A number of designers have dipped their toes into the wearable tech waters this year, the latest being Tommy Hilfiger. But instead of selling a product, he's integrating wearable tech into his store experience, installing virtual reality headsets shoppers can put on for free in select Tommy Hilfiger stores around the world. Curious, I decided to try one.
On the fourth floor of the brand's Fifth Avenue flagship, where the women's designer collection lives alongside childrenswear, a Samsung GearVR headset sits atop a podium with a pretty sales associate positioned next to it. I asked to try it out and she happily obliged, positioning the heavy Oculus-powered device on my head, not before suggesting that I sit down on a nearby bench, because it made her nauseous when she tried it standing up.
After a couple of welcome screens, I was transported to a slightly blurry recording of the fall 2015 Tommy Hilfiger runway show, which was also on display on several TV screens throughout the store. However, this version was three-dimensional and gave me a 360-degree view. In front of me were models walking the football field runway; turning to the left, I saw familiar Elle editors snapping photos from the front row; behind me were back-row guests looking annoyed because they couldn't see. The view sporadically shifted from the front row to backstage. Before the finale, I watched all the models lining up to stampede the field, before watching them do so from the front row.
It was really cool, and fun, but I was left wondering what exactly the point is. Seeing the clothes come down a runway — at an event that took place six months ago — in a virtual reality format didn't make me more interested in purchasing the clothes hung on the racks about me. Nor did it help me understand the theme any better than I would have by just looking at the clothes — their American-athletic inspiration is not difficult to surmise.
That said, it did get me into the store. It's also entertaining for families shopping together. The device is smartly located on the same floor as childrenswear, and after watching me use it, a family of five lined up to do the same.
"These days, you can't just wait for people to come into the store and try on your jackets," Tommy CEO Daniel Grieder said in a recent New York Times interview about the headsets. "You have to provide entertainment.”
While this particular bit of entertainment feels a bit gimmicky, it's clear that virtual reality is big on the minds of fashion marketing teams, especially when it comes to making fashion shows accessible to consumers. Topshop was one of the first to do this when, in 2014, it set up virtual reality headsets at its London Oxford Circus flagship, giving customers a panoramic video of its runway show both while it was taking place, and after. Similarly, Dior set up headsets at its stores this summer so that customers could experience its fall 2015 show backstage, showing models being fitted and having their makeup done by Peter Phillips. InStyle recently used it to give subscribers behind-the-scenes access to Drew Barrymore's cover shoot via an app.
Beauty is one area where it seems these immersive, 360-degree videos could really take off: Beauty tutorial guru Michelle Phan seems to think so, as she recently partnered with Littlstar, a virtual reality video platform. While feeling like you're at fashion show is fun, getting a 360-degree makeup tutorial could actually be useful.