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Media, Machinima and the Virtual Runway: The Rise of Fashionista in Second Life

Phylis Johnson


Mimi Juneau will be showcasing the latest designs from 'Mimi's Choice' and several other prestigious designers during a glamorous catwalk show. The full event will be streamed LIVE across all Redgrave sims by BOSL Radio plus Metaverse TV will be filming.... Dress to 'Fashion Rocks with Redgrave' (Best of Second Life Magazine 2010)

The fashion industry has always had a strong element of fantasy in its presentation in media and on the runway. Now, it seems to have gone one step further into the virtual realm of creating fashionable experiences for the real or 'wanna-be' fashionista. Best of Second Life Magazine (BOSL) is part of the expanding fashion empire in the virtual world of Second Life, which was created by Linden Lab. In a June 2010 press statement, the company released May statistics that indicated that the economy of its virtual world platform, Second Life, was healthy, with "more than 1 million logged-in residents, 37 million user hours, US$52.8 million in user-to-user transactions and 31,800 enabled regions" (SL Enquirer 2010). Second Life is a unique social experiment that appears to have tapped into the online consumer culture. Each day, residents connect online with people internationally through this virtual world experiencing live music events, art exhibits and various cultural events. Then, of course, many want their avatars to be adorned in the latest fashion. A significant part of the SL economy revolves around virtual fashionista culture, from feature stories in magazines and newspapers to commercials and television shows on streamed media. One 1,000 Lindens, the virtual currency, approximates 4 US dollars. Most new outfits range from 300 to 700 Lindens, while exclusive gowns can be priced upward to 2,000 Lindens. That is still a bargain by real life standards. Media professionals are often paid modest stipends for their time, but for many it is an opportunity to expand their talents into a new era of media convergence and exploration. The focus of this essay is the role of media in one of the most visible industries within Second Life: the virtual fashion industry. Second Life is a unique residential virtual world in which the members are the core content creators. Fashion media include high-end magazines, television programming (commercials and interview/variety) and feature machinima. This essay will touch upon how the virtual fashion industry has influenced the promotion of music and art, and how fashion machinima, as a genre, is becoming part of international pop culture in real and virtual life.

Consumers of Virtual Fashion

In virtual worlds like Second Life,, and the now defunct, the economy is thriving among avatar goods that are inexpensive comparatively to real life counterparts (La Ferla 2009). The reality is one might buy top designer fashions for a small price in a virtual economy. La Ferla (2009) points out, the "robust economy [is] driven mostly by avatar-to-avatar transactions estimated at between $1 billion and $2 billion a year in real dollars. Second Life, the most successful and most familiar of such sites, does not disclose retail revenues." However, Linden Lab, creators of Second Life, according to La Ferla (2009), has indicated continued growth in its virtual economy. Other virtual worlds, such as social platform Moove, have experienced similar growth. These markets often cater to ages 25 to 50, a demographic that appears to enjoy virtual purchases of luxury items similar to those that one might not be likely to afford in real life. The history of virtual fashion, as it exists now, is sketchy, but mainstream and online publications began to notice its economic influence on pop culture around 2006. In a Web search, one will find sites dedicated to avatar fashion, from medieval types of designs for World of Warcraft players to an assortment of everyday fashions for the Sims player. Since 2006, designers seeking innovative ways to invigorate consumer buying and cut the cost of fashion shows have looked toward virtual worlds, as ways to showcase RL brands as replicas as well as to test market SL originals for potential RL currency. Marketing Chief David Lauren of Polo Ralph Lauren has acknowledged the trend toward virtual fashion due, in part, to "prohibitive" travel costs for press and buyers (Betts 2009). Traditions like New York Fashion Week are being replaced by virtual events like Fashion Rocks SL 2010. Live music by top performers and fashions by top designers come together to present shows that make it possible for attendance by ordinary residents, as well as the press and buyers. It becomes a far more inclusive experience for consumers. The Best of SL Magazine's blog reports on a showing of Redgrave, "one of the most famous names in SL fashion, skins and accessories." The event also unveiled a "brand new store plus an EXCLUSIVE release of SL/RL products from super stylish, RL Spanish fashion label 'El Ganso.'" Kate Betts, on the state of virtual fashion writes:

The result is that many designer-initiated brands - including the less-expensive lines, like Donna Karan's DKNY, that are presented during New York Fashion Week - are rethinking the traditional fashion show. This fall the British designer Alexander McQueen made a splash by live-streaming his Paris show on his website. The season before, Louis Vuitton live-streamed its show on Facebook. (2009)

Second Life is part of the online social revolution; and instead of reaching under 1,000 members of the fashion press and store buyers, there is potential to reach millions for much less that producing a traditional show through platforms like Facebook (Betts 2009). It is no longer good enough to merely connect to people but it is also important to dress appropriately doing so. In addition, the shows can be produced in a timely manner, allowing for fashions to reach consumers sooner via online. Betts (2009) states, "Ideally, consumers who watch a show online would then be able to click on a product they see and buy it immediately." In 2007, the virtual worlds of Second Life and Entropia created an awards show to acknowledge achievements, among other categories, like Best Virtual Fashion Designer." One of the sponsors of the events was Anshe Chung who had already amassed a fortune in Second Life (Associated Press 2007). In 2009, some of the top fashion games included JoJo's Fashion Show 2, Stardoll, Frenzoo, RoiWorld, IMVU, Nurien, GirlSense, Miss Bimbo, The Sims 3 and Second Life (Best Dress 2009). Second Life, and Sims to a lesser extent, offers sophisticated role-play for consumers who like dress up for play and business. Second Life fashion designers have sophisticated entrepreneurial opportunities, with stores emulating real life brands and shopping promotions. Increasingly women have gravitated toward these experiences. A 2009 survey by Entertainment Software Association reported that the average game player is 35 years-old, and that nearly 40% of women over age 40 indicated a preference toward playing a computer game than watching television. Results from the UK National Gamers Survey have shown women players as "key advertising targets for branded clothing" (Chadwick 2010). Gwen Chadwick, on the fashion virtual market, expands:

Indeed, retail is already an enormous part of virtual shopping: clothing and accessories account for 40 percent of the sales in Second Life, the online role-playing game where Giorgio Armani set up a virtual store and his own avatar in 2007 (2010).

Middle-aged women have become core users of social media, such as Facebook and Second Life. Add to that, more than 200 million people are engaged online playing these games, with women comprising more than 50 percent of the players and nearly 75 percent of the consumers (2010).

The Second Life Fashion Empire

At the Second Life Community Convention 2010, the fashion track involved themes such as its impact on SL economy, how to start a virtual modeling career, media's role in branding designs, as well as how to cross-promote products in RL and SL. Second Life is unique in that it promotes content creation among its users. In fact, SL is a world built from nothing, and its residents have created a sophisticated economy that mimics real life. Second Life has become the ideal space to experiment with fashion designs and their promotion into RL (or vice versa). In 2007, iVillage hosted one of the first virtual fashion weeks inside of Second Life. In 2008, plans were implemented for the Amsterdam International Fashion Week, in Second Life, by The Ewing Fashion Agency together with a real world management company, Artist Advice. Also in 2008, top men fashion designers in Second Life began to introduce sophisticated and realistic designs to respond to the virtual demand. Best of SL Magazine CEO Frolic Mills is one of the leaders among the high-end fashion districts' entrepreneurs and has regularly profiled the top elegant women (avatars) in Second Life. The esteemed competitions, Miss Virtual World and Mr. Virtual World, have brought notoriety to the virtual fashion world. BOSL has reported on the top designers, models, and entrepreneurs in virtual fashion. Although the magazine has significantly evolved to cover a variety of lifestyle topics in music, entertainment and technology, the company is well known for its rise as an influential fashion empire.

The fashion industry has thrived within Second Life, for this virtual world is a convergent point for all media: print newspapers, radio and television programming, and film. Off the SL runway, full-page advertisement spreads of fashion designs are placed in high-end virtual magazines such as the Best of SL, Second Style, BeStyle: The Best of Italian Style, Avenue Magazine, Essence, and Vain Inc. The money exchanged is real. Many of the people involved behind the scenes are professionals, or looking toward SL for their big career break into the fashion world. The headquarters of the Best of SL Magazine are situated in its own high-end fashion mall. Among its early 2010 additions is a radio station, BOSL radio, which streams a variety of music and fashion advertisements. In its outdoor lobby in the Renaissance Galleria, you can anticipate Second Life supermodels to drop in for a few minutes to chat with one another and BOSL staff and management. When a player logs on to Second Life, they are immersed immediately into a mediated environment, both visually and aurally stimulating. Strolling down Rodeo Drive in Second Life, and trying on the latest fashions virtually, taps into the fantasy and celebrity culture of an international market. The Asian fashion market continues to expand in Second Life, perhaps even more so than in comparable games originating from other countries. Cyworld, for example, is an extremely popular South Korean virtual world that allows its members to socially network and buy virtual goods, from furnishings to fashion. It is similar to Sims, and not as sophisticated as Second Life (Cameron 2005). Those who succeed in the SL fashion industry grasp the immersive nature of virtual media, and create strategies that play off its convergence. Billboards, machinima, TV appearances, and leading fashion magazines come together to elevate a sense of style necessary to be noticed in Second Life. From quality skins to top fashion brands to celebrity nightclubs, virtual world media showcase the beautiful avatars, and strategically draw attention to the products they wear on their carefully crafted bodies. In July 2010, one of the top Second Life fashion agencies featured "The Time Machine," part of its Opium Tales runway series.

Figure 1: 'The Time Machine', Opium Fashion Agency: Opium Tales [click for larger version]

In 2008, Mark Kingdon, then SL Chief Executive Officer, stated, "We're in the midst of an incredible video revolution on the Web right now, as sound and motion become very central to the experience." He also noted that "the next natural wave" is a digital shopping experience, both 3-D and immersive, which elevates "the attributes that we see today in Second Life" (in Naone 2008). Part of that experience is showcasing fashion through machinima. Some top fashion agencies test their designs on virtual consumers. In SL, residents tend to be 35 years and older, and they are the major consumer base. Second Life's The Project Factory created a 30-minute video intended for YouTube, as a form of viral marketing. The video illustrates the business mix in-world, from designers like Adidas, American Apparel, and Reebok to media companies such as ABC, NBC, and Showtime. In the past, the professional media agency Electric Sheep Company was hired to create customer experiences for businesses within Second Life (Carella 2007), resting on the assumption that virtual residents become captivated by the fantasy culture and a world where age is irrelevant.

Identity can be expressed in Second Life through one's avatar form, gender, skin color, and fashion choices. Many subscribe to fashion magazines to read about the latest fashions from a particular designer. Performers, DJs, and designers are often represented by one of several major SL artist agencies that send out notices on their behalf. BOSL, as with other media companies, has partnered with other print and broadcast media over the past two years. Media owners, in many cases, support each other through generous publicity for one another's events, many of which center around the fashion industry. In a number of instances, SL media companies support non-profit organizations, like Relay for Life, through taking part in special concerts and fashion shows.

The Machinima Evolution

In Second Life, content creation skills, such as mastery of advanced graphics and production software, can be used in creating advertisements and machinima. One relatively new SL fashion designer, Scarlet Niven (Digital Image 2010), is also a 'machinimatopher'(where machinima and cinematography) who promotes her own designs through her original machinima, typically still and motion shots of her designs in various poses. She produces small promotional vignettes for fashion designers. The SL videos, produced for television streamed in-world and posted on the Web, are created through the process of machinima. Evolving from the concept of machine cinema, machinima was originally spelled 'machinema'. This type of production moves beyond traditional 3D animation to capture motion in real-time interactive environments of game worlds, single or multi-player. Machinima began as short movie clips of the early action shooter games and transitioned into artistic or cinematic expression that has found its way onto mainstream television and movies. Technically, it relies on the engine of the virtual game for its capture of images and motion. Machinima is unique to particular virtual worlds, with certain stylistic differences originating from the different platforms. Machinima can originate within a virtual world environment like Second Life, or it might originate outside of a game platform as in MovieStorm, which is intended as a controlled virtual film set. Debates revolving around the definition of machinima are quite common (Hancock & Ingram 2007; Lowood 2005; Marino 2004; Nitsche 2009a and 2009b), as the medium evolves and expands its applications. One limitation is, how does one create continuity among actors and events? In Second Life, for instance, the range of facial expressions and movements are only as sophisticated as the availability of in-world animation permits. Most machinima works are under five minutes, but that might not always be the case as filmmakers seek inexpensive means of producing feature films.

In 2001, Hardly Workin won best experimental and best in SHO awards in the Alternative Media Festival. Moreover, Steven Spielberg used machinima to experiment with special techniques for his motion picture Artificial Intelligence: A.I. (2001). Machinima themes continue to expand for documentation of virtual events or reconstruction of historical periods. Machinima can be regarded as a process of capturing virtual life as it unfolds or as a means toward crafting a good story. Machinima increasingly is viewed on mainstream and satellite networks, including the BBC, MTV, and HBO. The first network to air a full-length machinima film from a virtual world was HBO. The documentary Molotov Alva and His Search for the Creator: A Second Life Odyssey was shot and produced in Second Life. The documentary is based on "a man named Molotov Alva [who] disappeared from his California home in [January 2007 and is presented] as a series of video dispatches by a traveler with the same name [who] began to appear inside Second Life" subsequently (Molotov 2007). Public events, drama, and commercial productions are common genres of machinima. Second Life has allowed machinima producers to retain the intellectual copyrights for their films, but that is not typically the outcome with other game companies. Henry Lowood, a leading scholar on game culture, states, "In the last decade or so, game players have used computer games as platforms for creating their own games, narratives, texts, and performances (Lowood 2005:10). The result has been a technological evolution in storytelling and documentation, with machinima having become popularised in recent years.

The Fashion Machinima Revolution

One of the biggest problems in SL is lag, that is: the inability of the computer to render all the incoming graphic information. Lag slows down the movement of the avatar, and in a fashion show that can be detrimental as models scurry to change outfits for their next appearance down the runway. Many fashion designers have hired virtual filmmakers to record their events. Some re-film the event with the models only, once the audience has departed, and the final video is edited from both shows. Those machinimatophers have the appropriate technology, high-end graphics cards, and other tools to record and create professional "fashion videos" for broadcast on YouTube, company Web sites, or TV networks within Second Life. Glance Magazine has embedded machinima hot links to virtual fashion videos, as a feature for its readership. Top SL models have spent considerable time in learning how to animate their avatars through various poses and walks. The models are works of art, with skillfully crafted faces and bodies. The designers must have experience in working with animations, and an understanding of how to create an experience for the viewer through a live show or one that is captured on machinima, or both. Fashion machinimatophers have not only a fashion sense, but an ability to work within a live environment in a virtual world, where anything can go wrong and does. Some endeavors more than others demonstrate the challenges of fashion machinima, which brings together music, animation and design.

Often it is the brand or the designer that is the star of the fashion machinima. Fashion vignettes might include interview segments with top designers, or at other times storylines centering on the virtual fashionista. Some machinimatophers have sponsored fashion creation contests as part of their filming projects. The idea is to make the story as realistic as possible, and how to best outfit an avatar is one element in that process. Finding the appropriate fashion for the characters in machinima is an important consideration. SL machinima groups include the Professional Machinima Artist Guild (ProMAG) and Second Life Machinima Artist Guild (MAG) founded by Runo. Another notable organisation is Chantal Harvey's MaMachinima, which annually hosts the MaMachinima International Festival (MMIF). The festival presents an annual RL/SL screening, live from Amsterdam, bringing together many of the top machinima producers. Most of the submissions are from SL machinimatophers, but increasingly works employing other platforms are exhibited. Fashion brands and designers have been listed in the credits for some major projects.

Fashion Machinima Venues

Best of Second Life Magazine management contracted Lowe Runo, a professional machinimatopher, to produce a series of vignettes, with Prism fashion designer Journey McLaglen, spotlighting the work of top designers during its 2009 Fashion Week. Japanese Kimonos designer Sequanna Kidd, of Milky House, first amazed her audience in real time with her live production. Her presentation was also captured and highlighted as machinima (BOSL 2009). Several machinima from that week spotlighted designs from leading names of the virtual world, including Nonna Hedges and Mami Jewell who presented their works in a Cirque du Soleil setting. Another interesting machinima piece from 2009 Fashion Week can be viewed at the BOSL Media Room (2009). The "Violator" machinima captured the work of designer Soraya Vaher, and called attention to the burgeoning futuristic and exotic fashionista of virtual worlds. The fashion shows that week were artistic accomplishments with the right mix of bold designs and beautiful models, who had all the right virtual moves and experience. Machinima is popping up on many online venues, including Blip.TV, Daily Motion, and Aview.TV. Machinima screenings and contests are drawing a cult following among virtual world residents and media makers. Two of the top broadcast companies are Treet-TV and Metaverse Broadcasting Company, and programming is streamed into Second Life on virtual televisions and accessible online across the Web. The Second Life Cable Network emerged in 2007, created by Wiz Nordberg, and gradually began to offer an increased fare of in-world programming to Second Life residents with televisions. The offerings were a mix of entertainment, business and public affairs. For the most part, programs are studio-based interview shows, with some location filming for specials or events. In mid-summer 2009, SLCN began its transition to Treet-TV, which promised higher quality in production and content. Programs are often taped live, posted on the Web and published as video podcasts. Programming is available in the virtual world and on the Internet. Channels are dedicated to shopping, music, business, fashion, lifestyle, sports, and public affairs.

Many women appear to be involved in the virtual media, often writing for newspapers and magazines with much attention directed to the fashion industry. Overall women have quite a strong role in SL television production. From its outset, SLCN served as a creative venue for women as guests and hosts; its programming features mainly fashion, music and other forms of entertainment. Pooky Amsterdam, host of 1st Question, invites virtual celebrities on her popular quiz game show. Guests range from academic scholars, business leaders, and top machinima makers to fashion moguls. It is taped in front of a live studio (virtual) audience, and has become the premiere game show featured on SL television. RL/SL journalist Persia Bravin, host of PopVox, has been widely recognised as one of the leading women of Tweet-TV, while the list of notable female producers and presenters continues to grow in Second Life. Angie Mornington of Fabulous Fashion made her virtual debut in October 2008 on Second Life Cable Network and continues strong on what is now Treet-TV. The opening of the show features the African-American host walking down the sidewalks of the high-end fashion districts. Her studio is very sleek, white and modern. The show begins with a few opening remarks and applause as she announces the movers and shakers of and behind the fashion scene, from designers to those who create the animations for the avatar models. The shows can be viewed on Treet-TV, readily accessible online. Fabulous Fashion often previews some of the latest designs and designers on the grid. Shows have featured fashion magazines, supermodels, Japanese and Asian designers, and a variety of related topics. One program presented a challenge to 35 fashion designers. Musicians in Second Life regularly appear on entertainment programs, and you can anticipate fashion and music being top audience draws among viewers. Treet-TV also has recently launched a 24-hour fashion and style channel (among its 9 channels) that includes Mornington's show, along with MODA Fashion Spotlight, and special fashion events that were taped live for later broadcast. Metaverse TV, which launched in 2009, is also developing its base of programming quickly, and has teamed up with BOSL for some of its content ideas. The studio complex is extravagantly futuristic in its design. The programming can be accessed through its Web site. It presents an alternative to Treet-TV and real life television among SL residents. One of its featured programs is The Frolic Mills Show, an half-hour spotlight on leading fashion designers broadcast live from the Patch Thibaud Auditorium. The auditorium is the hub of the BOSL fashion empire and serves as an excellent setting for highlighting top content creators. Among those interviewed have included 3D artist and designer Nardya Rousselot, VIOLATOR's Soraya Vaher, and fashion designer and creator of Azul, Mami Jewell. The shows are taped inside of Second Life as machinima. In June 2010, Metaverse Television televised the third annual Miss Tropic Hawaiian Pageant in Oahu, Hawaii (SL). Proceeds from this pageant were directed to the nonprofit organisation Compassionate Coalition. The live event became a machinima feature for Metaverse viewers.


Second Life fashion covers the whole gamut from hair to shoes. Skin, jewelry, nail polish and make-up, and clothing are part of the virtual fashion scene. These are essential elements in creating a runway show and capturing it on machinima. Fashion genres range from steam punk and science fiction to evening gowns, bikinis and day wear. Of course, even the decision to have the appearance of a human is a fashion choice. Many fashion designers use machinima as an opportunity to feature their clothing in romantic storybook settings. Others see machinima as a way to archive their fashion shows, some of which are very artistic visual experiences for the viewers and the models involved. ALM Productions owner Ariella Languish (2009) explains, "Machinima helps bridge gaps between Second Life and those who are not yet familiar with virtual reality...I'd like it to become more mainstream, so there are greater means to creating a machinima for certain real-life products in commercials or music videos." Linden Lab is aware of the benefits of showcasing Second Life through machinima. Avatars, with a fashion sense, are displayed socialising on their home page. In-world designers are employing the services of machinimatophers in creating fashion ads, programs and feature films. The future for fashion machinima is very much tied to the economic and artistic growth of virtual worlds, particularly those multi-player role-playing games that allow content creators to exhibit their works in an interactive platform. The divisions between fantasy and reality, Second Life and real life, are diminishing for the fashion industry, where make-believe is very much a real part of success. Increasingly, virtual media seems to be very real in the successful promotion of the fashion industry, both second life and real life. The virtual media is also increasingly backed by real media industries. The runway is online, and so are the consumers.


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Ewing Fashion Agency

Fabulous Fashion

Machinima Artist Guild

Metaverse Broadcasting Company

Second Life