The Virtual Fashion Archive by Superficial Studio

Superficial Studio has recently launched their Virtual Fashion Archive in collaboration with The Museum at FIT. The Virtual Fashion Archive is a new online space bringing archival fashion garments beyond the constraints of their physical form, and into the added dimensions of motion, interaction, and participation. As many people know, there are countless rare and significant fashion garments housed in museums and private collections all across the world. Superficial Studio has used CLO’s software to bring these amazing and precious designs back into the poetics of motion, and broaden access to a global audience to appreciate them. “With CLO, Superficial studio found a way to transform your typical fashion archive into something that is boundless and transcends time. Some 20-25 years ago, we saw many digital library initiatives to archive literature and books, and now many of these are still digitally documented and available to the public. It is time for fashion design to follow suit; and not only just to preserve history but also to further the industry with perspective. We are grateful to see our technology being used to make these historical strides in archiving fashion designs to give us deeper direction into advancing the industry,” said Simon Kim, CEO of CLO Virtual Fashion.

The first series of virtualized garments features pieces from pioneering designers like Issey Miyake, Thierry Mugler, and Claire McCardell. According to Superficial Studio, they made these selections for the range of innovative construction techniques and variety of materials that provide a fascinating (and challenging) case study for virtualization. A representative from Superficial Studio says, “With the Virtual Fashion Archive, we hope to not only encourage engagement with these extraordinary works of fashion and the pioneering designers behind them, but also to create a new frontier for archival fashion—one that’s not bound by physical constraints.”

Process of Virtualization

After receiving a mere 3-day training session in CLO’s software, the virtualization process for Superficial Studio consisted of 3 main steps which included mirroring the construction of the archived garments, capturing the materiality, and simulating the dynamics. They first spent a day at the Museum of FIT documenting the garments by physically measuring them, reverse engineering patterns, and getting closely detailed photographs of the material to use as a reference and the texture for the finalized virtual pieces. With CLO, the reverse engineered patterns were reconstructed that were nearly identical to the original form, both inside and out. To capture the materiality, they used the closely detailed images to create high resolution texture maps that were generated to accurately depict the color, roughness, transparency, and surface details as well as how the fabrics would respond to various lighting and environments.

Process of virtualizing fashion garments
Material capture under various lighting conditions to generate high resolution texture maps

Lastly, with their deep level of understanding of construction and keen knowledge on the types of fabrics used, they were able to simulate the garments physical dynamics and bring them into motion. They simulated different movements that would highlight the unique features of each piece.

Fabric simulation of Claire McCardell dress

Looking to the Future

Superficial Studio sees a host of possibilities for the future with the introduction of this virtual fashion archive. They believe that as we move towards the future, these digital assets can help enrich experiences, provide limitless access to these archived garments, and offers the ability of recreating a complete garment when the physical form is unavailable. For them, beyond the initial applications, the goal for virtualization is to enrich physical exhibitions and shows through added digital layers of motion and visitor interaction. In addition to that, Superficial Studio wanted to find a way to provide a wide audience from around the world access to discover and appreciate these phenomenal garments. With the collection being available virtually, these garments can be enjoyed regardless of where the physical piece lives in that particular moment in time.

One of the most interesting possibilities revealed to them throughout this virtualization process was that they were able to create a garment without actually having seen the original. The Museum at FIT had two variations of the Issey Miyake Pleats Please Yasumasa Morimura dress in their archives: a sleeveless dress with full-print front and back; and a long sleeve dress with a high collar and electric green back. Although, Superficial Studio only had access to the sleeveless version of the dress so they decided to challenge themselves to see if they could extrapolate from the data available and recreate the long sleeved design that they had only seen in pictures. Using their detailed documentation and in-depth study of the sleeveless dress, coupled with some photographic references of the long sleeve design, they were able to virtualize the garment very closely to the original garment and with a high-level of detail. This demonstrated that it is indeed possible to visualize important fashion garments that may be inaccessible for various reasons.

Left: Photographic documentation of sleeveless Issey Miyake Pleats Please dress from The Museum at FIT collection; Right and far right: Reference images for the long-sleeved Issey Miyake Pleats Please dress using for extrapolation process
Issey Miyake Pleats long sleeved dress created using extrapolation techniques


We always love to see new and innovative ways that our software is used and we’re extremely grateful to see the technology being utilized to make these rare fashion garments accessible anywhere in the world. It is truly pushing the industry forward. Immerse yourself in the full project here or read more about the process here.

Leave a Reply