Original article was published by Made Lapuerta on Artificial Intelligence on Medium
Should Artificial Intelligence Steal This Job?
Analyzing the rise & implications of computer generated fashion models.
Now that the majority of New York Fashion Week’s runway shows have gone digital, designers are seeking to replicate the aura and grandeur of the fashion show outside of the catwalk’s limitations.
From Dior’s live-streamed presentations, to Louis Vuitton’s short films, to Loewe’s FedEx-shipped “Show in a Box”, high-fashion has demonstrated how collections can be shared with consumers in new, socially-distant ways.
However, one of the main limitations of runway shows was the necessity of models — and a lot of them. Real-time, in-person runways saw models walking out one after the other. With digital showings— such as the pre-photographed Resort 2021 collections — the necessity for more-than-a-couple-of-models is much lower.
Take Bottega Veneta, for example. For their Fall 2020, in-person runway show, fifty-nine looks came down the runway, for a maximum of fifty-nine models needed, and a minimum of 30 (if each model were to walk twice).
For Bottega’s most recent, pre-photographed Resort 2021 collection, though, only seven models modeled all sixty-five of the collection’s looks, resulting in an 88% decrease in the number of tangible humans involved in new season presentations.
Has the fashion-show-gone-digital and the freedom of not having to showcase several different looks all at once, or even in real-time, posed somewhat of a threat to the vast human presence of models in high-fashion shows?
Of course, there is always the possibility that, in a year or two, the fashion industry could go back to “normal”. Although, many assume it won’t. Even if fifty-nine-person runway shows do come back in style, being able to present new collections in cost-cutting, completely digital ways might certainly remain appealing to designers and industry executives.
Regardless, there is another player pushing away the human model’s existence, and her name is Computer-Generated Imagery.
That’s right. Even before Instagram livestreams became the new Paris fashion week, the digitization of fashion models (or CGI) was already beginning to thrive.
Two months ago, model Sinead Bovell published a haunting piece for Vogue titled “I’m a Model, and I Know that Artificial Intelligence Will Eventually Take my Job.” In her article, Bovell covers some of the most well-known, frequently-booked models in the industry at the moment — Shudu Gram and Lil Miquela — who just so happen to be 100% computer-generated people.
Although both robot-models place disclaimers in their Instagram bios to remind you that they are not actual, real-live people, I — and a grand majority of their followers — can hardly tell by simply looking at their photos.
This CGI technology is good, it’s advanced, and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere any time soon. Brud, the Silicon Valley-backed tech company responsible for creating Lil Miquela, has raised nearly $20 million from investors.
Similarly, Japanese company DataGrid created an algorithm which can randomly generate different fabricated, GCI faces of fashion models, with ease and high precision. Are people, quickly and algorithmically, becoming replaceable?
The fight for models being recognized as actual, living-breathing people, has been under battle for quite some time now.
The first episode of Vogue’s new podcast, “The 1990s”, chronicles this very decade as when supermodels started to be seen as people. Highlighting the importance of this shift and the impact of showcasing a model’s unfiltered character, the episode states, “Their personality in [designers’] clothes, gave more of a message”.
Additionally, the rise of technology within the past decade caused a pivot in how the fashion industry & the world at large view runway models. Notoriously claimed to be nothing more than “glorified clothes hangers”, with the accessibility of social media platforms, high-fashion models were able to share their personas, and show the world they’re (gasp!) multi-dimensional people. Vogue even dubbed this era for models “the age of personality”.
Their activism, their sexualities, their political affiliations, their vocal support for Pride and Black Lives Matter movements—the photographs on magazine covers nowadays are not simply of faces, but of people with raw, unedited, and unfiltered character.
Lil Miquela, contrastingly, is built of the opposite: a fabricated, filtered, edited persona, with everything from her hairstyles to her skin tone to her body shape perfectly-curated.
The Social Implications
Former Top Model contestant, Ebonee Davis, claims she received backlash from her agency after deciding to wear her natural hair, and was told, as a result, she would lose clients. After fighting to defend her decision, Davis booked what she then-called the biggest campaign of her life: Calvin Klein.
Yes, the same Calvin Klein that booked Lil Miquela for one of their #MYTRUTH campaigns in 2019. This ad, in which Miquela lip-locked with supermodel Bella Hadid, received much backlash for casting a CGI-model as a member of the LGBTQ+ community instead of, well, an actual member of the LGBTQ+ community.
Surely, Davis landing a campaign with Calvin Klein, after experiencing much racism in the fashion industry and fighting for years to shoot with big-name designers, must hold a much stronger significance than Lil Miquela, or CGI-engineers, landing the same opportunity.
So, should CGI models still be given these opportunities? While technological innovations in the fashion industry are becoming increasingly important, the rise of computer generated people seems to be shutting a door on the many models with real personalities, nuances, struggles, aspirations, and raw dimensions, who, for decades, have fought to be heard.
Looking forward, the fashion industry must consider what, exactly, computer, data, and algorithms can capture, and whether it’s worth it to shut out real, multi-faceted people from promoting brands; brands built upon this very human raw-ness, creativity, and multi-dimensionality they seem to be replacing.