As Milan stirs with fashion week and Paris catwalks prepare for Monday’s opening, it’s easy to forget that other events exist. But they do — and can offer a different kind of lens on where fashion might go next.
That’s surely not lost on Paris. Because, while next week may belong to the physical collections, on Friday, the blockchain and all things digitally collectible were hot topics, thanks to NFT Paris, a tech and culture conference that has become a magnet for artists, investors, enthusiasts and brands, like Rtfkt and Ledger.
Rtfkt, a Web 3.0 brand known best as the digital sneaker darling acquired by Nike in 2021, joined the blockchain security company to announce a brand new partnership, a new limited-edition capsule collection of devices and products and a new mission to educate the Rtfkt community and others about safeguarding their blockchain assets.
Fashion and design, it turns out, play central roles at multiple stages of this effort.
“[One brand] was telling us this that the link between NFTs and luxury was a very natural one, because both were about creativity, scarcity and community,” Sébastien Badault, vice president of metaverse at Ledger, told WWD. “I think that that resonates with most brands. They really feel this incredible new way to interact with their community of fans or community of users or potential buyers.”
With outreach via social media or video platforms, there’s always an intermediary, he continued. “Whereas here, I think what really resonates with the space is this idea of really having a direct line into their users and fans. And if they’re going to be doing that,” he added, “if they’re going to be empowering these communities, they have to make sure that they secure them. And that’s where we play a role.”
The connection between fashion and technology is also obvious in the physical look of Ledger’s Nano, its flagship hardware product. The device is a compact unit that looks like a USB thumb drive. Rtfkt and Ledger recreated it with a simple minimalism in mind, casting it in white metal. Looking at it, it is literally a clean slate.
But that belies the technical powerhouse on the inside. Nano can hold private keys, send and receive cryptocurrency and much more, and because it holds the data locally, it’s isolated from remote hacking attempts. That’s just one of several layers of security. Another is that it requires a physical button push to transact, which would foil malicious online actors. It even houses a processor, like a computer, which can calculate the security keys that protect the owner’s bitcoin or other assets.
Though it may be tempting to think of the Nano as a key, Ledger calls it a physical or hardware blockchain wallet — though it may be more like the tech equivalent of a key, stuffed inside a wallet and then placed into a high security vault with moats and lasers surrounding it.
Today, the technology is focused more on blockchain assets. But the security framework, which has been tested over time and hardened, would be a natural fit for personal authentication, IDs, profile data, driver’s licenses, health records and much more. When that time comes, a device might be carried around all the time, even worn as jewelry.
That day isn’t here yet. But it seems to be a bit closer now, with this collab.
Ledger sees the enormous visual and cultural value of fashion, beauty and retail, having previously partnered with brands such as Fendi, OPI and Farfetch. In the current collab, two versions of the Nano — the Nano S Plus and the Nano X — got the Rtfkt treatment, with both companies co-designing the device specifically to appeal to the Rtfkt community. Each will be available in limited quantities of 10,000.
But as a blank canvas, it also makes the unique case stand out even more. That’s not a bad thing.
The announcement describes this as a “super rare silver pendant with the Rtfkt logo on the end caps, which will come with a Nano X. With allow lists for Clone X and Genesis Pass Holders, this more exclusive drop will be available on [Ledger] Market.”
But there’s a twist with the design: It takes cues from a previous and very popular Rtfkt NFT vial. Owners of specific NFTs could break open, or “burn,” this digital bottle or vial to unleash new styles, colors and designs on their Rtfkt sneaker NFTs. It’s a clever way to give those visuals a fresh new look.
Now Pagotto’s community gets a chance to wear a physical vial containing a Nano inside around their necks. “It’s totally made to be a flex,” he said. That could sound overconfident coming from anyone else. But understanding what resonates for the community is his specialty, and he has a knack for proving that he knows how to create items that people want and deliver them in a way that peaks demand, even when the product doesn’t actually exist.
Pagotto landed on fashion’s radar in 2021, when his digital sneaker NFT collab with artist Fewocious stunned the industry by pulling in more than $3 million. Within a year, Rtfkt went from a small two-person operation to a multi-million-dollar business backed by Andreessen Horowitz to a Nike company and key player in the parent company’s metaverse initiatives.
But, he makes it clear that Rtfkt is still a brand with an indie spirit, and even under a large sneaker giant, it still enjoys autonomy. Its ties with Ledger is a good example. Their relationship has evolved over time, but still allows room for innovative approaches, without being micromanaged by the rigid rules of a huge corporation.
Indeed, even in the way they offer these products speaks to both of their DNA, not necessarily conventional retail or e-commerce.
To purchase one of the Nanos, customers must buy the related NFT first through Ledger Market, and then redeem it for the physical product. The limited quantity speaks to the rarity. The Nano case will be even rarer — available to holders of Rtfkt’s Clone X and Genesis NFTs. That’s just for starters. More products, experiences and opportunities will follow at a later time, the partners promised.
On the surface, the companies appear to hang at the blockchain’s opposite ends, but the differences may be a strength and there’s enough overlap where it matters, namely in their attention to design and fashion. Ledger, apart from being a hardware and security company, also runs a marketplace called Ledger Market, as well as other services and devices — such as the touchscreen-enabled Nano Stax, a larger device that was created by Tony Fadell, the renowned designer behind Apple’s legendary iPod.
Many of those elements fold into a design-centric strategy, and this powers an entire Ledger ecosystem that spans enterprise to consumer, but manages to appeal to both pragmatists and aesthetes.
Where Ledger brings technical and security expertise, Rtfkt has an apparent talent for building community and inherently understanding its values, needs and wants. Those types of skills have never been more valuable, particularly for a fashion sector that has been hyper-focused on community. Smart companies will be watching the way crypto native brands and other emerging businesses operate among gamers, metaverse clans and NFT communities. Because these are important lessons, and those teachings that could come to define Web 3.0, the metaverse or whatever the virtual or online world brings.
As for consumers, if the gap in blockchain fundamentals grows, a new type of digital divide could be on the horizon. Rtfkt and Ledger seem to sense that, since they’re making the tech education a core part of their partnership. Future collaborations, they said, will come with experiences geared toward sharing and distributing knowledge through “Rtfkt Quests.” Ledger established its own “Ledger Quests,” which rewards the NFT learning process by awarding crypto. The goal through these other efforts, from crypto basics to blockchain security and safety, is to demystify the tech. Even make the learning process fun.
It remains to be seen if they can pull it off. But if anyone can make something fun, fabulous and attractive, even blockchain security and education, it just might be a fashion-motivated set like Pagotto, Badault and Rogers.