interview

Behind the Scenes of the Metaverse

NOAU | Metaverse

NOAU is a web3 studio and the parent company of Blade Runway, the first digital fashion house in Italy. Unbound from the limits of the physical world, Greta Meacci and Alan Aronica operate at the convergence of traditional fashion and innovative technologies to reshape the collective imaginary of tomorrow.
SCHIERKE Artists: Besides NOAU, your Web3 studio, you also founded Blade Runway, the first digital fashion house in Italy. How did this all happen?

NOAU: We both come from different backgrounds. While Greta studied Fashion Design, I studied Industrial Design. In my design practice I focused a lot on 3D modelling and 3D printing, and I was interested in experimenting with someone from the fashion industry. That's how our collaboration initially started. Everything kicked off with the digital art revolution, the NFT technology and the blockchain. We realized early on that NFTs were disrupting the art industry and that soon the same would happen in all other industries like the fashion and luxury goods industry. In the beginning it was a lot of pioneering work and what set us really apart was our broad spectrum of competences: between the two of us we had great insight in both the technicalities of digital design as well as the know-how of fashion design. 

SCHIERKE Artists: What can you tell me about the naming process? So how did you come up with the naming of Blade Runway?

NOAU: Blade Runway is our label, our own brand. So it is directly focused on digital fashion and the creative direction comes from us, staying true to the Blade Runway identity. Sure, we collaborate with other brands and companies, but we focus on expressing our own style. Regarding the naming, the whole web3/digital fashion community is a very small niche, but with its own culture. Early on, when everything started, the strongest influences in the community were coming from video games and the film industry, especially science fiction. We all had this feeling that all of a sudden we were in the future, using this new technology that nobody really fully understood because it was so disruptive. In the end we chose this name to express that feeling of running on the edge between the physical and the digital worlds and at the same time making it clear that this was about the future of fashion.

SCHIERKE Artists: And what about NOAU?

NOAU: NOAU is a Web3 studio, which means that we work on a broader spectrum of digital design. The direction comes from the client, and it doesn't necessarily have to be something to do with fashion. It could be something else. It could be more about creating digital avatars for a marketing campaign or digital spaces for virtual exhibitions. And as for the name, that’s how you would spell out “know-how” in Italian. It was funny and put a smile on our faces the second we came up with it, but also it conveys exactly our message: we know our craft. Web3 is its own world, with its own set of rules and a lot of our work is to help our clients navigate it.
SCHIERKE Artists: You have already mentioned words like metaverse and NFTs. These terms are often used in the same context. How are the two terms related?

NOAU: The overarching keyword is blockchain. Blockchain is the technology on which all of this is built. And what blockchain is, is basically just like the internet. It's a network of computers that communicate with each other and exchange data, with a few technical differences. But the concept is the same, that you have a series of networks that talk to each other. That's what the concept of the metaverse is built on, which is a word that has perhaps been overused already. So right now, you and I are talking on a flat screen. It's a little box on your screen. The difference is that if this was happening the metaverse, we would be using digital bodies, digital avatars. And we would be in a digital space. And we would be having this conversation remotely, but as if we were in the same room and therefore the experience and the interaction would also be different. That’s the basic definition of metaverse. Another keyword that is often mentioned is interoperability, because in order for these things to work properly, you obviously need standards so that all these different platforms can communicate with each other and exchange information easily. To make it simple: If you have an image, you usually have it in JPEG format. And if it's a document, it might be a PDF. It works everywhere it goes. And that's what's being built right now in the metaverse. Right now there are so many different standards but not a universal one.  You can have 3D avatars that are very light, very simple, very playful, and others that are super photorealistic and therefore complex and heavy, each platform is like its own bubble with different rules. 
About NFTs, they are basically a certificate of ownership. It's the digital equivalent of ownership.  It allows you to create something digital, unique, original.
I guess that the most important thing to be understood is that “digital” and NFT are not the same thing and don’t necessarily have to be related. Digital is just a medium, one that allows us to explore things differently.

SCHIERKE Artists: So, would you say that digital fashion is the future?

NOAU: That’s a question that I'm often asked.Often people differentiate between digital fashion and physical fashion, but I see it more as one thing. I always think that at some point we invented the sewing machine. The sewing machines allowed for a different approach within the same industry. They made it possible to mass produce, to make a lot of clothes faster. So, digital fashion is a whole bunch of advanced technologies, but I think the overall concept is still the same. And why is it the future? Well, because it brings times and costs down dramatically. You can get an idea of what it would look like in real life, in physical form, beforehand than if you had to put together a prototype.  Whereas if you think more as an artist, you can work with very exotic materials, and you don't have to worry about the budget. You can work visually with the materials you want to work with and experiment freely with everything you want, without worrying about any risks or costs. I think that kind of freedom is important for an artist, because it allows you to give free rein to your creativity. This can also inspire what then happens in the physical world.

SCHIERKE Artists: How will the metaverse change the beauty and fashion market?

NOAU: The question is related to the fact that we have all these new technologies that you can experiment with in different ways. One example is that we are now able to create realistic-looking digital avatars that look so good that they are no longer uncanny and I think that has huge potential. One can easily switch from one model to another, change the photoshoot set, the cameras and so on. And it can be done quickly because it is all digital. Earlier technologies like Photoshop and photo editing allowed us to manipulate images to get the perfect light and the perfect color gradation and really make the image look the way you wanted it to look. It's kind of the same thing but with an extra dimension. Also, on the consumer side, things are changing with the way that new generations experience things. I think the most important thing about  this is that the metaverse is about expressing identity and being able to change an identity quickly whenever you feel it. And that's why the slogan or motto we created for Blade Runway was: “Everything you want to wear” and “Whoever you want to be”.

SCHIERKE Artist: Following on from your last point. Are there other advantages of digital realities?

NOAU: It's about interaction. It changes the way you interact with the space around you and especially with the people around you, not only because you can reach them easily, because the internet already does that, but it changes the way you can reach them and who you can be when you reach them.

SCHIERKE Artists: Last but not least, I want to know: what are your visions, wishes and the next big goals?

NOAU: Of course, I would like to see our business grow. And I think that's going to happen as the Metaverse takes shape, because it's something that's emerging. When I think about what we're doing now, we're still trying to pioneer and make things work and shape them for the future. We have all these visions of how we would like things to be, to have the experience that we would like to have, but it's not possible yet. And so, we keep working to make it possible with the right technology.
Our biggest goal for the future is to always be one step ahead, to keep experimenting and trying to design the things of tomorrow.

SCHIERKE Artists: And some other goals, maybe like brands you want to work with in the future?

NOAU: So, we know that we're focusing now on digital avatars and digital photography in the fashion and beauty industry. I think in the near future that's the direction we'd like to go deeper into, to really push that area because we see that there's an opportunity for change, to explore those technologies. There have already been some covers of magazines like Vogue that have had digital covers. We would like to see that more and more because there is so much we can explore with these technologies.

Thank you for the interview, Alan & Greta!

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