ussian Fashion Council kicks off the Global Talents Digital event today, and I had the pleasure of interviewing Alexander Shumsky, President of MBFW Russia and the Russian Fashion Council.

MBFW Russia is the biggest, most widely-covered fashion event in Russia and EMEA, with 825,000+ people tuning in to their last online event. This week's event, embedded below, is an international, virtual project uniting virtual influencers, models, digital fashion designers, and virtual creators as they plunge into the world of augmented reality.

More than 40 young designers will present their collections from Australia, Austria, Argentina, Belgium, Bolivia, Great Britain, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iceland, Spain, Italy, Cyprus, Peru, Poland, Russia, USA, Ukraine, France, Chile, Switzerland, South Africa, Japan, and more. Each contribution will be made entirely remotely from these respective countries, unifying over a massive, digital fashion event.

Tune in here from June 10-11, and scroll down to read my conversation with Alexander:

Alexander Shumsky's work in the fashion industry is as well-chronicled as it is commendable. Lately, he's looking to the future of fashion to inspire modern trends, embracing virtual influencers, virtual reality, and augmented reality as new avenues for the fashion industry. In this discussion, we cover the intersection of fashion and virtual influencers, as well as what fuels him, his passion for alternate realities, and more. Enjoy.

Christopher: Hello Alexander – how are you today?

Alexander: Very good, thank you. I'm on the 90th day of self-isolation. LOL.

Same, it's tough! When did you first get involved in the fashion industry, and what drew you to it?

I was a publicist in the mid-90s, and I was working with a lot of international and local brands in Russia... FMCG, telecom, fashion, jewelry, etc. For instance, my PR agency was involved in launching Gucci in the Russian market in 1997. Then, three years later, I started the fashion week.

What is your favorite trend in fashion right now? What excites you about it?

I like diversity in fashion, and how it’s evolved in past few years. In Moscow, we’ve launched a regular, inclusive show for disabled people, and many designers were involved in this project. I guess Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Russia is the only one globally that puts inclusive event in the official schedule.

Impressive. What does digital fashion mean to you, and for you?

It is limitless. Digital fashion makes any event naturally global, as it can be seen from any country. If we're talking about virtual clothes, they help make fashion more sustainable in general.

When looking at fashion as a whole, what inspires you?

Colors and patterns, but I wear black ;)

What role do you want Global Talents Digital to play in the future of fashion?

I hope it will be a starting platform for thousands of cutting-edge fashion talents who pay attention to environmental problems and responsible consumption.

When did you first come across virtual influencers, and who is your favorite virtual influencer?

Bart Simpson was the first heavy-weight virtual influencer in the pre-social media era. The entire Simpsons family influenced multiple generations of followers—well, TV audiences. Today, I think Aliona Pole is worth a follow.

Aliona Pole at Global Talents Digital

I follow her, too. I understand quite a few virtual influencers will be present at today's event, such as Kim Zulu, Aliona Pole, Candice Klubb, Serah Reikka, and Ivaany. What role do virtual influencers play in the fashion industry?

No actual role yet, as there aren't that many yet in comparison to the millions of fashion and travel bloggers. Despite this, I bet on virtual influencers. In our case, we mix up virtual and actual humans to create a fluctuating fashion event as a result.

What’s your take on virtual influencers competing with models for opportunities? This is a commonly discussed concern in the modeling industry.

Virtual influencers could be more reliable and offend no-one, but there's no competition with real models at all. The fashion industry and it's audience needs interaction. It's hard to interact properly with the programmers and graphic designers who are behind the virtual influencers. Though, next-level technology could help, as AI animated models would be different than current virtual influencers.

When did you first experience VR, and what draws you to it?

Five years ago, we filmed the first ever fashion documentary in a VR format, called Mirror to the Soul. It was joint project of Russian Fashion Council, fashion and tech influencer Craig Arend and YouVisit, US-based VR content producer. The film is still accessible via the free MBFW VR app for iOS and was awarded at VR Fest in Las Vegas.

We also filmed the first ever VR lookbooks for Russian designers—an amazing experience. In that year, we printed 10,000 special Google cardboards to pass around at the fashion week in Moscow. I wanted attendees to experience VR, particularly the original fashion content we produced.

Amazing story. Going forward, what—in your opinion—do virtual reality and virtual influencers mean for the future of your organization?

Russian Fashion Council was the first fashion institution that took VR seriously and implemented it into fashion week. We do the same with virtual influencers and AR now. In Russia, we also support fashion tech startups. I am pretty sure that technology, in the broad sense of the term—from digital printing to digital influencers—could help to quickly upgrade the traditional fashion system.

What are you most looking forward to with Global Talents Digital?

I am looking forward to next edition of Global Talents Digital. We have it planned through the end of August, and I am waiting for tons of applications from fashion talent around the world, as Global Talents is a global, free-for-designers program.

Going forward, do you see Global Talents Digital becoming a recurring event? What are some of the biggest benefits of bringing the event online?

This is what I'm getting at—we have plans for future editions. The biggest benefit is that we can easily invite designers from 20+ countries, with none of them having to leave their apartment. Online is a perfect tool for producing truly international events.

Thank you so much for your time. Any final thoughts to share?

Follow emerging global fashion talents to be in vanguard.

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