Google’s newest archive is an online showcase of over 3,000 years of fashion—featuring four VR films.
From the societal impact of Coco Chanel’s iconic black dress to embroidery trends in medieval England, Google’s new ambitious curated experience, We Wear Culture, has something for just about everyone. The sheer scale of the digital exhibit is astounding; more than 180 museums, fashion academies, and archives hailing from New York, London, Tokyo, Paris, São Paulo, Paris, and beyond worked together to bring over three millennia of fashion history to life in a matter of clicks.
Google’s vision—to tell people the stories behind the clothing they wear— is being brought to life with the help of innovative technology, including virtual reality. Four immersive virtual reality films were created for the experience. Viewers can literally step into fashion history as they learn how Chanel’s black dress catapulted the color from a sign of mourning to a classic staple, how the sparkling, red stilettos worn by Marilyn Monroe became a symbol of empowerment and sexiness for women worldwide, how designer Rei Kawakubo used a sweater and skirt to launch the Japanese fashion aesthetic onto a global stage, and how designer Vivienne Westwood views the most controversial garment in history: the corset.
Though fascinating on their own, the VR films are only the beginning of the expansive project. Over 450 exhibits can be viewed online or through the Google Arts and Culture App. With a wealth of content at their fingertips, users can easily spend hours learning how bag makers perfected their craft over generations of trial and error, gawking at the meticulously intricate Schiaparelli evening coat, or even watching YouTuber Ingrid Nielson break down the stories behind today’s fashions.
Viewing an exhibit online is unquestionably a very different experience than visiting a museum in real life. However, Andrew Bolton, lead curator of the Met’s costume institute, believes that the project’s digital platform offers solutions to many problems that brick and mortar museums simply cannot. “It’s very difficult to show fashion on a permanent display in museums because of its fragility,” Bolton told Vogue. “[This experience] allows a large part of our collection—iconic pieces—to be on virtual perfect display.”
In addition to showcasing pieces that are often out of the public eye in high resolution format, Bolton believes that the online exhibit creates a whole new dimension of accessibility for those who are unable to travel to see the pieces or costumes in person.
“I believe deeply that fashion is democratic, and the Google Platform offers and harnesses that accessibility,” Bolton said. “Every piece of clothing has a story to tell, and it’s my job as a curator to tease out those stories.”
We Wear Culture is already a hit with the fashion crowd; some of the industry’s biggest names and faces, including Anna Wintour, Tory Burch, Dao-Yi Chow, and Maxwell Osborne attended Google’s launch party for the project held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on June 9. With a mindboggling amount of educational, entertaining information to be found through ought the project, it’s safe to say that Google’s latest project will be a big hit with the general public, too.
You can check out We Wear Culture now at g.co/wewearculture and through the Google Arts and Culture mobile app on iOS and Android.