Ezra Miller looked good in that Moncler coat, but in AR it looks even better

Amsterdam – In 2015, a Microsoft Digital Trends report pointed to the rise of the phygital: close to 50 per cent of consumers were increasingly likely to participate in digital experiences if they were seamlessly integrated with the physical world. This year, Statista reported the augmented and virtual reality global market size to be worth close to 24 billion euro. But the projection for 2022? Nearly 184 billion.

Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam is ready for that future. Started in 2016 as the agency’s future-forward entity, the Department of New Realities finds innovative ways to bring clients and consumers together, creating artistically driven opportunities for everyone from Corona to Dutch band Necessary Explosion. Creative directors Anita Fontaine and Geoffrey Lillemon want to tap into the unimaginable: by working at the intersection between technology, visuals, culture, art, theatrics and the senses, they are able to dig into the unchartered crevices of the consumer mind and activate the otherwise unstimulated. That’s exactly why Moncler brought Fontaine and Lillemon on board to create a look book for their Genius collection.

In many ways, the work of the Department of New Realities feels like a revolt against an army of mothers who decried video games a waste of time. Using the Moncler Genius AR Lens app with the book published by Rizzoli stirs up some of the same phygital excitement as holding a controller – it promises entry into a new world, if only just for a moment. The branded 3D multiverse, which consists of 10 unique AR interpretations complete with soundscapes across eight different chapters, is dedicated to each designer who has designed for the Genius collection. A lacquered Simone Rocha outfit arises from the surface of what looks like a pool of jet black ink and that now Insta-iconic Pierpaolo Piccioli puffer – thanks, Ezra Miller. 

What is that we’re looking for from augmented reality, if not always a brave new world, escapism from our own? This is an important denotation for the future of the retail sector, because we are seeing more and more projects that stray far from crass marketing, rather self-searching pointedly for the kind of consumer who wants to indulge in the fantasy of the brand world in a post-consumptive way.

Consumers are craving realness and errors and innocence and laughter

A sense of fun and humour permeates your work. Why is this honesty and authenticity important in this era of consumerism?

ANITA FONTAINE: There’s a certain coldness and constraint traditionally associated with technology that we like to rebel against. We come from a bit of a punk, maximalist background where building fantasies, with layers of surrealism and absurdity help make the technology more honest, less perfect and more human. Consumers aren’t that serious anymore, they’re craving realness and errors and innocence and laughter. 

We’re really led by art and creative and poetry as opposed to just the technology. We're always trying to think about how to use technology to give people emotions and experiences they've never felt before, like artists that are exploring new tools and mediums of expression. 

So, what does this indicate about the future consumer?

GEOFFREY LILLEMON: The future consumer will be spending more time in split realities and in spaces with dimensional digital layers, interacting and buying products in virtual spaces resulting in products showing up in real life.

AF: I think we will see more video game type retail experiences where your avatar plays a bigger role in consumerism – hopefully there will be a filter to block certain spam from filling consumers' peripheral consciousness.

How is the Moncler Genius book an indicator of things to come in retail and the design industry?

GL: People are expecting more atmospheric and immersive experiences from brands in the retail and other spaces. Like we re-invented the purpose of printed matter with the book, we will start to see every space filled – flat surfaces will become a thing of the past. 

How does the experience design process change depending on what client you are working with? In other words, how do you translate the DNA of a brand like Moncler through your medium?

AF: We are working with a variety of new mediums, and this changes depending on different client themes and needs.  The fashion industry is often about adding layers of fantasy that mix with the real world, so in this way we often are working with augmented reality for our fashion clients, and in this sense, we’re dressing more than the body, we’re dressing our world perception.

Augmented reality allows us to change retail spaces to respond to user involvement

What things have to be considered in the design process of digitally creating environments? How will this translate over to brick-and-mortar locations?

GL: It's all about the capabilities of the machines to understand the environment it is in. If the hardware can detect walls, ceilings, and decor, then this can be augmented with a new surface and meaning: this is when we can turn a garment from velvet to a dripping gold ocean and break away from simple placement of objects in space. Using augmented reality for interactive architecture allows us to change retail spaces to respond to user involvement.

In the age of experience, what are the design priorities of the Department of New Realities? How does this tie in to the classic values of Wieden+Kennedy? And what is your team doing that others experimenting in AR cannot provide?

AF: For us, the core of it is speculating a future that is told with rich stories married with surprising design aesthetic. We try to forecast the tomorrow of different industries through a point of view that is considered empathetic, or self-aware slapped with cynicism. In this way, we ask questions and really think about what feels right as to avoid what feels unnatural to the evolution of human expectation. We want to fill space with beauty and meaning. 

This interview has been edited & condensed for clarity.


The Department of New Realities Moncler Genius project is featured in the Objects section of Frame 126, available from 1 January. Anita Fontaine and Geoffrey Lillemon will also speak at Frame Lab 2019 in February.

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