In June, Hugo Comte will press the launch button on Nikita World, a virtual kingdom he built with British metaverse company Improbable. Inside, fans will find a Gran Turismo-like CGI environment where they can roam Comte’s hyperreal images and talk to each other as if they’re on a Zoom call. They will also be able to earn $ Nikita coins, Nikita World digital tokens and spend them on conferences, master classes, and later NFT and digital clothing.
Nikita World may seem like the brainchild of a blockchain brother, not a fashion photographer. But engagement with digital assets is at a tipping point, according to BoF Insights’ Digital Fashion and Avatars report. And while the recent Metaverse Fashion Week may have failed, market leaders like Gucci and Balenciaga are betting on space and fashion creatives like Comte see opportunities.
The 26-year-old French photographer, who sports a shaved head and wears wrap-around sunglasses at night, has already shot the covers for Italian Rowing, the campaigns for Burberry and the cover of Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia album. But in the promise of the metaverse (an as yet unrealized parallel reality made up of virtual worlds) and the rise of web3 (the third iteration of the internet based on blockchain technology), he sees ways to better control how his work is distributed and monetized.
For years, fashion photographers have been almost entirely dependent on magazines for distribution. Social media has changed that, allowing them to post their own content and build their own audience. But monetizing that audience was another matter.
Today, most fashion image makers still rely on brands and magazines to make money. And while platforms like Substack and Patreon already allow content creators to monetize their work more directly than YouTube or Instagram, web3 promises creatives like Comte new ways to deepen relationships with fans.
Comte particularly likes the fact that, with the $ Nikita coin, he was able to create a new type of currency that fans can earn through engaging with his content. “Now I’m rewarding people because they believe in me, not just because they spend their money,” he says.
“Using social tokens, NFTs and web3 in general, artists like Hugo Comte are moving from an audience model to a community-driven model,” said Hugo Renaudin, the founder of P00ls, an “exchange for cryptocurrency creators” who feeds $ Nikita coin.
It’s not about being on Instagram or “being on the bigger stage” as Renaudin puts it. “It is about bringing together this group of people who will work around their ideas, their values and their world as an artist”.
For Comte, Nikita World is also a way to explore a more multidisciplinary practice, in her case by reconnecting with architecture, a field she has studied but never used professionally. Instead, he took a camera to document how human bodies interact in architectural spaces and found himself with a new career path.
After two years of “shit earning but super excited to work”, his saturated, hyperreal images hit the fashion industry when the trend in analog photography began to wane in 2018. He had his big break that same year. when Riccardo Tisci hired Comte to shoot the designer’s first Burberry campaign alongside Nick Knight, Danko Steiner, Peter Langer, Colin Dodgson and Letty Schmiterlow.
And although critics say Comte’s work mimics his references to the 90s too closely (see Instagram account @hugocomteinspired), the photographer has been successful, running advertising campaigns for Ferragamo, Prada, Bulgari and Valentino, as well as to magazine and editorial covers featuring top models such as Naomi Campbell, Kendall Jenner and Gigi and Bella Hadid for Rowing, w, Pop, 032c, Self service and other.
“It was almost a common industry deal that said, ‘Okay, this year, let’s work with him’ or something like that,” he says.
In February Comte opened his first art exhibition, “Testamento”, with stylist and Stunned chief editor Ibrahim Kamara, comprising 15 large photographs exhibited at the Galerie Hussenot in Paris.
Now, Comte goes beyond photography. “For me, I don’t think what matters is the medium of the camera and the photography itself,” he says. “It’s a tool, but my real goal is to generate something beyond what a single camera can generate.”
Digital media isn’t his only attraction. During London Fashion Week, she unveiled a line of graphic knitwear and t-shirts featuring designer Lois Sanders, nicknamed Dear Nikita, which were modeled by Jennie from K-Pop star Black Pink, Squid Game star Ho Yeon Jung. and it-girl twin Simi Khadra. In June you plan to debut a line of lamps, chairs and loungers.
But he sees Nikita World as his most transformative venture ever. “I have the opportunity to merge my daily life into something much more focused on innovation and connected to how to use technology to drive culture,” says Comte. Whether it will work is another question.
Comte is a fan of Donald Williams Shimoda, the “miracle” pilot and messiah in Richard Bach’s 1977 novel “Illusions”.
“This character shows how easy it is to do anything,” he explains. “I like the idea that even if you might fail, just do it.”