Virtual reality is still in kind of an awkward place: it's easy enough to find if you're looking for it, but not established enough that people can use it without seeking out a store or convention or special promotion. So a significant portion of the stuff that's made for it is meant to be watched once for under five minutes. If you cover a lot of VR, this can get old really, really fast. It's like covering film when movies were just 10 seconds of someone juggling or a train pulling into a station.
But it's fun when people outside my bubble get to try out virtual reality. This week, for example, New York's Fifth Avenue Tommy Hilfiger store started offering customers a VR view of its fall fashion show. According to The New York Times' coverage, Gear VR headsets will also start showing up in other major US and European flagship locations. "These days, you can’t just wait for people to come into the store and try on your jackets. You have to provide entertainment," CEO Daniel Grieder told the Times.
If I hadn't been looking for the headsets, I might not have noticed them
Frankly, this doesn't make a lot of sense to me — trying on clothes is indeed one of the major reasons I go to clothing stores — and the Fifth Avenue flagship's VR section is weirdly low-profile. If you walk to the top level of the four-story outlet, you'll see a single stand with two headsets and a sales associate asking if you want to try one on; I probably wouldn't have noticed if I'd just walked in.
Maybe that's why I was told they've gotten around 100 people in the headsets since Tuesday — if accurate, a surprisingly low number for a location right in the middle of Manhattan. The experience probably isn't anything I'd tell somebody to travel more than a few subway stops (in my case, two) out of their way for. It's a little hard to see the subtleties of an outfit, and 360-degree video quickly makes you realize how much time everybody in the audience spends looking at their phones. But the four people I managed to see try on the headsets, as far as I can tell, loved it, including the girl who immediately started reaching out to touch the models. There's a certain joy in watching people lose their inhibitions trying out a weird reality-bending experience for the first time.
Mostly, though, it makes me want to see people's experiences with VR once the consumer Gear VR is released later this year, and it becomes more than a curiosity. Fashion show clips are fun once, but hopefully, we'll get more and more people who aren't blown away by putting on a headset — because they're already doing it all the time.