Doggo in a Balenciaga x Fortnite hoodie. Fortnite.
Balenciaga and Fortnite have teamed up to bring the physical and virtual worlds closer together.
The companies today unveiled a collaboration including virtual clothes and accessories, an immersive destination within Fortnite inspired by Balenciaga’s design, and a physical line of products that will go on sale at Balenciaga’s stores and e-commerce sites. The first partnership between a luxury fashion house and Fortnite, a giant in the gaming world with 400 million registered accounts, its aim is to span online and real-world spaces.
“We have the same marketing assets happening in both places, the same look and feel and product lines launching in the physical and digital world at the same time,” said Adam Sussman, president of Epic Games, the game developer behind Fortnite.
The in-game clothing will include outfits for four of Fortnite’s popular characters — Doggo, Ramirez, Knight, and Banshee — inspired by real-world looks from recent Balenciaga collections. Unlike the originals, a few of the digital versions will react in the game, changing colour in response to damage inflicted during battle for example. Fortnite players will be able to unlock some of the Balenciaga products by performing tasks in the game. Other items will have to be purchased using V-Bucks, Fortnite’s in-game currency. The most expensive items cost 1,500 V-Bucks, roughly equivalent to $12.
One hoodie worn by Doggo, an anthropomorphised dog, bears both Balenciaga and Fortnite branding, and physical versions will be available for purchase in different colours through Balenciaga. The brand will also sell items such as T-shirts, hats, dress shirts and a denim jacket as part of its line with Fortnite.
The companies are putting up 3D billboards featuring a hoodie-clad Doggo in Tokyo, Seoul, New York and London. The same billboard will appear inside the game in what Fortnite is calling the “Strange Times” hub in the game’s creative mode, where players can interact without battling. Fortnite launched as a battle-royale game in 2017, but half of its users now spend time in this creative mode, according to the company. Last year, players even staged their own fashion show. At the centre of the hub sits a recreation of a Balenciaga store, while billboards will showcase looks created by the Fortnite community.
“Fortnite at the end of the day is obviously a tech company, but it’s really about self-expression and agency,” Sussman said, referring to the agency of players to choose what skins or costumes they want to wear.
For Balenciaga, a brand known for pushing boundaries under creative director Demna Gvasalia, the collaboration serves multiple purposes. It’s a way to engage with gaming, which has become a key part of modern society, Cédric Charbit, the company’s chief executive, told BoF in an emailed statement.
Balenciaga’s interest in gaming is also about “re-designing the lines between content and product,” Charbit said. “The Fortnite project allows us to push it even further, the product being the content itself.”
The Growing Romance Between Fashion and Gaming
The project isn’t the first time Balenciaga and Epic Games worked together. Last year, Balenciaga created a game called “Afterworld: The Age of Tomorrow” to showcase its Autumn/Winter 2021 collection. It used Epic’s 3D creation platform, Unreal Engine, to do it, sparking the relationship that led to the new collaboration.
The worlds of luxury fashion and gaming have been increasingly cozying up to each other as people spend more of their time and money in virtual worlds. Louis Vuitton was a pioneer in establishing ties with gaming, and other companies have shown growing interest. Gucci recently created an immersive space in Roblox, another popular game.
These ideas of agency, fantasy and self-expression are very similar consumer themes around why fashion connects with people around the world.
It’s not hard to understand fashion’s attraction. Globally, 2.7 billion people are gamers, according to an estimate by Accenture, a strategy and technology services firm. Many are happy to spend on in-game purchases. Accenture’s research has found the game types that prompt the most spending are online battle arenas, fighting and battle royale games, “which is interesting as they are game genres that generally offer a wide variety of purchasable skins and cosmetic upgrades,” said David Reitman, Accenture’s global gaming lead.
The popularity of these purchases is part of the reason Sussman believes Fortnite is a good partner for fashion companies interested in building a virtual presence in gaming.
“The whole business of Fortnite is surrounded in this business of cosmetics, which are players’ choice of how they want to express themselves within the community: what they want to dress as, what they want to look like,” he said. “These ideas of agency, fantasy and self-expression are very similar consumer themes around why fashion connects with people around the world.”