TFL EXCLUSIVE: Beginning in late 2020, Kering – the French group that owns luxury giants like Gucci, Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta, and Saint Laurent, among other brands – started hinting at a budding project that would combine fashion and the digital world. KNXT (pronounced “next”) first popped up in a French trademark application in early June 2021, with counsel for Kering looking to register the KNXT word mark – and days later, a stylized version of it – for use on “promotion and advertising services in the field of fashion via a web portal,” “online social networking services provided through a fashion community website,” and “telecommunication services, namely, electronic transmission of data … in the field of fashion via the internet and other communication networks,” among other things.
Based on subsequently-filed trademark applications for registration for the “KNXT” word mark and a stylized ꓘNXT mark, what initially appeared to be a general fashion-focused community-building initiative may actually be an interesting innovation project that combines luxury fashion with the burgeoning metaverse, non-fungible tokens (“NFTs”), cryptocurrencies, and other facets of Web3.
In fact, the applications that Kering filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) on July 5 point to goods/services with a decidedly Web3 focus – consisting of Class 9 (“Downloadable digital media, namely, digital assets, digital collectibles, digital tokens and NFTs”); Class 35 (“Online retail store services featuring virtual goods”); Class 36 (“Electronic transfer of virtual currencies”); Class 41 (“Entertainment services, namely, providing on-line, non-downloadable virtual clothing, accessories,” etc.)’ and Class 42 (“Providing temporary use of non-downloadable digital media namely, digital assets, digital collectables, digital tokens and NFTs; Providing temporary use of non-downloadable virtual goods created with blockchain-based software technology and smart contracts in the nature of clothing, accessories,” etc.).
While it has been operating in a relatively under-wraps capacity to date (Kering has not advertised KNXT and no other media outlet has reported on the project to date), KNXT’s website – which was first registered for use back in February 2021 – provides some clues into what the endeavor entails. A self-proclaimed “drop studio that is building the future of fashion,” KNXT takes the form of a collection of small-scale, temporary prototype projects that enable Kering’s team to test various web-centric innovations in the realm of luxury and e-commerce. At the same time, KNXT maintains a “close-knit community of culture makers” that are helping Kering to actively “test the future of luxury fashion,” namely, by trying such “prototypes of new experiences, participat[ing] in creative challenges, and hav[ing] their say in what fashion looks like tomorrow.”
This comes with a heavy emphasis on both digital fashion, as reflected in its KNXT’s “Market For Digital Fashion” prototype, and on tangible goods, such as those from Kering-owned brands, which are displayed on its “WSPRD” (think” “whispered”) “drop” website, which features Gucci bags and Bottega footwear, along with whispered audio descriptions of the products.
Kering’s quiet operation of KNXT and the corresponding trademark applications come as brands in the fashion and luxury segment (and beyond) are busy testing the market for digital fashion and various aspects of Web3 (including NFTs, crypto, and other applications of blockchain). A potentially promising space for companies of all sorts, “metaverse fashion,” alone, is slated to potentially balloon into a $55 billion industry by 2030, according to a report from Deloitte. In addition to giving brands the opportunity to scale further, including by selling virtual goods in exchange for real cash, the metaverse offers companies “untapped opportunities to reach an ever-growing community, filled with different demographics, allowing creatives to customize their brands to engage with, reach, and inspire those that they may not have previously accessed offline,” making this an area that growth-focused fashion entities have been eager to explore.
Against this background, the KNXT venture – which is distinct from Kering’s individual brands and presumably run by the group’s Innovation arm – appears to be situated right at the heart of the digital zeitgeist. The innovation-driven endeavor is a logical one for Kering, in particular, as while other luxury groups have hesitated to engage with various tech advances over the years, the François-Henri Pinault-led group has been vocal about its desire to play an active role comes to the metaverse and Web3, more broadly, employing an entire team, according to Pinault, that focuses exclusively on advancement in this arena.
All the while, the group’s individual brands have similarly been among those at the forefront of the move into the virtual world. Gucci, for instance, was one of the first luxury names to pop up on the Roblox gaming platform back in 2020 and offer up virtual handbags, reportedly prompting more than 20 million Roblox players to visit the Gucci Garden during the two-week-long virtual event. (Gucci has since joined the likes of Nike and launched a more permanent experience on the platform called Gucci Town.) Meanwhile, after unveiling its Fall/Winter 2021 collection by way of a newly-created game called Afterworld: The Age of Tomorrow, fellow Kering-owned label Balenciaga followed up with a landmark link-up with Epic Games’ blockbuster game Fortnite for a collaboration that has seen the two companies produce both in-game apparel and accessories, as well as physical merch and “real” world immersive advertising.
More recently, Gucci, proved – yet again – to be leading the Web3 charge, offering up NFTs as part of its “Vault” effort; entering into a partnership with SuperRare (and buying into the SuperRare DAO, which gives it rights in the organization that governs the NFT marketplace); and as of this spring, allowing consumers to pay for its real-world offerings with cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin, in some of its U.S. stores, including its flagships on Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles and Wooster Street in New York.
Ultimately, the KNXT venture – while kept closely under wraps – appears to fall neatly within the larger “test and learn” approach that Kering is taking, with the luxury goods group’s chief client and digital officer Gregory Boutté stating in a presentation at the Kering Imagination Lab in June that “Web3 and NFTs, in particular, represent a real disruption and we want to be at the heart of this disruption,” noting that “digital” goes beyond merely “e-commerce,” and that Kering is “very much ahead of the curve on this, and we have a very open approach to innovation.” Kering’s practice of being an early-mover here – and garnering traction among a specific and growing pool of Web3-embracing consumers – is certainly coming in the form of big-name partnerships and headline-making initiatives – but as KNXT seems to suggest, it is also being achieved with quiet efforts that may prove to give rise to next big disruptive force on the luxury space.