Femme Tech and Future Fashion with Metaverse Makeovers
by Pauline Poderoso
Finally, the cyber punk, post-Xenon 21st Century Girl reality we've all been waiting for has arrived in the form of an augmented reality manicure. Last month I attended an event at the current tech hub of the world San Francisco where a handful of hackers, coders, and digital artists showcased their products involving augmented reality. AR is computer-generated reality in real time that you can interact with. Just think of Snapchat’s facial recognition turning you into a puppy or a flower crown Coachella princess. It’s a reality through your mobile screen. After a sea of tedious male presenters comes Thea Baumann refreshingly presenting her glittery product, Metaverse Nails. As a young woman who lingered many Purikura booths and Kawaii photo editing apps, I was insanely pleased and stimulated to be witnessing the future of fashion in an augmented reality app that literally adds hologram Sailor Moons on top of your manicure. With gaining popularity and increasing amounts of press from i-d Vice, Dazed Digital, and MTV, MM Nail is sure to influence our mobile screens in no time.
Thea started Metaverse Nails in Australia in 2012 with the idea that one can purchase a set of press on nails, and with the scan of the app, bedazzle your fingertips with dancing, spinning holograms of magical sparkles, gems, and cupcakes. Naturally holding hands with our mobile generation, users can share pictures and videos of their Metaverse Makeover via social media in an instant, obviously amazing your Instagram followers in envy and curiosity. It’s seriously unlike anything else you’ve seen before. Sure, AR exists, but what makes this app so incredible is that it is, as Thea states, “wearable femme tech.” Its a product made by women, for women. It blows the male dominated competition away in its creativity, culture, and accessibility. Thea wants the world to know that femme tech is here to slay, so watch out!
When and how did Metaverse start?
Metaverse started in 2012. It actually started as as an art experiment in Vietnamese run nail bars in Australia. I started playing with very early applications of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality and was thinking through how it could be possible to wear holograms as makeup. How holographic beauty treatments could be experienced. How it would be possible to create holograms as cute 3D glyphs that you could assign to your online/offline identity. I'd watch girls playing candy crush in nail salons and think how could I put 3D trails on girls' fingers and then worked back from there to playing with the tech to actually build this experience.
Explain your educational and work background.
I studied Fine Arts. Most of that time was spent learning how to hack game engines, making machinina style interactives that I would project in white cube spaces. I was trying to create VR immersive feel environments without having access to the real tech equipment. After art school I spent a lot of time in Asia, and then went on to be an Executive Producer - producing interdisciplinary projects and working with collaborators from the business, art, tech and science space.
What got you into wearable tech?
I think I'm just into self expression through fashion. Also, I'm really into being creative and innovating with emerging technology. I guess this fusion led me into the wearable tech space - but really I don't see myself or my work aligned with what is normally perceived as 'wearable tech'. As an artist-led team - we make holograms you can wear and share.
What inspired you to move forward with Metaverse Nails?
Lol. I think originally when I had early prototypes and was seeing girls' reactions to it - and the Pop of sparkling holograms out of their fingers -- I thought I should move to commercializing this as a new AR nails product. I didn't actually realize what would be involved with getting your product stocked alongside the big brands on shelves! There's so many different facets and levers to push with Metaverse. We manufacture the nails (hardware), develop the MM NAILS platform, and create all the hologram content. But we learned how to produce and manufacture these nails, launch a world first glam tech hologram brand, and I guess are so far down the road now . So now, whenever I see users playing with the app and nails and see them be like -' OMG This is Amazing - I can't believe this!’ That is what keeps me going. I'd like to make an important femme tech interjection into virtual social networks.
You mentioned that dealing with tech in the states was nothing to what you experienced in Asia. Can you explain why?
Metaverse started off with learning how to manufacture tech and physical products in China- learning how to innovate with patterned small nail accessories that each individually triggers AR that can be bought and shared to China’s unique social networks like WeChat. We built our own MMGIRL WECHAT Shop and localized our brand to the Asian mobile market. Building and launching tech in China and Asia.
What would you say are the pros and cons of the mobile generation?
Pros: Boundaries are becoming a lot more fluid - a greater awareness and discussion around issues of diversity. Cons: Online popularity as a measure of quality.
What are your thoughts on being a woman in the tech and AR industry? Do you find it to be more advantageous or difficult?
I think for me working as a women in AR means that my approach comes from being authentic in my abilities TO articulate social connectivity from a female perspective, voice this, and also render it as physical tactile experience. I’m passionate about making social tech experiences for the female mobile gen.
Can you explain how and who you get your art from?
Metaverse is lead by artists. We design our holograms in-house. We create our own holograms memes that we think would translate - we have hologram emojis, unicorns, slurpees in the MM NAILS app. Also we ask girls what they want - and then we turn this into holograms.
RIght now, we are curating new international net artists into the app. The latest artist in the MM NAILS app is Chinese net artist Ying Miao’s 3D text memes. We recently collaborated with the Sailor Moon Facebook Community to transform their fan art into AR holograms that pop.
We are moving towards developing the tools now so our users can create their own AR holograms and messages and designs that pop. Also, I want to diversify the styles on offer in our AR designer marketplace - so artists gain a commission from the sale of their art holograms
What’s the future of MM? I want to collaborate WITH amazing artists and communities to create collectable holograms, partner with brands so we can diversify our fashion lines and digital content, and introduce new interactive features that enables our users to create and direct message their own AR content. As well as some more complex gaming experiences on that pop off our fashion - maybe Zelda on nails.
*BIG INTERVIEW QUESTIONS ALERT* who/what inspires you~
Art. Film. Fashion. Cyber PopCulture. There are these pivotal media texts that continue to inspire me and have played a pivotal role in shaping and realising the Metaverse brand and our AR products.
Metaverse wouldn't exist without having watched this and priming my brain: Blade Runner, Japanese anime, Sailor Moon, Cronenberg, Jem and the Holograms, all those old games like Tekken and Soul Calibur, all the cyberpunk films from the 80s / 90s. This continues to inspire Metaverse output. Also I still follow high fashion houses and their creative directors - Nicolas Ghesquière, Victor and Rolf. And the disco era of strong performers who were like disco aliens from another planet; Ziggy Stardust.. Grace Jones... I aim to inject a bit of that disco glam into the Metaverse too !
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Photos and Gifs by wetmaiala