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Photo: Courtesy of Khaite

The general assumption about fashion shows in the time of COVID-19 is that we have two options: real or virtual; there’s no in-between. The only way to “attend” a show, it seems, is to be crammed onto a metal bench with models storming past; anything else is simply “not the same,” because your physical body isn’t there. But isn’t that a little retrograde? Alexander McQueen was thinking about bridging the gap a full 10 years ago, when he beamed holograms of Kate Moss onto his runway and live-streamed his show to fans around the world. For those who could access the stream—the website famously crashed—could you really say they weren’t experiencing a real, live moment in history?

The truth is, fashion shows are virtual for 99% of the people who view them. It took a pandemic for the industry to take that digital experience seriously and embrace the possibilities of virtual reality, augmented reality, live-streams, and beyond. This season, Khaite’s Catherine Holstein has merged a few of those technologies—AR and film—with more familiar “offline” mediums to create a complete sensory experience. She shipped 100 “presentation boxes” to editors and buyers, each packed with an enormous printed lookbook, including a page of fabric swatches; a leather envelope of individual photos; a cream vinyl record; and a candle. The hand-drawn “play buttons” on some of the lookbook photos revealed the AR element: After scanning a QR code inside the cover, you’re directed to a new section of, which takes over your phone’s camera and orientation. It then instructs you to scan over the book, and 3-D renderings of Khaite’s new shoe suddenly appear in your living room. You can toggle between slingback heels, patent ankle boots, gladiator sandals, and pillow-y slides, and each can be enlarged, rotated, and superimposed throughout your home.

“It really feels like you’re handling the shoe in a store,” Holstein says. For those without the book, the same technology is available to everyone at “It’s about making online shopping more of an experience,” she adds. “It was a really interesting process to work on this, and to think about how it can transcend offline and online, how we can make it feel like we aren’t sacrificing anything [in lieu of a show]. We wanted this to feel like it isn’t just a book—there had to be an element that feels slightly futuristic, like we’re heading into a new place.”

Holstein pointed out that while this technology may be new for her team and customers, it’s existed for years, and is relatively simple compared to what else is possible. “There are so many untapped technological resources that luxury fashion has shied away from,” she says. “If the pandemic hadn’t happened, we never would have been forced to explore this. But it’s changed our business forever.” She’s hoping to make AR a permanent feature on her website, and will eventually have 3-D renderings for every item, from shoes to sweaters.

Image may contain Clothing Apparel Shoe Footwear and High Heel
Photo: Courtesy of Khaite
Image may contain Envelope Mail and Greeting Card
Photo: Courtesy of Khaite

As for the future of shows, Holstein is a big believer in fashion week and plans to show again, whether it’s in February or next September for spring 2022. But this moment also proved that a show isn’t necessarily the end-all-be-all fashion experience. “I love shows, but this felt more thoughtful, in a way,” she says. “It’s just making us think differently. How can we implement AR into our shows moving forward? How can we do this responsibly, in a way that makes sense for our customer and gives back to them? How can we diversify and engage even more people? It’s been really exciting.”

Source: Khaite Debuts the First Augmented Reality Experiment of Spring 2021 | Vogue