can be designed to be motion-based or responsive to specific events. Slowly animated patterns, eternally evolving. Blooming flowers. Animated abstract art on your coat. An unprecedented concept, generative fashion can reimagine the industry, breaking free from the physical limitations of the real world. Digital garments can be fantastically impractical, and coupling the behavior of the animation with other events like one's mood or game-related events (e.g., charged shields or activated superpowers) adds another layer of innovation. Digital garments can display these animations, bringing fashion to life in ways never seen before.
Generative fashion can reimagine the industry.
In particular, generative fashion is a precursor to collaboration not only between brand and artist, but a form of collaboration that includes the consumer on a level far more extensive than the customisation options that dominate the industry today. Art projects like Tyler Hobbs and Dandelion Wist’s QQL project, which empowered collectors to set their own parameters and create their own artwork within an aesthetically coherent collection, have set the tone and standard for co-collaboration.
That benchmark has now been embraced by marketplaces, like the aforementioned fxhash, whose params feature gives all artists the power to offer similar experiences to their own collectors. By co-creating with brands and artists, this approach empowers individuals to engage with the creative process like never before, ultimately transforming the way we perceive and interact with art and fashion alike.
As the boundaries between art, fashion, and technology continue to blur, we find ourselves at the precipice of a new era of creativity and self-expression. The intersection of generative art, fashion, and blockchain is redefining the creative landscape, offering unparalleled opportunities for collaboration, personalisation, and innovation.
The shift offers a wealth of possibilities for the fashion industry. Early adopters can capitalise. Embracing generative art is not only a bold statement, but a strategic move that can push forward the boundaries of what fashion is. In embracing novel aesthetics, diverse perspectives, and unique experiences, this fusion of art, fashion, and code can help brands connect with new target groups, establish new relationships, and advance their industry. The future of fashion has never looked more exciting.
Yat Siu has a completely different vision for the metaverse to almost everyone else. And at the helm of an investment portfolio worth $5 billion, his perspective is as important as it is empowering.
The blockchain ecosystem is built on decentralisation, and a new form of brands are getting built on top. Tyler Scharf explores the emergence of decentralised ‘headless’ brands, how traditional brands like adidas and Nike are getting involved, and whether this new model of branding is future or fad.