The Concept: Merchandising the Goldfish

To put it blandly, this is a virtual reality retail experience designed with the Timeless 2019 Summer collection from Zara. All stories are about other stories. I am a huge admirer of the brand, the aesthetic, the fierce efficiency of the business, it is all mind-blowingly well done. Zara has democratised the access to high fashion. As a young girl who grew up in a tier two town in India, the clothes worn on the runway were a far cry from what was accessible, creating a visible divide between the classes. Much older now, still relatively young, independent, and a borderline shopaholic who is a regular contributor to Zara’s bottomline, through this piece I am reflecting on my own affinity towards buying more clothes with little functional purpose.

Famed English art critic, novelist, painter and poet- John Berger wrote in his essay on art criticism, Ways of Seeing:

“A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. Whilst she is walking across a room or whilst she is weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisaging herself walking or weeping. From earliest childhood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually. And so she comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as the two constituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman. She has to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to men, is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life. Her own sense of being in herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another….
One might simplify this by saying: men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object — and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.”

John Berger, Ways of Seeing

The man outside on the window looking in at the scene inside, the woman hunched in front of the mirror, and another in the mirror looking at the viewer directly, illustrate this idea of women being continually watched and preparing themselves to be seen. Life becomes a continuous performance piece in which wardrobe is part of the costume and props.

For me, it becomes a lot about escaping the mundane, a well curated ensemble gives the same kick as a well composed piece of art. It is about personal expression while catering to my need to be different from the other fish in the room. Visual expression is a tool to achieve the same. Over time, I have learnt to use color, texture, and tailoring to modulate how other fish in the fishbowl perceive me. Goldfish are mundane, beautiful, but commonplace. There is sustenance but fragility within this commonplace beauty. Zara, as a brand has provided me with a relatively affordable vocabulary for my own sartorial language. And as it is one of the largest retail giants in the world, I am clearly not the only one. The visual narrative here is designed to echo the feeling I get each time I try on a dress and feel that this is “me”, a mass produced piece of cloth somehow becomes representative of my identity.

“It is the degree of participation to a system (be it total submission, deviations, or aberrations) that is meaningful; the value of a system (that is its value for-ness) can be understood only via acceptances of, or challenges to it. Dress is in fact nothing more than the signifier of a single main signified, which is the manner or the degree of the wearer’s participation(whether a group or individual).”— Roland Barthes on Fashion

This pursuit of beauty through the perfect fit, cut, color, is often accompanied by elation, and a sense of guilt at your own happiness for something that is arguably considerably superficial. We decided to espouse the unease within the experience. There is no reason to pretend otherwise. VR with its extended toolkit lends itself well to communicating this very layered sense of unease in conjunction with the rapture. As a visual medium, VR struggles to echo reality. Someday it would catch up, but the naysayers will tell you that it is not quite there yet. However, does it really need to echo reality with all its limitations? We wanted to check the limits of the system — what if we ditch the idea that this must be a flavorless simulacrum of the existing reality. Revenge of the Goldfish, the photograph of an installation completed in 1981 by artist Sandy Skoglund is the inspiration behind this experience. You overcome the uncanny valley by entirely circumventing the question that virtual reality needs to be a simulation of reality. Through this experience, we are arguing that it does not have to be. It is just another medium to help us express, connect, and feel something as individuals, it has some tools that echo reality and some that go beyond and no reason to limit ourselves to one or the other.

The technicalities: Adapting the artistic process to VR

Structure for the 3D space

We use the simplest way to create an immersive experience — a 360 panoramic equirectangular image — one vantage point and hence we wanted a hall, ~30ft*30ft, so you can place multiple models and props in.

Shape of the hall:

As we were going for the look and feel of a soiree in a parlor with a hint of the old world charm to keep in line with Timeless theme of the clothing. The addition of the teal color is to emulate the installation but also to ensure that the background fades away and the focus is on the models.

The space with the fish distributed across

Distribution of Models:

To be distributed evenly across the space, in groups and individuals to emulate a real life setting. Distribution of the models is dependent on the overall composition but also on how the existing photograph is taken. If we are placing them in the space then the frame from our vantage point should not create conflicts in light, shadow, perception, or angle. If we are working with photographs created purely for the experience, then these limitations would already be taken care of.

The red circles mark the positions of the models

Vantage Point:

Needs to give a view of the room, kind of like you just entered a party and are surveying the room before reaching out to someone and participating in it.

GoldFish Distribution and Movement:

We peppered the 3D space with Goldfish and arranged them so that they guide the viewer’s eye to the points of interest- models.

Adjusting to limitations:

Initially, the window was added to the hall because we had one model whose full image was not available. This also created a light source to highlight the model in the black tuxedo.

- Placement of furniture and props was determined by the models we had and the general look and feel. The postures of the models was also taken into account, the chairs, and even the walls were positioned accordingly.

Composition and Photography:

The central idea is that no frame should be unused, the points of interest should be highlighted, and that lone model look strange in any space unless centered in the frame.

Frame Distribution for Desktops

Frame Distribution for Mobile:

Tying it all together:

Often the light conditions and color profiles of your cutouts might clash with the background and its light sources, if that is the case, an additional filter can be applied on the whole experience to create some harmony.

You can view this experience here:

This interactive experience to enable next generation shopaholics was built using GMetri’s XR Platform for Retail.