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The paparazzi was out in full force for the annual Met Gala in New York City last weekend, but the biggest runway is the Metaverse. Bored Ape Yacht Club, a project popular with fashionistas like Paris Hilton, recently sold $300 million of virtual real estate, while established brands like Gucci and Adidas have been selling non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, faster than they can be minted. The outsized demand for branded digital assets has created a virtuous cycle, particularly in the fashion world.

As Meghan McDowell wrote for Vogue Business last month, “Assessing the relative and ongoing value of fashion NFTs is not as easy as tracking the resale value of physical luxury goods, in which a high price reflects market value. Most of the brands tracked by Vogue Business have seen resale values at least double in value including Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Burberry and Adidas.”

Given that Gucci’s first NFT sold for about $25,000, and that major label-branded NFTs typically go for thousands of dollars, digital fashionistas are making a killing. But it’s not always about the quick buck. Most, NFT buyers are drawn to the fashion — or the brand — and never intend to sell. This is because NFTs are increasingly attached to utilities that give the owner special access to a community and other perks. In other words, VIP status.

Aria Noir, a fashion label that makes “apparel by designers for designers” recently announced a new digital apparel NFT project that will fuse art and fashion. Rap artist Jalal is one of Aria Noir’s brand ambassadors. He says that digital tokens are not so much extensions of the Aria Noir brand as they are of its philosophy. “The Metaverse is a brand new world,” he says, “and everyone should explore the world as much as they can.”

Minting NFTs was popularized by artists like Beeple, whose collage famously sold at auction for $69 million over a year ago. In 2021, Sotheby’s sold hundreds of millions of dollars in NFTs, which are generally paid for in ETH, the native cryptocurrency of the Ethereum blockchain. This year, there was a Fashion Week in the Metaverse, complete with fancy afterparties on yachts attended by NFT owners — or, at least, their avatars.

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But Jalal says that Aria Noir will avoid the money grabs by what he calls “McFashion.” His brand’s customers are typically much younger and, therefore, more tech-savvy than legacy brands such as Hermes, Gucci and Burberry. With blockchain technology becoming more creative and sophisticated, Aria Noir saw an opportunity to do something in the Metaverse that would not be “conformist.”

“What makes life so beautiful is that it is full of surprises,” Jalal says. “Of course, there are bad things that may happen in the Metaverse, like greed and conformity, but there is also the potential for so much innovation and connection. In designing for a new universe that is in its infancy, we will be giving birth to something that does not yet exist, which is obviously exciting.”

Jalal will draw inspiration from music and luxuriant materials, a hallmark of Aria Noir’s apparel. How to translate luxury and beauty digitally is, he says, a challenge that he looks forward to exploring. While the media has largely focused on the price of NFT artwork, and now virtual real estate, the utility of future NFTs like Aria Noir’s may be more ephemeral — entry to a Jalal concert, for example, or access to a dinner party full of interesting creatives. Beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder. Digital assets are limited only by technology and the imagination.

Eventually, Aria Noir may create a so-called DAO, or Digital Autonomous Organization. On the cutting edge of virtualizations, DAOs use smart contract-embedded NFTs to create communities from scratch. Once a community member buys a token, they are entitled to vote on proposals that affect the entire community. They can even submit proposals themselves. Depending on how the contracts are written, proposals might be accepted automatically once a certain number of token holders vote yes, evolving the community without centralized intervention and presumably at lightning speed.

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For now, Aria Noir’s fans may be content to show off their digital apparel in the Metaverse, or an online profile. After all, as the Met Gala made clear once again this year, the better part of fashion is being seen.