Are CGI models the future of fashion marketing?

Updated: Jul 26, 2019

This controversial idea has been a hot topic for a few months now. As more and more high profile brands and fashion houses are using CGI models in their campaigns, testing the waters, it seems people are either loving or hating it. But the way in which these brands have chosen to use CGI models are all the same. They all aspire to the conventional rules of beauty and human form, rather than producing something unique, something humans can’t do….enter Balenciaga!

The Bizarre Balenciaga Campaign

Balenciaga has blown the debate on whether it’s ethical to use CGI models wide open. In their latest campaign for Spring/Summer 19, they enlisted the help of digital artist Yilmaz Sen to create a trippy and rather creepy video for social media. A far cry from the usually beautiful and human like performances we’ve seen from other brands like Louis Vuitton and Givenchy, Balenciaga have used only CGI models in a bid to promote this innovation but done so in a truly inhuman and scary way. The video shows models standing around a nondescript area of Copenhagen’s meat packing district while the dead eyes of the models stare blankly into the camera. In fluid movements, the model’s bodies start to bend and contort in a way that is humanly impossible, showing another side to what CGI models can offer than real models can’t.

Creepy doesn’t really do the advert justice, it’s actually almost uncomfortable to watch and that seems to have been Sen’s idea in the first place, quoted saying he wanted to produce something that was unpleasant for the viewer. Unpleasant it certainly is!

The campaign features no text, caption or descriptions so the whole concept is left open to interpretation. It feels like this is only the beginning of what CGI models can offer than real models can’t so we’re expecting to see a lot more weird and wonderful things to come from this very soon!

The Rise of CGI Supermodels

Supermodels Margot, Shudu and Zhi are the new faces of French fashion house Balmain, replacing their firm favourites Natalia Vodianova, Kendall Jenner and of course Karolina Kurkova. These three new supermodels appeared to rise out of nowhere and take over Balmain seemingly overnight. Oh, did we mention they aren’t real?!

Shudu has been named the world’s first CGI supermodel, created completely virtually through technology and now she has two CGI supermodel friends in the form of Margot and Zhi. Just like real supermodels, each one has their own personality, nationality and background, Margot is French while Zhi is Chinese and modelled with a David Bowie inspiration. The trio were presented as The Balmain Army on social media while also declaring that anyone is welcome to join their virtual troops.

Influencers Joining The CGI World

It’s also not just GCI models who are bursting on to the industry’s scene but CGI influencers too! The most famous being Lil Miquela, a virtual influencer who already has a big follower base of over 1.4 million on Instagram since she posted her first Selfie online in 2016. Lil Miquela has been featured in Vogue as well as advertised for several big luxury brands. Just like her CGI model friends, she too has a whole personality to buy into, political views and life ambitions. Other posts on her social media include images from her recent trip to China where she met “really cool people” and has since started to learn Mandarin. She is very open about her views on Donald Trump and also her activism on Black Lives Matter. For a lot of brands, CGI is the only future they see. In a way, these models and influencers have been immortalized and removes industry issues over style icons reaching their prime, too much airbrushing and not being realistic….they aren’t real in the first place!

What’s The Controversy?

Not everybody is on board with CGI though. The movement against the use of it is just as big as those who are for it. Their party claims that the development has and will take away jobs from real people, making it a humanitarian issue. With more and more daily activities and businesses working solely online there’s a point to be said about remembering what is authentic and what isn’t and these activists against CGI say this is simply a step too far. More movement in this direction will only encourage the world to forget what it’s really like to be human and that can’t be a good thing. Particularly with Shudu, a dark skinned beauty, some people in the industry have stressed that people of colour already have a difficult time breaking in to the fashion industry without adding a virtual model of colour to the competition.

On the other side, the brands promoting CGI say that with so much air brushing being used on real life models and the amount of filters used on social media accounts means that even real life models aren’t real. We are already blurring the lines of virtual lifestyle and by using full CGI models, they are actually being more open about the fakeness used in advertising. They believe CGI models and influencers should be viewed as nothing short of works of art that we should be embracing as part of the digital world we already live in.

What’s Next For CGI?

It’s possible we’ll start to see full catwalks from brands using only CGI models, but at what cost? There are important points on both sides of the argument, in some ways it is a major leap forward for the fashion industry and on the other hand it could change the way we market and buy clothing forever, whether that’s for the good or the bad. The only thing we’re certain of is that the debate is far from over and we’re likely to see much more inventive CGI in the industry before it’s rejected, if it’s rejected!

Article Commissioned by Mod'Art University of Shanghai

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