The Rise of AI Supermodels

The ongoing battle for consumer dollars and attention sees brands embracing new technologies. In the world of fashion, it has led to a new trend in deploying virtual models.

One such model is Lil Miquela, the virtual Instagram influencer who started it all. She was first created by Trevor McFedries and Sara Decou as a “digital art project” in April 2016. She currently has 1.5 million Instagram followers and has already collaborated with brands like Prada. She also appeared in magazines like V, Paper and King Kong, to name a few.

Lil Miquela is not alone. Other digital models like Shudu, seen as "the world's first digital supermodel," Bermuda and Imma have also become very popular with brands looking to capitalize on this new trend.

Creating the Digital Model Army

French Fashion powerhouse Balmain has followed in the footsteps of Prada and announced its digital “Balmain Army” featuring CGI models Margot, Shudu and Zhi. All three belong to a dedicated digital modeling agency called The Diigitals.

The realistic models were created by photographer Cameron-James Wilson using 3D modeling. Their clothing is “styled” by CLO Virtual Fashion, which creates realistic, 3D garment simulations.

Balmain’s creative director, Olivier Rousteing, who is known for his edgy style, said that he wanted to help “bridge the gap between fashion and technology.” He also insisted that this was the way for fashion to “talk to the new generation” and “make [itself] relevant.”

“As we move into the VR space, it’s inevitable that companies will want to communicate to potential customers on these platforms,” Cameron-James Wilson told Vogue in an interview last year.

Costs and Risks Get Fashionable

However, is communicating to a new generation the only reason brands are hopping on the AI bandwagon?

Olivier Burlot, editor-in-chief of L’Officiel Singapore, which featured Lil Miquela on the cover of its 12th Anniversary issue, revealed that cost also played a role.

From a business perspective, digital models are more cost-effective. They do not need a fashion entourage that usually consists of a photographer, a makeup artist, a hair-stylist, and a fashion stylist. They also do not need to be flown around the world for photo shoots, eat, or take breaks.

Moreover, CGI models and influencers are far less likely to damage a firm’s image by saying or doing something detrimental since all their “actions” are controlled.

Instead of casting for models with the right look for a particular brand, advertisers can potentially create a model that's perfect for the brand's exact needs.

GAN Strikes a Pose

Japanese tech company DataGrid is going further. It has created an AI algorithm that generates fake high-resolution images of fashion models that do not exist in real life.

“We have developed automatic whole-body model generation AI, which is an AI that automatically generates full-body images of non-existent people with high resolution (1024 x 1024), which had previously been difficult,” announced the tech company.

The technology uses a Generative Adversarial Network (GAN), which pits two AI algorithms against each other. One tries to generate fake images, and the other tries to spot if they are fake. The result is a life-like representation of a human model.

It is the same kind of AI technology that has wowed the internet with computer-generated cats, faces, and even Airbnb listings. It is also the technology behind “deepfake” videos, which have produced eerily convincing videos transplanting one person’s face onto another.

Fashion Enters Digital Season

Advertising in the last decade has been moving towards more truthful representations of real people.

The dominance of social media has also transformed the scene from a monologue to dialogue as brands delved into creating conversations with their users around their brands.

Virtual models and influencers are blurring the lines of reality and appear to be a bit of a reversal of the previous tendency toward being ‘real.'

According to Wilson, virtual supermodels are likely to only be the beginning of a digital overhaul of the fashion world. They herald significant changes in the fashion industry and how customers will interact with their favorite brands.