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CAN CGI MODELS BE HUMAN ENOUGH?

How can you tell what is real? And if you can’t tell does it really matter? At U.Mi-1 we are passionate about what the future brings. This week, we debate the rise of  CGI models and its effect on our industry.

Summary: Fashion uses the power of narrative to market clothes to people. Models and influencers are the conduits who pass these messages. However, today, the internet profiles of real people and CGI models are less discernible. In this post, we look at the ethical implications of using CGI influencers in the fashion industry.

CGI Model Shudu

CGI Model Shudu

 Key Takeaways:

  • Luxury and streetwear brands commission CGI influencers.
  • Digital modelling agencies now represent CGI models.
  • We have idolized iconic models because of their imperfections.

 

Background

Narrative is a very strong component in various forms of art. In visual art especially, subtexts plays an important role. As a result, people reinforce narratives of who they are and what they stand for through what the world sees them wearing. Consequently, fashion marketing uses elaborate storytelling and media to sell clothes. This is because people easily pick commonalities from stories. As technology develops, so have the people assigned to tell these stories.

Influencers emerged in the age of social media. They are a spectrum of creators who generate original content and amass a large audience of followers. Brands decided to capitalize on their attention in order to promote their products and tell stories to consumers. The value proposition of influencers is that they have a more authentic voice than brands do in speaking to consumers. However, the ubiquity of influencers created a recognizable template, which sometimes blurs their credibility. They are so indistinguishable right now that even when CGI influencers popped up they were difficult to differentiate.

 

CGI Models as Influencers

Prior to CGI influencers, the fashion industry has had previous interactions with computer-generated imagery. Alexander McQueen put a hologram Kate Moss on the catwalk in its A/W 06 show. In 2007 Prada created two costumes for heroine-warrior Deunan Knute in the Japanese animated film “Appleseed: Ex Machina”. Nicolas Ghesquière used Final Fantasy XIII character Lightning for Louis Vuitton’s spring/summer 2016 campaign.

The first CGI influencer was Lil Miquela, who posted for the first time on Instagram in 2016. The account detailed a fictional narrative which presents Miquela as a model in conflict with other digital projects. She amassed over a million followers. That attention translated into marketing products primarily for streetwear and luxury fashion brands. It wasn’t until 2018 that Brud, the creators of the character revealed themselves. Lil Miquela has been commissioned to market products of Balmain, Dior, Louis Vuitton, and many others.

CGI Model Lil Miquela

CGI Influencer Lil Miquela

She has also appeared in editorials and featured on the cover of various magazines. In September 2018 she became an Arts Editor at Dazed Beauty. Knowing how hard people work to secure a job at a magazine, hiring an avatar or team of coders instead of a human with the right qualifications raised questions.

Brud created two other CGI influencers Bermudaisbae, and Blawko, who were in conflict with Miquela. But this was dismissed as a PR stunt. Although not as popular as Miquela, they still generate significant traction and market products for fashion brands.

 

Diversity in CGI

Shudu, another CGI character came into the limelight when Fenty reposted an image of her wearing the brand’s lipstick. Her image was not so discernible from a human being. However her creator quickly clarified that she was not real.

CGI Model Shudu

British photographer Cameron-James Wilson created Shudu. Wilson says Shudu has influences from Grace Jones, Alek Wek, Naomi Campbell, Sessilee Lopez and Iman. While it is important that there is diversity in the CGI model space, Shudu’s likeness also stirred controversy over cultural appropriation and diversity in fashion. Following the success of Shudu, Wilson created a digital modelling agency called The Diigitals which represents several CGI models.

 

How Authentic Are CGI Models

CGI Model Margot from The Diigitals with a Balmain bag

CGI Model Margot from The Diigitals

CGI models beg the question of whether they can be authentic when they are controlled by a team of marketing people. They also project unattainable body standards especially at a time when fashion is becoming more accepting of all body types.

Most importantly, a team crafts the actions of CGI characters, reducing chances for error or mistakes which people relate to. The narrative is artificial and false. We look at the careers of Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell, two iconic models, who the industry idolizes because of their ability rise above mistakes.

 

 

Why Real Models Cannot Be Replaced

Kate Moss

Kate Moss began her career as a teenager with a figure that was against the grain of the ‘Supermodel’ era. Undeterred by the odds she continued her rise to fame, eventually typifying the ‘heroin-chic’ look in the late 90’s. We adored her.

In 2005, newspapers famously plastered undercover pictures of her on their front page, covering allegations of a drug problem. Consequently, she lost all her major contracts. Kate apologized and we loved her even more. She showed us how we can hit rock bottom and rise again. Cleared of charges, a year later, Kate resumed modelling and hasn’t stopped since then, aging gracefully and giving space to new unconventional faces.

Naomi Campbell

Naomi Campbell was discovered while window-shopping in Covent Garden. Her career quickly took off, and she was on the cover of British Elle at age 15. Her career progressed steadily in a space rife with racial discrimination, becoming the first black model on a variety of covers.

Naomi famously tripped on the catwalk wearing Vivienne Westwood’s foot-high platform shoes. The   exaggeratedly proportioned shoes required a courageous wearer. Now displayed at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the shoes recall Naomi’s courage, her spectacular fall, her laughter and grace. Naomi Campbell struggled with anger management, appearing in court on several occasions on assault charges. But she learned from her mistakes and does a lot of charity work and activism for black women and supports African designers.

 

U.Mi-1’s View

The novelty of CGI models is currently appealing for marketing, but we wonder how that will shape out in the long term. Because working with CGI models requires fewer people than usual, it can save companies a lot of money. Covid has forced collections to go digital. So we expect many companies will experiment with CGI models, driving costs down further. As a result, CGI might result in the loss of jobs and industry traditions.

Campaign for Voyager collection shot at Stranger, Lagos, Nigeria

At U.Mi-1, we are keeping a close eye on the development of CGI in fashion. We believe in human connections and we find beauty in imperfections and diversity. CGI models are definitely an interesting phenomenon but we know it would never replace real people, their real experience, their real ups and downs, and for us as a brand it would never replace of working with some models which happen to be our friends as well.⁠

U.Mi-1 Japan Achive. Images by Maciej Kucia

Everyone who has modelled for us on campaigns adds a piece of themselves to our clothing and the story we want to tell. We hear their stories too and connect with them at different moments in our journeys in locations across the world. Relationships are at the heart of human interactions and it is impossible to have one with an avatar.

U.Mi1 Locus Collection Shoot

CGI is technically near perfect, but it is still quite soulless. It also lacks authenticity. Even if becomes authentic, we believe nothing beats real identities. After all, this is what fashion is about. We adore Kate and Naomi because their stories resonate. There is little to learn from a CGI model with a perfect life. Perhaps it just shows how life is not.

 

Conclusion

Technology is permeating our lives even more and we cannot stop the advancement or development. However, it should make us stop and think. We hope it helps us evaluate our interactions, and value our connections, community and humanity even more.

 

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