The porous boundaries of reality are being pushed as a creative renaissance shapes the contemporary state of beauty and the human soul. The metaverse is evolving, becoming an increasingly large presence in our lives, and there is a new matrix of beauty and existence being architectured. The change is metaphysical and evolutionary, as well as social.
“Imagine a world where we are not restricted by our anatomical make-up,” says Lauren Bowker, alchemist and founder of The Unseen Beauty. “What would beauty even mean in that world? If it can be anything in the world, what would you look for?”
As the metaverse continues to expand and grow, beauty tribes will merge, shift and birth never before seen aesthetics, finding beauty in new forms of representation. Here, we predict the ones you’ll need to know.
THE ROMANTIC RADICALS
The Romantic Radicals have a hyperreal and paradoxical mix of aesthetics, seeking to express the polarities of our world. They gravitate towards amplified versions of their IRL selves and through ‘meta beauty’ demand a democratic Web3 as a human right.
Instead of doing it with facial algorithmic signal scramblers (think the Privacy Hack subculture), they blend humour and romanticism with Goth warrior aesthetics. Body parts are exaggerated, faces sometimes angelic, sometimes animalistic. They wear grills and reflective tattoos to signify their defiance of oppression, inspired by a generation of digital pioneers like Antoni Tudisco and Nova.
Mixed reality beauty for the Radical Romantics is a canvas for society’s joys and woes. As such, they blend soft hues like pastels and shimmer effects with tattoos, exaggerated nails and ears. They don’t shy away from branding, turning their “digital skin graffities” and logo headgear into Belief NFTs, currently available on Polemix.
The Romantic Radicals will liberate us from what we hide online and the shackles of data tracking. Cait Cmo and Kes Inkersole, co-founders of PRO(TECH)T, a collective reimagining autonomy, identity and desire in the virtual worlds, believe in “beauty through dissent” – a central tenet of the Romantic Radical way. “The emergence of surveillance make-up and glitch aesthetics signify the beauty in dissent and rebellion,” they say. “In the future, we might wear filters over our faces until we grant consensual access to our IRL identity, allowing for digitised beauty to offer us safety wherever we go. Finding safety, both IRL and URL, is poised to change the way we represent ourselves to the world, and subsequently, our beauty values.”
THE EMOTIVE COLLECTIVE
The Emotive Collective seeks to redefine love. In the future, a new architecture of beauty will focus not only on the visual quality of digital beings, but on their personality and inner beauty. Things we felt were limited to humans – the beauty of kindness and intelligence – will be just as crucial for digital beings. This subculture injects colour or surreal elements in smaller doses, focusing on a softened and hazy skin rendering. Objects or nature act as connectors between beings, and the Emotive Collective often will be seen in pairs.
“Love IRL and URL and identity are all in question in today’s times, and our futures,” the Institute of Digital Fashion stated on Instagram. “Who will you love in the metaverse?” This is a central question for the Emotive Collective who seek a new era of ‘make love not war’. Leanne Elliott Young, co-founder of the Institute of Fashion explains: “Love is something which is seen as the root of human connectivity. As we dive into different iterations of ‘humanity’, our kinship and communities will be the areas in which we are defined not by race or gender. To love in the metaverse will be connected to creative outputs of assets, birthing a ‘project’ or collaborations, building a universe with multiple ‘parents’.”
Haptic tech – AKA kinaesthetic communication or 3D touch – is key for the Emotive Collective, influenced by video games. The emotions they feel for each other will be further facilitated by tech that allows them to feel the metaverse. OWO’s haptic vest recreates 30 different sensations to feel video games. Brainwave headsets could materialise digital beauty looks IRL, inspired by Jody Xiong’s bloom installation. The Liǎn experimental mask by Jann Choy responds to real-time online emotions through sentiment analysis, a form of artificial intelligence. Posting, liking or commenting causes the mask to change in appearance. Cultural theorist and Cyberpsychologist David Mattin wrote in a recent zine, “Virtual companions will unlock new ways to serve some of the deepest and most powerful human needs we know.”
THE SOUL ALCHEMISTS
The Soul Alchemists also thrive on haptics, but with a focus on the soul’s aura. Via adaptive, perceptual skins and make-up, this tribe challenges what separates URL and IRL beauty. By activating biological IRL processes that can also be seen in the metaverse, they change how humans move through dimensions, challenging the limits of perception. The Soul Alchemists are recognisable from their glowing aura and markings, disappearing and reappearing, travelling through digital and physical dimensions into one blurred and extraordinary experience.
The Unseen’s dual-reality SPECTRA eye colour has pioneered this vision of make-up. “I have always been interested in exploring unseen worlds and using materials to bridge them. Physics shows us that many realities exist but are just invisible to the human senses,” says Lauren Bowker, alchemist and founder of Unseen Beauty. “Alchemy to me is about combining skills to create something physical that didn’t exist before. I’m interested in the bridge between digital and physical and how we can use materials as a point of accessing other realities physically.”
Mixed reality beauty routines and products for the Soul Alchemists will incorporate mysticism to stimulate imagination, mental health, wellbeing and one’s ‘soul’ beauty. Some will express it through otherworldly expressions, channelling artist Roxi Basa’s virtual stories of metahumans. Others will be inspired by Harriet Davey’s nymph-like beings such as the Lady of the Lake Nimue.
Wearable auras are already available in the Metaverse. RTFKT partnered with Byredo on the first metaverse fragrance, AlphaMeta, made of 26 ingredients representing 26 emotions and auras. Digital artist Piper ZY, who creates AR pieces from a whole ecosystem – architecture, music, media, fashion – believes “as technology and the mind converge further with extended reality experiences, we will see a trend in aesthetics that seem to come from deeper layers of our consciousness and are felt as such.”
THE SHAPE SHIFTERS
Much like smartphones disrupted professional photography, synthetic creativity will increasingly be democratised through AI and digital creation tools. The Shape Shifters collaborate with other forms of intelligence to create a new era of beauty in the Metaverse. AI tools like GANs, DALL-Es and creative partners like Roby will accelerate unhinged self-expression. Joined by millions, the shape shifters will experiment with and create previously unimaginable beauty aesthetics, far from traditional human representation.
Using GANs, the Unseen Beauty created a new crowd of otherworldly SPECTRA faces and digital beauty lifeforms which respond to music. These life forms may eventually connect to our data, moods and biometrics and constantly evolve, much like the ocean tides. They will require care, much like beauty routines, or they could decay or even die, like the NFT-based entities Lifeforms or the role-playing video game Genopets, which rewards players for exercising their body, mind and spirit through the care of their digital familiar.
An added dimension to the Shape Shifters is that, like the Face Recyclers, they seek a “rallying safe space aesthetic” as coined by Cmo and Inkersole, co-founders of PRO(TECH)T. “Beauty in the metaverse is about trying on new identities for size and survival…playing with different levels of distortion and proportion and reimaging the physical body,” they say. “Being inspired by the colossal possibilities of humans meeting machines. Digital spaces can be used for confidence, self-love and identity affirmation.”
“Postnet-Prophets” is how cross-disciplinary art label Tehnc describe their neural network portrait series exploring the generative blend of the physical and the digital through an AI algorithm. It is not unlikely these AI and HI (human intelligence) collaborative beauty looks, when also paired with AR, could become part of a wearable beauty tool, used for style and telecommunication.
This is what artist and futurist Piper ZY is prototyping. “Extended reality will become our reality,” she says. “We are already so societally and neurologically invested in our mind’s relationship with technology. Removing the handheld devices and stationary screens in favour of a greater network of experiences and applications across our physical world feels inevitable.”
THE TRUTH TELLERS
The Truth Tellers place authenticity at the heart of their aesthetics IRL and URL. This will create a positive feedback loop and this beauty subculture will shine a light on our humanly flawed tendency to turn beauty standards into a point of division. This outdated social conditioning will be the rallying call for the Truth Tellers who will open new doors in humanity’s representation, bettering the global human project.
“We strive to rebuild the social norms, the hierarchical structures and archetypal systems that dictate beauty ideas,” Elliott Young, co-founder of the Institute of Digital Fashion says. “This is a new era, one that fundamentally needs to be inclusive and diverse. We want to build a truly diverse vision and representation of our creative selves that’s beyond gender, race and society’s binary terms.”
The NFTY Collective is a project working to ensure people with disabilities, both seen and unseen, are able to access and be represented in Web3 and the metaverse. “Our avatars represent real people who have expressed wanting the choice to show up as they do in the real world,” says founder Giselle Motta. “One character wanted to express their non-gender-conforming identity as a person with disabilities; showing their mobility device that is key to them, along with their full moustache and beard, make-up, and ornate accessories.”
Kami is the world’s first virtual influencer with Down’s syndrome, created by a collective of 100 women with Down’s syndrome. “A lot of people still consider Down syndrome to be a flaw. I didn’t want any part of us to be erased in the Metaverse,” Kami – with the help of her friends at DSI – explains. “If we build the Metaverse with a real representation of people of different abilities (like me), skin tones, sizes and genders, it makes a powerful statement that these people are already perfect, just the way they are. Everyone has the right to exist, and feel they belong, everywhere.”
THE NATURE MYTHICS
Digital beauty infused with fantasy is what the Nature Mythics live for. With them, nature is magnified as the ultimate and most intelligent technology to adorn yourself with through mixed reality. Amped up dreamscapes, blurry and colour-changing effects with biomimetic qualities will help the Nature Alchemists replicate the allure of sea life, plants and cellular multiplication. The ability to truly transform oneself has been regarded in myths and legends and is a space where we can now belong.
Digital Fashion house Auroboros envisions the aesthetic of the future to merge nature and advanced technologies. “We refer to this Utopian aesthetic as ‘nature tech,’” they say. “Our digital pieces from our inaugural collection ‘Biomimicry’ showcase the intricacies of design within nature, whether plant and human anatomy, referenced as external lymphatic systems on bodysuits or neural connections, algae and sharp folia.”
Curious about the IRL beauty expectations of the Nature Mythics, I asked Dr Jonquille Chantrey, voted the number one cosmetics doctor in the UK, about the influence of filters and avatars she sees with patients. “Digital filters can help some patients see a version of themselves that they’re wanting to attain. But this can have negative effects, whereby people start to develop a gap between their actual self and ideal self. And this can have an impact on dysmorphia,” she says. “On the ground when treating real patients, it needs to be done with a very strong ethical compass.”
Beauty expression will however expand other aspects of their humanity, making the Metaverse a gateway for community, and spiritual and psychological resilience. Or perhaps the Nature Mythics will connect with nature as a form of nostalgia for a once unaltered planet and happier world. There isn’t a binary answer, the future is also a choice.
Uncharted levels of self-expression have been given new breath in an unfamiliar mixed reality. But beyond the self, Metaverse beauty subcultures all share a pioneering imagination and a need for kinship and equality, in tension with an uncertain world. They are the first settlers of what will be inscribed in history as the next destination for human identity and culture, with the courage to prototype a new architecture of relationships founded on creativity and power sharing.
Cover image credit: photography POINT STUDIO