These days, we’ve become pretty accustomed to social media influencers and Instagram models. We look to them for tips about what to wear, what to eat, what makeup trend to try next, and even for a running commentary about how to “live our best lives”. But what happens when these Instagram models are no longer humans, but characters created by 3D image rendering software? Enter the CGI-created new faces of fashion. With up to 100k followers on Instagram, it is fair to say that these avatars are having a real moment.
Take Lil Miquela for example, a big name in the CGI model scene. She is a Spanish-Brazilian American who has modeled makeup by Pat McGrath, done an Instagram takeover for Prada and uses her platform to voice her opinions on racial issues such as Black Lives Matter. And in between, she shares pictures of her hanging out with her (equally trendy but real human) friends, just like any other Instagram model.
Yet Lil Miquela’s social media account raises a lot more questions than your average influencer. Is she an exciting and innovative way to explore the future of fashion? With her freckles, short bangs and street style aesthetic, she is the perfect poster girl for the Instagram generation. And as things stand already, is there really any difference between a photograph of a real person, filtered and photoshopped beyond recognition, and a digitally rendered image?
Or is there a more damaging side to the creation of these characters? In an industry based upon the production and manipulation of image, have we as consumers helped pave the way for the era of hyper-perfection? If a computer-generated image can collaborate with real brands, will human models become obsolete? And it seems fair to say that these CGI inventions might not be a positive step towards more realistic beauty standards in the fashion industry.
A particular model who has provoked much debate around these questions and issues is Shudu, who shot to fame when an image of her was re-posted by Rihanna’s makeup line Fenty Beauty. However, this sparked controversy when it became apparent that Shudu was not a real black model, but a digitally rendered character made by white male artist Cameron-James Wilson. This caused questions about why Wilson created Shudu, rather than just hiring a real human being to do the job. Supporters argued that any representation of black models is a positive development, whether they are real or not, and that Shudu (and her boyfriend Nfon) were helping to create more discussion about diversity in fashion. However, in an industry which has historically excluded people of colour, many saw this as a continuation of this problematic legacy.
If comments on social media are anything to go by, there seems to be a general feeling of skepticism around these accounts. “Fake” and “robot” are some favourite words of people commenting on their profiles. But whether they are the future of fashion or a step away from much needed representation and inclusivity, this new breed has certainly got people talking.