Renzo Navarro was bored during quarantine. A fashion photographer in his normal life, Navarro, who is based in Manila, decided to download Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the latest instalment of Nintendo’s hugely popular, warm and fuzzy life simulator, to see what all the fuss was about.
“I started making clothes as soon as I unlocked the feature,” Navarro says to me via email. “Once I was able to unlock this I just knew I was gonna attempt making clothes, my first being a Moncler x Pierpaolo Piccioli dress.” Soon, using the game’s in-built tools, a kind of Photoshop lite, he was recreating looks from his favourite designers, including Jacquemus, Bode, Thom Browne and the Filipino designer Carl Jan Cruz.
“The easiest garments to make are those that I can build with stripes/straight lines. There are limitation with the patterns available. For one, you can’t make bottoms, just tops and dresses. It’s also hard to make pieces with complicated patterns (though some have made camo prints). Given I can’t make pants, I would make pieces that I can style with the bottoms I already have on hand.”
“I wish to make a full Comme des Garcons look,” he says of his next project. I’m currently eyeing a few Comme Shirt pieces.”
A huge hit during a time of global isolation where people are craving normalcy, New Horizons was launched on 20 March in Japan, selling close to two million copies in the first two days of its release. Its popularity is such that, according to a recent article published by the Wall Street Journal, Nintendo can’t make enough Switch units to keep up with worldwide demand.
Set on a desert island populated by cutesy characters and overseen by a snappily-dressed and money-hungry slumlord raccoon named Tom Nook (you need to pay him back for the island lease, obviously), New Horizons is a highly customisable experience that allows players to assume the role of doe-eyed architect, party planner, interior designer, gardener, carpenter and, yes, fashion designer (players can share codes with each other in order to download items). Showing off outfits online has become so popular that there are now multiple accounts dedicated to Animal Crossing DIY style. @animalcrossingfashionarchive is the largest, with 25,000+ followers, but more niche accounts dedicated to archive interpretations by Rick Owens, Martin Margiela and Issey Miyake are popping up with each passing day.
“Animal crossing was my favourite game when I was growing up!” says Nicole McLaughlin, a former footwear designer at Reebok, who has close to 400,000 Instagram followers. McLaughlin, a multidisciplinary designer, is best known for her innovative clothing and furniture projects that repurpose everyday objects: shorts made out of Carharrt beanies, a fold-up camping chair and matching umbrella made from patches of vintage Patagonia fleece, that sort of thing. “It [designing clothes in the game] is definitely tedious work and can be quite time consuming. You’re limited to certain shapes as you’re building each piece pixel by pixel—but the more you do it the easier and faster it gets.”
“Since my real life handmade pieces are one-of-one, I am not currently able to fulfil the product demand.” She adds. “I figured by creating my pieces in AC, it would be a cool way for people to have an item made by me in their digital wardrobe.”
With 10,000 followers, Nook Street Market (possibly inspired by a certain high-concept fashion institution with worldwide outposts, who’s to say) is a meticulously curated Instagram feed dedicated to high-end Animal Crossing designs. It features characters posing against a fashionably washed out grey backdrop in each shot. There are looks from Louis Vuitton, Rick Owens, Miu Miu, Prada and Gucci, with the original catwalk/lookbook shot included for reference as a gallery slide. “People read Vogue, I read @nookstreetmarket,” one user writes in the comments beneath a recreation of a piece by the young Korean designer, Cha Myung.
“At first, we were creating and sharing our outfits amongst ourselves, as well as posting to our individual Instagram stories,” says Vivian Loh, a New York-based photographer and graphic designer who – along with DJ/designer Michele Yue and model Fernanda Ly – created the account towards the end of March. “Collectively, we started receiving a bunch of DMs asking us to design more outfits and share the download codes. Michele cleverly suggested the name ‘Nook Street Market’, and the rest is history.
“Though our feed is highly curated, our design process is less about ‘dream pieces’ and more about the passion and effort put into researching runway looks, archival pieces, what’s new to market, and translating those into the Animal Crossing world. Simply put, we make what we can.”
I ask why people, in particular fashion enthusiasts, seem to have taken to the game with such a granular obsession. “Animal Crossing came out during a time where we are all stuck at home and quarantined,” says Loh. “We don’t have any real-life events to dress up for. In this game, we can design our entire island, our homes, and our outfits. The game is meant to be played at your pace, as there aren’t any time limits to how you progress. It’s a truly relaxing game (other than catching tarantulas). We believe it gives people a sense of freedom that they cannot express currently in the external world.”
While the level of creative freedom (despite the lack of trouser options) afforded to players feels fresh (take a look at this recreated scene from Uncut Gems) the intersection of fashion and gaming has been growing for a number of years. Fortnite is rumoured to make hundreds of millions of dollars a month from ‘skins’, digital outfits that players can buy to show off in-game. Last year The Sims partnered with Moschino on a range of virtual and irl outfits. Louis Vuitton has designed uniforms and virtual clothing for League of Legends players as part of a deal between the Paris luxury giant and Riot Games. Burberry released its own online game, starring a deer wearing a jacket, titled B Bounce in December, 2019. In July of that same year Gucci launched its own gaming app, with creative director Alessandro Michele saying it was a showcase for Gucci’s “unique ability of combining the past with the present, using contemporary technology to tell stories in an eclectic and pioneering way.”
But there’s a difference between these official high-end tie-ins and the recreated grail pieces that the likes of Navarro and Loh are making. In Animal Crossing, as often in life, fashion is being created by the kids on the street (or, in this case, the adorable island).
Carlo Castro is a university student from Toronto. In his day-to-day life he studies marketing. In his free time he designs clothes in Animal Crossing and runs the Instagram account @animalcrossfits. With close to 4,000 followers, it focuses mainly on streetwear by brands like Brain Dead, Noah, Supreme, Off-White, Human Made and Stone Island.
“I’d heard of the game, but never really had interest playing it,” Castro tells me. “But my friend showed me his custom outfits and from there it was game over. I went out the same day to pick it up.”
“The design possibilities are endless,” Castro adds. He describes a virtual version of the skeleton bomber jacket by cult Japanese label Kapital as “the best item of clothing that I’ve seen in the game so far. It was made by @acnhclothing, the details are so good.”
“The game is its own virtual world where you can bury yourself for hours each day. I feel like people will become much more creative as time move forwards. I’ve already seen people host fashion shows on their islands. People are also creating designer phone cases, furniture, and carpets.”
Virgil Abloh x Animal Crossing coming to a screen near you soon? Watch this space.
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