Fashion and gaming have had a blossoming relationship that seems to have been thriving for a while now. But in the past few years, there has been a new path forged that blurs the line between our infinite fantasy gaming reality worlds and the fashion industry. We can now walk our own humble streets in pieces from the games, laden with fur coats worn by weary travellers and stitched into the map that unlocks the secrets of their world. ARK/8 are experts in this field, having produced pieces inspired by games that transcend the outdated shoddy video game merchandise narrative into a whole new mega fashion-forward league of their own. Founded in 2019 by Dimitri van Eetvelde, the creative director of the brand tells HUNGER all about his latest AW23 collection called ‘The Lands Between’, inspired by one of his favourite games in the last few years: Elden Ring. The action role-playing game by FromSoftware boasts intricate art direction of the virtual world, which has now been taken and transformed into a slew of fresh garms fit for the urban wearer. From mythical characters to boundless landscapes, van Eetvelde talks us through his design process for the new collection, and his hopes for the future of the fashion and gaming universe within ARK/8.
How did the initial idea for your brand take off? Why did the niche between fashion and gaming intrigue you?
As an avid gamer myself since I first touched a NES controller at 7 years old, I knew that I wanted to combine that passion with my entrepreneurship dreams. So right after I got my business degree, I started a gaming merchandise brand in 2007 called Level Up Wear. The idea back then was to inject cool, original designs on better quality t-shirts and basics. We printed our t-shirts in the USA and used American Apparel blanks which were superior to other blanks. It was the inception of the concept of gaming and quality together. I started to see the limits of what we could do on existing blanks (and selling wholesale as opposed to directly to consumers) and got a bit frustrated by the creative limits of it. So the idea of ARK/8 came about in 2015, but really only materialised in 2019. We started with high-end jewellery made in Italy, but quickly pivoted to apparel as that’s where my main focus has always been.
Fashion and gaming feels like a territory becoming more and more explored. What makes ARK/8 different? And how do you differentiate between merchandise-like wear and creating stylish fashion pieces within your brand?
I’m very excited to see so many amazing collaborations between luxury brands and gaming. It just shows that the marriage of these two worlds is a match made in heaven. I think the main difference with ARK/8 is that it starts from a true passion for gaming and pop culture, which is the very core of the brand. We want to own that space, and establish a platform to elevate the conversation around gaming and the incredible art, music and narratives that underpin these amazing entertainment creations. There’s a constant to it so it’s not just a one-off. Gaming is our DNA, just as skate is part of the DNA of brands like Supreme or Vans.
Assassin’s Creed to name a few. How did you navigate designing these collections? Could you speak us through the process?
The creative process has evolved quite a bit since we started doing this. At the beginning, it was more of a logo/ character driven process – it was more literal. Nowadays, we approach it from a bit more of a meta angle. What’s the theme of the game? What is it trying to say? What influences does the game have (e.g. Romero for Resident Evil or the Renaissance for Assassin’s Creed) and how can we translate that back into a compelling yet subtle collection?
What was the inspiration behind the new collection with Elden Ring? How do you begin to translate a whole fantasy world into wearable pieces for an urban culture setting?
Exploration and constant discovery. It’s such a key part of the game. What I enjoyed the most was to just get lost in The Lands Between and find secret after secret. ARK/8 is a multicultural brand, with an international team, so travel and discovery are at the heart of what we do. This is why for Elden Ring, we focused on the map as a key asset. It’s so beautifully made. The challenge was a technical one at that point, as getting it to look vibrant and detailed on different fabrics took a few tries. Our Lands Between Bomber Jacket is cut by hand for example, as every placement needs to be done with the utmost accuracy – it’s a lengthy process. If you see the final result of that seemingly infinite print on Italian Nylon, we’re very proud of that. Then there’s the Tarnished aesthetic. You start at the bottom in the game, your clothes are ragged. It’s rough, like in most FromSoftware experiences. So that was another key theme that we used on another part of the collection.
What were some of the specific aspects of the game that inspired your luxury pieces? For example, the Faux Fur Rune Coat and Tarnished Destroyed Sweater?
So the Faux Fur Coat was inspired by a Reddit thread referencing Elden Ring drip. It’s a pretty big thing in the game actually, assembling a completely original outfit by styling a bunch of different things together. We wanted to create a very bold winter piece and one of the fur coats in the game was just the perfect reference. A lot of time was then spent selecting the right type of faux fur that was luxurious and comfortable. The Tarnished Destroyed Sweater was made with the Tarnished look and feel in mind. Destroyed, constantly on the brink of death, but incredibly robust and resilient at the same time – which is evidenced by the heavy fleece we used for it.
This collection seems to respond to elements of the apocalyptic vs brighter gaming collections we have previously seen by big designers, and sits in a newfound intersection. Why do you feel there is now an audience for this type of style?
I definitely think there is an audience for both. ARK/8 as a brand will always cycle between dark and bright, depending on the season. That said, the dark fantasy style I feel is already quite popular with a lot of Y2K brands, and our take is a bit cleaner.
What do you envision the wearer of the ‘The Lands Between’ collection to look like?
Like me basically (haha). We’ve seen a lot of creatives (designers, stylists, DJ’s and music producers) who happen to enjoy video games and like the collection. But I’m imagining a very diverse audience to be honest. Our number one goal is always to produce compelling fashion for everyone and not just for the hardcore gamer. The gaming DNA is a visual inspiration, not a “you must know what it is to enjoy it” type of thing. We’ve had a lot of reactions already where the person loves a piece but has no idea about the game behind it. We’re trying to blur the lines between the two worlds and hopefully that translates into an eclectic audience.
What is your own relationship to gaming like, in particular to Elden Ring? What in particular made you want to choose this game for your next collection?
I love all FromSoftware games since I played Demon’s Souls on the PS3. It was a love and hate relationship to be honest because the game was so challenging. But I like difficult games, at least the ones based on action and reflexes. Don’t even talk to me about strategy – I hate that! Sekiro is one of my all-time favourites as well as Dark Souls. I have limited time to play nowadays because of my job and the fact that I’m a dad, so I tend to focus on a few every year. Elden Ring is my game of 2022. I finished it and enjoyed every bit of it so that’s why we started with that one. It felt right as the game was not only incredibly rich, detailed, and beautifully designed. It became a cultural phenomenon. Lastly, you can tell that it was made by very passionate, driven people who don’t compromise on their vision. That’s very important to me.
What’s next for ARK/8? Where do you see the gaming fashion sector heading in the future?
I’m pretty sure that gaming and fashion will continue to coalesce in surprising ways. More collaborations are bound to happen, and I’m excited for that. For ARK/8, we have a pretty clear path ahead of us. There will be more gaming collabs of course, but we are opening up to other things like Japanese Animation in 2024 and more exciting product categories as well which aren’t strictly apparel. One of the most exciting prospects however is that we are releasing our very first standalone collection in January 2024 with the help of a very talented artist. It’s going to be a big year!