Cover Ruby Gloom (Image: Ruby Chan)

Fashion lovers learned how Web3 was reshaping the luxury industry at the fifth episode of Tatler TV: Meta Versed, a weekly online talk show that invites visionaries and leaders in their respective fields to share their thoughts on NFTs, virtual worlds and cryptocurrency, and how they are reshaping our world

The fashion industry is seeing its fair share of change, and the fifth episode of Meta Versed—which has featured Yat Siu from Animoca Brands, NFT art collector Whale Shark, Andrew Choi from Coinbase and Zipcy SuperNormal, and Sébastien Borget from The Sandbox—spotlighted someone who has seen it happen firsthand.

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Ruby Chan is the woman behind the Ruby 9100M, a digital avatar and online persona that has appeared in various luxury campaigns and events of late, most recently Crypto Fashion Week’s inaugural MetaGala, as well as Tatler Hong Kong’s May 2022 cover shoot.

Chan was once a real-life influencer sitting in the front row of fashion shows, and she evolved her persona over the years into the virtual fashion icon that she is now, hotly sought after by brands ranging from Nike to Fendi.

Tatler Hong Kong’s editor-in-chief and editorial director, Jacqueline Tsang, interviewed Chan about digital fashion and what it means to be a trans-human digital being, the changing world for influencers, the evolution of the fashion industry and the future of luxury brands within the metaverse.

If you missed any of the episodes, you can now watch them here.

“When I first started, it was just a hobby,” she said. “I was just trying to find new ways to express myself.” 

Chan, now a popular digital icon and artist, never had formal training in graphics, design or art. She was studying English literature and language in university when she started dabbling in the fashion scene and eventually started teaching herself the basics of 3D programming.

“Back in 2012 I was sort of one of the first groups of fashion influencers in Hong Kong,” she said. “We would go to shows and do some modelling for brands, but that was all. After a few years, the second group of ‘real’ influencers came in, who were smart and learned how to utilise tools to really build this business as their career.”

In 2016, when Chan was in Seattle with her husband, she decided to teach herself 3D programming out of idle interest, and even upon her return to Hong Kong, she found herself practising her new-found skills five hours a day and posting her renders online. Two years later, she started to build her avatar Ruby 9100M to replace her selfies online.

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“I was pretty tired of taking selfies all the time to keep up with trends and impress people with the way you look,” she explained. “I wanted to separate myself from that life. I wanted to create.”

Given the sheer scope of possibilities online, Chan could have made her avatar look identical to herself, or even in the shape of a fluffy cat or dinosaur. So what made her choose Ruby 9100M’s current form, which Chan describes as a “trans-human digital being that is pushing the boundaries of reality and digital ingenuity”?

“If I were to build an avatar that was totally virtual, why would I want her to look similar to our physical world?” she asks. “I came up with the idea to turn her into a robot. It was quite a personal decision. From the concept stage, I knew I had to make her into a braver and more powerful person than I was in real life. I was a person with really low self-esteem, and I wanted to make use of my art and aesthetic to… highlight how vulnerable a human could be, but have an identity in the virtual world that is stronger and braver.”

At the beginning, Chan would dress her avatar in designer brands and put the images online. Her first break into the luxury world was when Fendi saw her work featuring a cap with the brand’s monogram and DM-ed her on Instagram, asking if she would like to collaborate with them and create images for their latest line of handbags. 

Since then, Chan has worked with countless brands in the luxury and fashion worlds, including Bulgari, Vivienne Westwood and even sports brands such as Nike and Adidas.

 

“Adidas was the biggest campaign I’d done,” she said. “I designed a real sneaker in real life with the team under the name of my avatar and we created a music video for it; it wasn’t a straightforward commercial in that it highlighted not just the empowerment of women but also [the possibilities of] a virtual being. It was really cool.”

She also had the opportunity to work with Grimes, the ex-partner of visionary billionaire Elon Musk.

“Grimes follows me on Instagram and was always into cyberpunk, sci-fi and Asian culture,” Chan said. “She wanted me to create a series of images for her alter ego for a magazine. She had an avatar but she wanted me to morph and change it in my own way, and gave me full creative freedom to create these images for her. It helped me a lot to know that I could also create avatars for other people.”

Chan put her skills and creativity to full use in a collaborative project with Tatler that resulted in a digital fashion shoot for the brand’s May 2022 print issue. The shoot involved having a model wear physical fashion in real life for a set of images, which were later digitalised post-production and modified with the Ruby 9100M avatar. One of the images made the cover of the magazine and was also minted on the BlueArk platform as Tatler’s first ever NFT art. The attendees to this episode of the show, which aired on May 5, were each gifted this special edition NFT artwork.

Chan said that fashion influencers now often have to pick up new skills that weren’t necessary a decade ago. “It’s not just about having style or fashion; they have to learn how to market themselves and utilise all the platforms and tools at their disposal,” she said.

However, she pointed out that there is still a lot of room for personal style and creativity. “[We’re at] the very beginning of virtual fashion and brands are still [exploring] how it works. They’ll give the freedom to artists to create,” she said. “Most of the brands who want to do this want your creativity, they’re not looking for us to sell the products per se, with actual sales returns. Brands respect artists for their authenticity.”

She said that she was excited to see how fashion would develop in the metaverse and how the concept of ownership would evolve. “How do we really use [these assets] and wear them and own them?” she wonders. “The technology is ready for us to wear digital fashion online or physical fashion in real life that can be activated online for a different experience… it’s going to become more common and exciting. I can’t wait to see the metaverse projects that come up.”

You can watch the full episode here.

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