Over the last five months, I’ve spent most days in pajamas, house dresses, and sweatsuits — but I’ve been living out my fashion fantasies in Animal Crossing to the fullest. On any given day, you can find my avatar watering flowers in off-the-runway Chanel, digging up fossils in Rodarte, and planting orange trees in Sandy Liang. I am not alone. Since the Nintendo Switch game came out earlier this year, many fashion-loving players have felt the same. In part that’s thanks to the Animal Crossing fashion Instagram accounts like Kara Chung’s @animalcrossingfashionarchive.
“I honestly started the account as a joke,” says the Hong Kong-based visual artist and photographer, who is currently in her hometown of Manila, Philippines, where she went to be with family when the pandemic hit. “I had a group chat with a few friends, where we shared looks casually, and started the account without any agenda.” Since then, it racked almost 50K followers and resulted in collaborations with brands like Highsnobiety, Marc Jacobs, and Valentino.
Most recently, Chung partnered with Klarna (the shopping app and buy now, pay later provider) and Micah “Noodles” Mahinay to create a series of fashion items that will be featured in a virtual pop-up on the latter’s island. “Micah let us know what she had on her wish list via Klarna, and I translated some looks into the game to display on her island,” she says. Inside the pop-up, which will launch on August 17, players will find the Beyoncé-approved Marine Serre moon-print shirt, a Fenty tie-dye jacket, and an Issey Miyake pleats top, among other coveted items.
“I personally love the Palm Angels hoodie, because it has fire in the front so it was fun to draw, and the black-and-white Raf Simons sweater with a giant smiley face, because it’s easily recognizable from afar,” says Chung. After getting the item virtually, players will also be able to snag the items IRL, by sharing a screenshot of their avatar wearing the goods and tagging @klarna.usa. Yes, you can match your avatar — and Beyoncé.
Chung says she never imagined that the account would get this kind of a viral reaction and result in designer collaborations, which most recently included MM6 Maison Margiela: “Whenever I get a request for these types of things, I always have to double-check to see if I am awake. It’s so crazy, it’s nothing like I could have ever imagined.” She approaches Animal Crossing projects like an actual fashion shoot, by creating storyboards and having conversations with the brands. In addition to refining the concept, the latter helps in setting expectations regarding what works in the scope of Animal Crossing: “The game is quite limited.”
She goes on to explain that not every look translates well — typically, vivid, graphic pieces and illustrations come out best. “In reality, you can’t capture the full piece of clothing. It forces you to ask what is special about the specific piece. It forces you to think what makes the piece or gives it its soul [laughs],” she says, adding that sometimes it’s the challenge of finding a piece that makes sense for the project and looks good visually that makes it interesting for her. “To scour through all the [brand] items and curate the selection that works for the brand is quite a fun experience. You just have to find what works.”
Earlier in the summer, Chung was also the design force behind Animal Crossing’s first fashion show. After “meeting” stylist Marc Goehring during, what else, an Animal Crossing party, the two connected. “We knew of each other’s work, and then we got on a call and decided to do something. We didn’t know what yet but, since he’s a stylist in real life and I am a fashion photographer in real life, we thought why not just create a project using our real interests and our real occupations in Animal Crossing, and do a collaboration that we otherwise couldn’t,” she says. After Goehring curated 30 looks, Chung designed and shot the show. “As a bonus, we got renowned fashion sound director Michel Gaubert to do the score,” she says. “He is also a player of the game, and stitched together samples from the in-game soundtrack with a song called ‘E.T.’ by JOON.” Having covered fashion week shows in the past, she “tried to put an editorial touch on” the project while still capturing the fun of the game.
Chung says she loves seeing how the game has created a conversation between designer brands and fashion lovers. “So many people participate in fashion without necessarily buying the clothes. A lot of people don’t have the physical clothes, but, ever since I can remember, so many people have gone to SSENSE.com or NET-A-PORTER to make their wish list,” she says. "You don’t need to spend money to be part of this conversation, and brands accept that. They accept that the love for the brand goes beyond having to shell out or having to work hard for access. It’s evening the playing field.” Especially amid lockdown when we couldn’t go to physical stores, there was something comforting about visiting Sandy Liang’s Animal Crossing pop-up or seeing a new collection virtually unveiled on avatars. “What this game shows brands is that, if you give people access, and if you give people these very easy tools to work with, there’s this profound effect.”
Then, does Chung feel like Animal Crossing is the future of fashion? “It’s a direction worth exploring — Animal Crossing is proof that players who love fashion can create within the scope of resources and in-game rules present in the game, and I’d love to see more platforms emerge that let people access a community and create from scratch,” she says. “I always say that this is not an end-all, the scope of the fashion industry is too wide for all aspects to be covered by a video game. It’s a nice way though to continue brand stories while people are unable to meet in physical spaces.”
So, until then, see you on the island. I’ll be the one wearing Marine Serre.
To access the island where the Klarna pop-up will be held at 10pm EST on August 17, players will need to DM Micah Mahinay (@Noodz) on Instagram to receive the Dodo code. But set your alarms and act fast: The island and pop-up will only be available for an hour after it’s live. Can't make it? Klarna will have item codes in the app for 24 hours after the pop-up ends.