THE RISE OF THE VIRTUAL INFLUENCERS
Fashion has always been an industry known for its influential power. This year alone saw designers tackle feminism, sexual-harassment and even immigration in their collections, using the catwalk as a means of spreading awareness to the greater public. However, it is not just models on the catwalk that are major influencers in today’s world. It seems ‘virtual models’ have also had a huge impact on society too.
Recently the lines between technology and reality have been completely blurred with the rise in the development of hyper-realistic CGI models. These models, created as ‘digital art projects’ have taken Instagram by storm and have each amassed a huge follower count. The most infamous of these models is Miquela Sousa, who is better known as ‘Lil Miquela’ online.
The fictional ‘It Girl’ created in 2016 by Trevor McFedries and Sara Decou, has succeeded in ways most of us only dream of. She has landed collaborations with big names such as Prada and Pat McGrath, scored an editorial with Vogue in their famed September issue and has even appeared on the cover of High Snobiety earlier this year. Lil Miquela has also appeared in pictures alongside a number of celebrities including Diplo and Tom Krell, adding to her online presence. With influential connections it’s not hard to see why she has gained a huge 1.3 million followers on Instagram, but her popularity has also sparked worldwide debate.
While it is an impressive technological advancement, many have spoken out regarding their distaste for virtual models, arguing that it is adding to the already unrealistic beauty standards for women that exist in the fashion industry. Similarly, some find it unfair that professionals who have spent their whole life mastering the subtleties of producing amazing images, could be replaced by someone who isn’t even real.
The controversy surrounding these pixelated influencers doesn’t stop there however. Cameron-James Wilson, the maker of the black digi-supermodel known online as ‘Shudu’, received massive backlash concerning the ethical implications of his creation. After Shudu rose to fame when Rihanna’s cult beauty brand Fenty reposted a picture of her wearing a bright orange lipstick from the
collection, the press had many questions. The media questioned him, asking – “How can a white man realistically realise and represent a black woman?”
Wilson responded by explaining he experienced “a lot of internal debate, philosophically and ethically,” regarding his creation of Shudu. He recently stated in an interview with Vogue that “a lot of people thought she was real, and I felt uncomfortable about this. Now, I try to make it apparent that it’s me behind the account. Being honest and transparent means that I can open people’s eyes to the programmes that are out there and what they can do. The problem with images is that we’re hardwired into believing that they’re real.”
Is it right that the creators of these models are profiting from a fake representation of people? Should these creations be celebrated as a breakthrough in technology? Are their fabricated images damaging the self-esteem of the people who follow them online? Or should they be taken with a pinch of salt, as a playful and unique way of engaging with brands and the public?
It seems clear that despite dividing the industry, this is not the last of the influential ‘It Girls’ the fashion world will see.
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