It’s a great time to be in the avatar business.
New York can testify, as an influx of digital people blanketed the city during Fashion Week, from the World Trade Center to Times Square in Brooklyn. The digital zeitgeist was impossible to miss – after all, it’s not like a massive 3D representation of Karl Lagerfeld looming every day.
Even though Cara Delevingne would have skipped the capsule launch for her Lagerfeld collaboration, “Cara Loves Karl,” at least her avatar was in service. The digital character joined the late designer on a Times Square billboard in a campaign that injected the virtual world into the real one.
Meanwhile, in the financial district, Nolcha Shows transported people to Web 3.0, where they could interact with the decked out models of the ChainGuardians Meta Street Wear line. Roblox and Tommy Hilfiger straddled both realities, with the brand’s return to the runways of the Brooklyn Skyline streamed to its TommyPlay destination in Roblox. The partners have also created a new virtual collection, as seen in the Superplastic avatars.
To observers, the variety of projects like these and others can seem exciting. Maybe, even a bit chaotic. Graphic styles vary a bit, veering from blocky to cartoon-y depending on the instrument or platform, adding to a cacophony that can make it harder, not easier, to stand out. This applies to the clothes, as well as to the characters who wear them.
In fact, digitally populating the virtual world of fashion, an industry where images are everything, can become as complicated as choosing the right human models for real-life campaigns.
This scenario is giving birth to a new specialty for modeling agencies eager to plant a stake in the virtual world. Because apparently digital people could use impersonation too.
Nicole Bordeaux, founder of Los Angeles-based Photogenics agency, collaborated with Smashbox co-founders Dean and Davis Factor to create “Avatar Division,” a new business unit launched in September with a portfolio of 13 digital models. The concept takes a strategic left turn from the typical metaverse aesthetic, opting for cool, yet photorealistic avatars that replicate real-life people. It’s a strategic choice and could help the Photogenics group stand out from the virtual fray.
Presented as “avant-garde” characters, the digital doppelgangers are based on human models Sedona Legge, Milan Dixon, Dasha Nguyen, The Fly Twins and others. Personality is important to the agency, so she worked with creative metaverse designer Nina Hawkins, aka Ninocence of Lilium Labs, and 3D director Sage Morei to ensure avatars had a voice and a sense of expression and style, such as the originals. The designers even brought their own avatars.
Another fascinating technological breakthrough is that Hawkins used an iPhone to capture their likeness. The smartphone photos formed the “face mesh”, the initial framework for the design that he would later build and refine. Ultimately, the effort was influenced as much by her background in fashion as by her technical skills.
“I’ve been creating in the fashion world for the past 10-12 years, and I’ve also been a model and sometimes still a model,” Hawkins said. whose experience spans Dior x L’Officiel, Netflix and Time magazine, as well as digital brand collaborations with Dress X, Nusi Quero, Spatial and others in the art world and NFT.
He describes his work with Morei, Bordeaux and creative director Melanie deJesus as “blurring the lines between what’s real and what’s not,” he added. “It’s just a beautiful bridge between art, technology and fashion.”
Morei, who runs her video and animation production company, Horizon Lab, takes a cinematic look at how models move. Creating the animations is “a really fascinating process,” she said. “Almost all the lessons you can learn about real life productions that you can actually apply to working with avatars”, from lighting, to configuring camera settings, angles and composition of who they are and how they should be presented.
Obviously Photogenics avatars are not plug-and-play. Fashion brands cannot “hire” them to visit Decentraland, Spatial.io and Roblox, as human models could travel across Europe and Asia.
This fits the co-founder Bordeaux perfectly, at least for now.
“The purpose of creating this division and these avatars is for the campaigns, for the designers. That was the main thing, not really being in Decentraland or The Sandbox, “he said.” And then, eventually, we will evolve it into a bigger division, which would not just be the avatars and our metaverse division, but we would also have NFT. and 3D designer, probably also some kind of game.
“Because [graphics in] the gaming industry looks more realistic. “
For Photogenics, which focuses on luxury fashion, refinement matters. In graphics, this translates into realism. But none of the major Web 3.0 platforms can support the agency’s expected level of quality. Even if they did, the bandwidth and hardware limitations of the device could make the experience delayed and frustrating. That’s why premium MMOs, or massively multiplayer online games, often rely on desktop software instead of web browsers, especially for action titles. It also explains the constant search by PC gamers for better graphics cards.
Bordeaux believes it’s only a matter of time before the metaverse matures enough to support a high-quality aesthetic. Meanwhile, its Avatar division is focusing on custom and purpose-built campaigns in places like brand websites, social media videos, and other contexts, with avatars appearing for photo shoots, drops, wearables, events, and other modeling jobs. virtual.
Photogenics isn’t the only agency that focuses on stylized patterns more in bits and bytes than fabric or cosmetics. Last year, CAA even signed Jenkins the Valet from the Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT. But the gap between these and other approaches could shed light on a rather complex and multifaceted scenario, which has been built for years, but Web 3.0 could accelerate.
Before Paris, Milan and Manhattan had even heard of the word “metaverse”, computer-generated supermodels like Shudu Gram, Lil Miquela and others captivated the fashion houses with their impressive realism and futuristic innovation. In just a few years, digital fashion models have gone from the flight of technological fantasy to a bona fide business opportunity.
With the rise of the metaverse and the digital people within it (or creatures, in Jenkins’ case), fashion houses have a unique choice that simply isn’t available in real life: Brands can design new avatars from scratch. creating them to dress well or go with digital replicas of human models that can evoke the backstories, causes and other interests of the originals, minus sick days, travel expenses or other issues.
Using the likeness of real people can get tricky, of course. Photogenics gets around this by owning the rights to its avatars, sharing the revenue with the people they are based on. One of the company’s stated goals is to “reimagine how models can monetize their value beyond the physical world,” which is an intriguing proposition, especially for models interested in supporting an ageless career in virtual form.
In a pertinent and seemingly prescient conversation with WWD last year, model Sinéad Bovell shared concerns about the impact of digital beings on the modeling industry. At the time, in anticipation of her appearance in a 2021 PBS documentary on artificial intelligence in the fall, she admitted that the technology may seem threatening for careers like hers.
Bovell is not a Luddite. Indeed, as a futurist appointed as a member of the Council of Visionaries of Generation Connect of the United Nations International Telecommunications Union, she understands the need for innovation, satisfying the growing appetite for intelligence, chatbots and more from the retail sector. fashion.
“He’s just never been particularly good in our work,” Bovell said.
His advice to models working today would likely be Photogenics ear music: “Start preparing yourself for the future of work,” she advised. “Maybe this means looking for an avatar for yourself, as we see more CGI [computer generated images] in the digital constructs used in fashion shows and the like.
“And then, of course, it really tries to reinforce the one thing an AI model can never have, and it’s a human story.”
Although Karl Lagerfeld was not a model, this is one thing his imposing avatar had in spades.