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Catwalk models are easily manipulated airheads

It’s Victoria’s Secret week in the US — a real highlight on the entertainment calendar if ever there was one. Once a relatively simple fashion show, over the years it has ballooned into an entertainment event of the highest order… and it’s not really surprising, given that the event attracts some of the finest musical acts going around, and features some of the most beautiful models parading around in the most decadent of underwear.

Now, here’s a thought for you; what if the next generation of Victoria’s Secret models were digital characters? What if the likes of Miranda Kerr were to be replaced by Hatsune Miku? Looking past Victoria’s Secret, what if a bridal couture designer were to start using Disney princesses to model their gowns? It might certainly be a case of wish fulfilment for many women to wear a gown Snow White modelled.

It’s easy to laugh at the notion, but it’s not really that far fetched. Well, okay, it’s unlikely Victoria’s Secret would actually do such a thing (for now), but we’ll drop that visual and simply talk about fashion in a more general sense. The point is that we’re probably not that far away from the point where digital models will become a permanent part of the fashion world. Where technologies such as virtual reality allow a fashion label to bring the catwalk experience direct to a consumer’s home, and screen technology allows retailers to replace static, plastic mannequins with realistic and interactive 3D models.

We’ll even see digital celebrities start to be recruited to support fashion labels. We’ve already seen some isolated examples of that happening. Diesel, years ago now, collaborated with Capcom to stick its jeans on a digital hero named Dante; precisely because he was and incredibly “cool” male star of Devil May Cry; a particularly popular game a few years back. Prada, more recently, teamed up with Square Enix to use the cast of Final Fantasy XIII to show of some of their stylish lines.

“I think we’ll always find resistance to new technologies (especially those which are evolving at such a rapid rate), but it’s only a matter of time until someone will do something amazing and generate enough exposure to influence the mainstream,” Shannon Roman, creative director of local digital agency, Crackler, said.

Crackler has worked with brands including Louis Vuitton and Cantik Swimwear, and as an agency is very much interested in making use of digital models for campaigns into the future.

“As soon as the technology becomes more reliable, accessible and affordable I’m sure people will adopt it,” Roman said. “When I think on it, I immediately think of alternative fashion and genres such as cyberpunk and steampunk — there could be some incredible opportunities there.

“Art from people like Piotr Rusnarczyk could fuel inspiration… having these beyond human entities walking around the room would be an incredible experience!”

Of course, the kind of technology and processes that enable digital characters to be models is still in its infancy, and that in turn means some that are looking to use the technology are making mistakes. In a gossipy industry like fashion, and in the modern era of social media, that can spell PR disaster.

Consider when H&M ran a campaign in which they built a digital body to model a swimwear line, and simply imposed a real woman’s head on to it (. When consumers caught wind of that stunt, it went viral, and not in the positive sense that aspiring YouTube celebrities dream of.

And digital creatives are wary that that potential for backlash might inhibit the adoption of digital models. Justin Woo, director of Australian company Studio Woo and with clients including Running Bare, Oxford and Portmans, said “I see very little advantage to using digital characters. I guess some clients would see the costs savings as an advantage because there wouldn’t be the ‘usage fees’ that a model would have. There has been an enormous backlash on retouching over the past decade. This public resistance is specific to digitally altering or digitally perfecting the models.

“I only can imagine that ‘digital characters’ would be a heightened version on unrealistic perfection, which I suspect would be incredibly unappealing to the mass market. Just thinking of this hypothetical, makes me think of the exaggerated “perfection” that comes out of Mattel and Marvel,” he said.

Shannon Roman agrees that agencies and marketers that do want to use digital models will need to tread carefully in how they present body image. “First and foremost, it will be important to define social responsibilities regarding how we approach body-image,” Roman said. “Many people already have absurd expectations as to how their body should look, this needs to be considered with any image manipulation work — especially if we’re designing bodies from scratch for highly influential brands.”

Woo believes there are some specific opportunities to leverage technology for an aesthetic effect. The ability to digitally render dead people to “bring them back to life”  could, applied sensitively, be a powerful advertising and marketing tool, he said. “From an advertising space, many big budgets brands are able to bring dead celebrities back to life for campaigns. I can see this happening in fashion. So I think a digital recreation of a person that existed is viable.”

At the same time, however, Woo believes the technology could have an “overpowering” effect, ultimately diluting the message around the fashion itself.

“I think the advertising and fashion industries have embraced technology. Certain brands/agencies have created some amazing campaigns by integrating technology seamlessly with the idea. On the other hand, there are also too many examples of horrible creative where technology overpowered the idea or aesthetic,” Woo said.

“Things are constantly changing which is keeping everyone in creative field on their toes. I like that a lot.”

Despite these challenges, however, it would seem an inevitability that digital models will become a mainstream part of the fashion industry. Digital characters can be available to audiences anywhere, and at any time. When done in a way that the audience does approve of (and the industry will figure out where those boundaries are over time), they allow the industry to show off the best of the clothing lines by having complete control over everything — including the model’s body. And, as audiences become more accustomed to digital characters through games, film, and other mediums, there is going to be genuine celebrity power to tap into to further heighten the success of the campaign.

At some point expect that favourite digital characters from animated movies and games will also become the “face” of a range of fashion brands.

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