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The rise of AI fashion models
Apr 10, 2024

The rise of AI fashion models

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AI models are increasingly being used by the fashion industry, as they're quicker and cheaper. Some models and agencies are fans but others want to see more protection for the image rights of models.

This story was produced by our colleagues at the BBC.

AI models are increasingly being used by the fashion industry, as they save time and money. Some models and agencies are fans, but others want to see more protection for the image rights of models.

Backstage at London Fashion Week, makeup artists and hairdressers are preparing models for the runway. The show, by designer Sinéad O’Dwyer, is using a diverse group of models. Most are plus size, one is in a wheelchair. But some say new tech is threatening all of this — particularly diversity.

Here are two images. The first is of London-based fashion model Alexsandrah. Her long hair is slicked back and she’s wearing gold earrings.

The second picture is also of Alexsandrah, but it’s a bit different — she’s got different clothes on, but it’s unmistakably her … or is it? 

Alexsandrah said at first she couldn’t tell the difference.

“They looked exactly like me. I was like, I didn’t do these pictures,” she said. 

Alexsandrah has had an AI-generated version of herself created called Shudu, which she hopes she’ll be able to monetize. Cameron Wilson, who runs AI and 3D modeling agency The Diigitals, created Shudu. Alexsandrah explained how a third party would first approach Wilson:

“Cameron would just come back to me and say, ‘Look, a client is looking for an AI version of it. Are you OK with it?’ And then bang, here we go, we’ve got a digital campaign.”

According to Cameron Wilson, it’s fairly easy to create an AI version of a model.

“All you need is about 40-60 great images of that person, and then we take those images and we layer them with different backdrops and different clothing,” he explained.

Cameron’s company found its first taste of global success when it created Shudu in 2017, marketed as the world’s first digital supermodel. He was surprised at the initial reaction.

“It created a huge amount of comment, you know, about how how a white person could create a black virtual character … and something that I wasn’t necessarily thinking about at all when I created Shudu — I was just creating a beautiful female character,” he said.

Cameron said the backlash has shaped The Diigitals’ latest work with Alexsandrah, who is paid to have her image used in any campaigns or photoshoots that her AI twin appears in.

“We’re trying to show businesses, brands, magazines that they can still use AI and real models together, so, yeah, just trying to encourage the fair use of AI rather than, you know, the doom and gloom of seeing it take away jobs,” he said.

But critics say AI could be damaging in real life. Josephine Markham Webster, a former model turned modeling agency boss, said it threatens to undo all the work that’s been done with diversity over the last few years.

“It’s not a real dress size, it’s not real skin, it’s not real beauty. I think it’s going to be damaging towards the way that they think they should be seen in an image,” she explained.

She’s worried using AI will take the modeling industry back to using images of idealized models rather than continuing the push to bring in women and men of different body shapes, sizes and looks.

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The team

Daisy Palacios Senior Producer
Daniel Shin Producer
Jesús Alvarado Associate Producer
Rosie Hughes Assistant Producer