But more than just offering virtual shorthands of physical realities, the Reference Festival also transformed IRL programming into a singular digital experience. Within the virtual “room” was a stage live-streaming performances by Anne Imhof, Eliza Douglas, and MJ Harper, styled by Stefano Pilati and Random Identities. In person, Imhof, Douglas, Harper and other performers were in the Zeiss Major Planetarium, a resounding structure, but online they were intimately accessible across a screen within a screen: The Reference Realities site offered a side “stage” to access their live performances. The festival also included talks with Hans Ulrich Obrist and Honey Dijon; HF Talk founder Iolo Lewis Edwards; and Tiffany Godoy.
All together, the festival was a testament to the ways creativity thrives even in the worst of times—and not just creativity, but ingenuity. Set against the mundane, repetitive nature of digital fashion weeks, Reference Festival felt the closest to the real thing, the way it was in the Before, where you could breeze through a gallery show before checking out a runway and having dinner with artists and friends on the periphery of the fashion bubble. No other virtual platform has figured out exactly how to capture that sense of communion and togetherness as well as the ways that fashion exists within a spectrum of art, music, and live performance.
Reference Studios is also launching the Reference Prize, setting up a new generation of talent with backing from the Berlin agency and Slam Jam, the Milanese purveyor of streetwear. Applications are open to any type of creative, no degree needed, with the goal of spurring more inter-disciplinary conversation. Over email before the festival, Reference Studios founder Mumi Haiati said, “With the festival we made a statement for innovation in our times, and expressed that creativity cannot be limited to a singular form.” As the industry gears up for the women’s fall 2021 fashion season, it’s a message more creatives should heed.