Lucy Yeomans Founder, Co-Chairman and Chief Brand and Product Officer of DREST discusses fashion and luxury in the virtual world
Have you ever wanted to be a fashion editor? Or a celebrity stylist? Have you ever dreamed of trying out luxury products before having to actually invest in them? Or simply love the idea of experimenting with your style? A virtual styling game which is taking the world by storm offers all of the above and more, with access to some of the world’s top luxury brands and the chance to win prizes, compete against others and have your looks rated as part of it. DREST, quite surprisingly brings together the worlds of fashion and gaming in an unexpected yet perfectly seamless way. The platform which was thought up by former magazine editor Lucy Yeomans has already attracted the likes of Cartier, Valentino, Prada, Gucci, Breitling, and many more, and it is going from strength to strength. DREST was born out of Lucy’s desire to open up the luxury world to customers (who have now become users) and allow anyone, anywhere to connect with luxury products and discover an industry that many dream of.
Since launching the platform in 2019 Lucy and her team have successfully garnered the support of many of the world’s top luxury brands whose products are available to discover within the game in virtual form and used to dress a set of avatars. The idea is for users to have full creative input over a series of virtual fashion shoots, red carpet events and more, creating their own virtual looks, from real-time products that are currently available, and have them rated by experts to win prizes and points. But the fun goes further than that. Having successfully signed up a number of global brands, Lucy offers these powerhouses the chance to sell their products to users through direct web links to their sites and the team even begun to discuss exclusive launches, limited edition products and prizes for those excelling in the game. A fashion game may at first sound quite out of the ordinary but trust us, it’s addictive. And if you won’t take our word for it, Founder, Co-Chairman and Chief Brand and Product Officer Lucy Yeomans will tell you all you need to know.
Congratulations on the success of DREST – can tell us a little about how the idea came about and the journey so far?
My story goes literally from the luxury space of magazine editing into this gaming world and it’s been quite a journey but a very exciting one! It’s been something that’s evolved over the years, I think it was around twelve or thirteen years ago that I first became fascinated by this world of gaming, and I just found it to be so extraordinary. A lot of people think that fashion and gaming have very little in common, but actually, there is huge synergy: in both, there is storytelling, fantasy, creativity, healthy competition and lots of self-expression.
I was fascinated by the content experience and I think moving from editing a magazine to working at Net-A-Porter and getting closer to the customer or users, I was interested in how the experience had remained for so long a one-way conversation that saw a small number of people in the fashion industry saying what’s good and what’s bad and relaying that to users. That started to open up with social media and more people could be involved, but it still wasn’t a terribly democratic experience. You had to look a certain way or have access to products to be able to be actively engaged in it. And so what I loved about gaming was the incredible interactivity and how it allowed people to be part of the creative process, get involved and share their point of view.
As my idea started to develop I could see there was a gap in the market for how brands could engage with the next generation of consumers and I saw it as an evolution of the content experience. So ultimately DREST was born as a creative experience that allows people to step into that fashion world, into the products, get creative and connect with brands. Everything in DREST comes from the real world, so there is a fantasy element that you’re coming in as a stylist and playing the game, but you’re playing with real fashion, you’re inspired by real news, and you are also actually styling the products.
It got to the point where I thought ‘I have got to do this’ but at the time, gaming had a terrible perception – it was seen to be for teenage boys in their bedrooms playing on game consoles – but with the evolution of mobiles and mobile gaming the audience started to change and that’s when I started to think that it could really work.
How would you explain the platform in your own words for those who are inexperienced in this type of virtual world?
Your role as a player in the DREST gaming app is to be a stylist. You are responding to real-time drops from fashion brands, and we work with over 250 of the world’s top luxury brands, as well as farfetch.com with who we have an affiliate deal. Users are given challenges in the form of photoshoots in which they have to dress an avatar. Our avatars are super life-like, we have around 15 as well as supermodels that can be dressed. We have brought in some real-life avatars including Natalia Vodianova, Precious Lee, and Irina Shayk. And we have also had guest models including Kate Moss. We invite users to come and experience life on a photoshoot through this digital platform and then they are rated on how they style these avatars or models. And they are using real products that are available now. It’s a creative, inspiring experience. We also have makeup and hair looks which can be added to each challenge and we have partnered with some celebrity stylists and makeup artists for this. We have partnerships with hotels that are offering locations for the styling to take place. We are always trying to experiment and I think what’s nice for the fashion industry is that we’re not a gaming company, we are doing this from a position of knowledge and understanding of the luxury industry.
Players can also create mood boards using props – this is super fun and creative and I have to say, the brands love it when they see the mood boards that users have made, they can’t quite believe the level of creativity that exists! Your look goes for scoring and the community rate it. Depending on your score you’ll be awarded a gift box and you’ll level up and progress through the game which allows you to access more options to play with. Where possible we are trying to make sure that the narrative reflects real life, but I think what’s exciting about it is that it allows customers to discover products in a very creative way.
What was the biggest challenge you faced along the way?
What I thought was going to be a challenge but turned out to be a lot easier than I imagined was getting the involvement of the brands. From the moment we showed them what we had done, they understood that we were creating a beautiful environment that was controlled to a degree, but also allowed creative freedom. There was huge excitement and it was also very surprising to find closet gamers in the industry along the way! Many people were very passionate about gaming and I think what the brands loved was that there was finally a way for people to discover products not by standing at a shop window looking in and being close and involved with the stories.
A big part of DREST is the stories and editorials that support our content so when someone takes part in a challenge they read the story and learn something and there is a huge amount of understanding of the brands from this. I think for that reason the brands found it really exciting. And then of course just after we started the company, we went into lockdown. It was an interesting way for brands to experiment during a time when they couldn’t do other activations. And of course, there was the fact that myself and my team understood the luxury brands and their goals which gave them a lot of confidence.
What’s been most exciting is bringing two different types of workforce together. The gaming and fashion industries involve so many different types of disciplines so it’s been interesting. I have watched as other gaming companies have tried to go into fashion and it’s very hard. To make sure that everything is correct from a luxury perspective I sit with the teams and question everything and whether it works for both gaming and fashion. And I can see why some people have tried and failed because it has to be a collaboration. There are two very different cultures and different working styles. You are always knitting these two worlds together and when it works and we solve a problem, everyone is happy.
With technology constantly developing so fast what is your vision moving forward for the company?
The next stage is to take DREST one step further and we will be moving onto a new platform towards the end of next year. Tech is difficult and you don’t always make the right decisions, and when you’ve never built a game before, of course you will make some mistakes, but having spoken to other people in this space, mistakes happen. The new platform is so much faster and we will be able to make changes and develop it every two weeks. We will make those changes by listening to the users and hearing what they want and responding to that. So we will be co-creating our product with our user base. Some of the new elements we will have include animation in the game and the ability to create your own avatar based on yourself. This is something we always knew would attract people to the game. We are bringing together two technologies which will allow people to choose all of their facial and body features, as well as the clothes to try on. This is something really exciting and probably the biggest focus for next year.
The community element of the game is also something that has always been on our roadmap and is crucial for us. We know there is a desire for more community within the game, and we believe that this has the potential to be an incredibly exciting social community and platform, bringing together people that are passionate about fashion. We are developing a huge number of social features that will connect players more closely to the brands and the products.
How do you keep up with the new developments in technology when everything changes so quickly?
Throughout my career, I have always wanted to listen to the ‘user’ and be guided by what they want and need. So yes, we have some brilliant people within the company who are always looking at new technologies to take us to the forefront of what’s happening, but I also think in combination with that, we want to be in touch with our audience and what they need. This whole idea came about because I could see the audience shifting to different platforms and as a content maker you want to meet their needs. So we listen and react to what our users want, considering their preferences. I love the fact that we have a very direct relationship with our audience and the idea that they feel like they’re co-creating the game means their voice is so important. I think this is something our partners are also very excited about because it gives them access to data on what their consumers want.
Do users get any benefits or exclusivity when it comes to the luxury brands involved in the game?
This is something we have just started to do. I love the concept of RVR or “Real Virtual Real.” The idea is that everything starts in the real world as a physical product, then there is this virtual space where you can discover and create with these products, and then there is the real-world output. This could be a user learning about a brand or a new product, or it could also be them buying or winning a product. So what is very much in our plans, particularly when we start introducing limited items, is to offer an experience and it’s something we are exploring as we go forward. At the moment we are starting to get to a stage where designers will be setting the briefs. We have also had instances where some of the creative work that our users have done has been shared on the brand’s platforms, so there is the potential for us to create the next generation of created influencers in a very different way. There are many benefits and we will be looking at innovative ways to develop this further.
Can you tell us about DREST in the Middle East and can we expect to see more of you in the region?
It’s such an exciting region for us and I have to say whenever we have done anything in the Middle East, it has been amazing. I think there is a huge appetite there. We know that the mobile handset penetration in the Middle East is greater than most other regions in the world, there is heavy use of apps and it is obviously an important and huge luxury market. On a social media level, there is a huge amount of expression which is something that we value at DREST. We are also exploring a modesty mode in the game which is something I want to do immediately when we launch the new product.
Are there any upcoming projects or partnerships that you’re working on that you can share with us?
This month we have a partnership with Cartier and the Panthere collection. It’s a collection I have always wanted to work with and I think the campaign represents an incredible line-up of strong, powerful brand ambassadors and we want DREST to reflect that and be a force for good, showcasing strong, exciting people. It’s a beautiful partnership for us and to have Cartier within our space is so exciting. I can’t wait to try on those beautiful pieces in the game!
Then in October, we have a project with Christian Louboutin. There is going to be a real-life event connected to this with some mystery surrounding it so it’s going to be really fun and exciting. We are working with both the fashion and beauty lines to bring them together in an exciting and innovative way that I think will completely delight our users, plus there are some real-life prizes to be given away which is always nice!
What is a message you would send to our readers about why they should sign up and get involved in the platform?
I have phases where I play the game quite passionately and that’s something I did this weekend and what I noticed is that it’s just so creative and fun, and I have to say because we are always promoting new drops, it’s such a great way to discover what is coming up in fashion. I also personally think it helps me push my style and think about trying things I wouldn’t usually try and it builds confidence around my style. It also opens you up to trying new products and brands and it’s a really lovely way to get involved and be creative as well as discover the latest fashion news. Fashion should be fun, inspiring and creative and I think that’s what DREST is.