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Not Just Child’s Play

By Hillary Kang

 
Loewe
 

It’s hard to believe that video games and cartoons were once seen as infantile — or even pedestrian — with so many luxury brands now tapping into them for inspiration.

Loewe, the 175-year-old Spanish brand, launched a capsule collection last month centred on the Studio Ghibli hit, My Neighbor Totoro. The 1988 animated fantasy film revolves around a cast of friendly woodland spirits that include a giant, rabbit-like creature (the titular Totoro) and “soot sprites” who inhabit old, abandoned houses. In Loewe’s capsule collection, these beloved characters appear as pompoms that hang from biker jackets and shorts, and as colourful prints on a range of cotton T-shirts and calfskin bags.

Of the collection, Jonathan Anderson, creative director of Loewe, says: “I believe certain ideas the film conveys — such as the environment seen through the eyes of children and the concept of adventure — are very significant, especially in these times of uncertainty.”

Gucci
 

Similarly, when Gucci’s long awaited collaboration with outdoor gear company The North Face came to fruition last month, the Italian designer also revealed a surprise: Pieces from the collection would also be made available in Pokémon Go, the augmented reality mobile game, through a free code. Players could then dress their avatars in the collection’s vintage bucket hats, backpacks and T-shirts. Their latest capsule collection for the Chinese New Year also featured Doraemon, the blue robotic cat from the classic Japanese anime, on an array of ready-to-wear pieces.

Such collaborations are not new by any means. During the height of worldwide lockdowns last year — when fashion brands were scrambling to find a way to replace their physical shows and presentations — several found an outlet in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the pastoral life simulation game.

Brands like Valentino and Marc Jacobs recreated pieces from their real-life collections — replete with in-game “photo shoots” — for players to download for free, while some, like the cult-favourite New York fashion designer Sandy Liang, went so far as to create entire new collections exclusive to Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

Gucci
 

Observers say that these luxury brands are hoping to leverage off the cultural cachet that video games and classic cartoons now possess.

“It’s a sort of brand awareness,” says Professor Roberto Dillon, Academic Head of Science and Technology at James Cook University and an independent video game developer. “These types of games are now being played by millions. So of course, if you make anything popular in a crowd of that size, it’ll become even more popular.”

While video games and cartoons serve as both “entertainment and art”, Dillon says that they can also be used as a means of steering cultural conversations. “These mediums shouldn’t just be seen as a pastime,” he says. “They are so powerful in terms of storytelling elements that they can be used to convey all sorts of messages — even political ones.”