Beside the Keizersgracht canal in the heart of Amsterdam, inside the 18th-century cultural house Felix Meritis, more than 1,000 total attendees recently packed in to watch a fashion show starring no one. 

Attendees of the event, which closed Amsterdam Fashion Week last weekend over four performances, filed into a room featuring a large catwalk bifurcated by a translucent screen.

As the show commenced, lights darkened and six projectors (three on each side of the stage) fired away, simulating the fluid movements of six-and-a-half foot-tall avatars who strutted—and occasionally swam—down the runway, sporting designs from nine digital fashion houses including DressX, The Fabricant, and Code Couture

Some avatars pranced through surreal fields of glowing orbs and lightning; others performed meticulously choreographed dances set to swooning orchestral accompaniment. By the show’s conclusion, numerous audience members had found themselves in tears, multiple attendees told Decrypt—despite the fact that nothing they had seen, technically speaking, physically existed.   

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An avatar presents digital fashion designs at Felix Meritis in Amsterdam. Courtesy: Future Front Row

“It was way beyond even the far side of what we expected,” Antonio Talarico, who helped design the experience, told Decrypt.

Talarico and his creative partner Isabelle Udo recently formed Future Front Row, a company dedicated to creating immersive virtual fashion shows. Talarico’s background is curatorial; Udo is a digital artist best known for experiments in augmented reality. Together, the duo sought to redefine expectations for digital fashion, an industry they believe has not yet reached its full potential.

“Digital fashion can sometimes be considered gimmicky,” Udo told Decrypt

“A lot of screens with a lot of logos—it can all feel very synthetic, and plasticky,” Talarico added.

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That’s why the two endeavored to put on a digital fashion event rooted first and foremost in human emotion and the creative spirit. Each segment of the nearly 30-minute show began with a desired mood and a tone, which individual designers could then riff on to best showcase their works.

Audience members view the Future Front Row performance in Amsterdam. Courtesy: Future Front Row

Shayli Harrison, one of the designers featured in the Amsterdam show, said she received encouragement to lean into otherworldly elements and special effects when presenting her designs.

“They were really looking for storytelling and strong emotive presence, stuff that wasn't necessarily bound to reality,” Harrison told Decrypt

So Harrison—who co-founded digital fashion house Mutani—placed her outfits on a humanlike sea creature in a nod to the dire state of ocean pollution, one of her collection’s themes. She and her partners then crafted trancelike choreography for the creature, set to classical music selected by Talarico and Udo, with the aid of the dancer Novaya Shey and the Berlin creative studio IOR50, which digitally captured Shey’s movements.

The cumulative effect of the piece was described by numerous attendees as particularly powerful, and moved several of them to tears, according to text messages between audience members seen by Decrypt

“I've been in this space for the past two and a half years,” Harrison said. “This was the most accessible way I’ve seen for people to see the value in digital fashion, something I think has been heavily questioned as [the industry] has developed.”

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Udo and Talarico spent almost a year crafting the event. At first, they just wanted to put it on during the run of Amsterdam Fashion Week, as an unofficial side event, to capture as many interested visitors as possible.

When representatives for the event found out about those plans, though, they were intrigued—and invited Future Front Row to feature in Amsterdam Fashion Week’s main programming and take advantage of its resources and venues. The show ran four times, to around 300 attendees each go; every performance sold out. 

Courtesy: Future Front Row

Though digital fashion first burst onto the scene in 2021 with flashy drops from luxury fashion houses and a teeming start-up ecosystem, the nascent industry has since struggled to attract mainstream consumers and move beyond highly limited, headline-grabbing one-offs.

Udo and Talarico are emphatic that tangible live events that focus on experience, not technology, can remedy this issue. They see the success of the Amsterdam show as proof of an extant path forward for the industry as a whole.

A six-foot holographic avatar walks down the runway at Future Front Row's debut event at Amsterdam Fashion Week. Courtesy: Future Front Row

“There is more demand than we make it look like there is in the digital fashion industry,” Talarico said. “It seems like a niche, but just because we have walled-gardened it into this niche. If you open it up to a wider audience, people really want to see this kind of stuff."

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