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  • Writer's pictureDonavan R

AR & VR Opportunities for the Luxury Industry

Facebook held a recent conference on the potential of virtual and augmented reality for luxury. Some 50 luxury C-level executives, joining from five cities, were invited to a VR reproduction of Hacker Square, Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California, on 27 May using Facebook’s headset the Oculus Quest 2.

The goal of the conference: to show luxury executives the power and potential of augmented and virtual reality, which Facebook is investing in, and give them the opportunity to virtually connect after a year of social distancing. The one-hour event was a mix of presentations, 360 videos and talks, in the setting of a movie theatre or of an ancient location in Italy. The programme included a fireside chat with Alex Himel, VP at Facebook Reality Labs joining from California, and a conversation with Dominik Gruber, marketing director of Porsche France.

Facebook’s luxury team showcased examples of how VR enables clients to attend a fashion show, visit an atelier or a historic site restored by a brand from the comfort of their homes, thus redefining access. One example: fashion insiders received Oculus headsets for the Autumn/Winter 2021 Balenciaga show held in November 2020. The experience allowed guests to “turn to people around them and study their body language and wardrobe”, Facebook global luxury industry manager Violaine Gressier noted, therefore breaking the barriers between the digital and physical world. A different approach to VR came from Prada, which created a 3D video detailing the brand’s heritage and craftsmanship, with VR creating a more immersive experience than simply watching a video.

“VR is at an inflection point,” said Himel. “It’s getting more social: multiplayer games are booming, fitness is becoming a new vertical, people are starting to imagine how to use VR as a work device. And of course, all of that activity means VR developers are able to make money. It’s being used to speed up collaboration in design teams; train surgeons; NFL quarterbacks or different athletes use it to prepare for games. In the future, we believe VR can fundamentally change the way we work.”

Across the board, technology companies including Facebook are investing more in tools to help brands sell on their platforms, and help customers shop there as well. AR, one of the areas explored by Facebook Reality Labs, blends real and virtual worlds and is rolling out to home decor and clothing after wide adoption by beauty and automotive brands using virtual try-on and immersive customisation features. Facebook’s Spark AR platform enables creators, brands and developers to create AR effects for Facebook’s ecosystem including Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger. Some 600 million people are already using AR across devices, Himel said. Some “success stories” were shared: Louis Vuitton accompanied its collaboration with popular esport League of Legends involving virtual and real clothes with a campaign using AR, with big success: 6.1 million impressions, meaning try-ons and views, for its AR Stories.

To attract a younger target group, Porsche France created a filter, allowing users to test drive the Taycan, the first electric Porsche, on the Le Mans race track. It got two million impressions, a very strong result for France. “Obviously that adds to our customer prospect database, and these are people we can retarget for new campaigns,” said Porsche France’s Gruber.

Facebook Reality Labs, whose mission is to build the next computing platform centred around people, is working on a number of technologies alongside VR and Spark AR — including a pair of smart glasses branded Ray-Ban and built-in collaboration with EssilorLuxottica, set to launch later this year. And on the research side, teams are exploring what wrist-based interactions could look like — thinking about new and dynamic ways to interact with the technology we use. There’s one thing everyone agrees on, the next computing platform will be “one that blends your virtual environment and your real environment in a seamless way”.

These developments come amid growing sensitivity to the potential of this new technology and how to best protect people’s safety and privacy. Facebook Reality Labs has established a set of Responsible Innovation Principles and say they’re committed to building inclusive, privacy-centric products — one of which being “provide controls that matter”. Take Horizon, Facebook’s social experience where you can explore, play and create in VR — it’s important that people feel in control of their experience, so the team has built-in functionality so that people can step away from the action and if needed, mute, block or report people or get around them.

“VR and AR can unlock powerful connections that you have with your consumers, even if you’re not physically connected,” said Morin Oluwole, director and global head of luxury at Facebook. “As a company, we’re really excited about the future potential of these technologies and the ways both brands and creators are using them. More broadly, we think creators offer a new level of collaboration and partnership opportunity for brands and encourage you to think about how they can have an impact on the innovations you want to develop.”

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