Will AI Replace Fashion Models?

With the popularity of AI fashion & image apps, everyone’s asking the question, “Will AI fashion models replace humans?” Editor-in-Chief Shilpa Ahuja discusses the role of AI in the modeling industry, its future and how to stay relevant.

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Years ago, we all started getting used to carefully curating our lives, making them appear glossier and more beautiful for the world to see. Everyone got filters, selfie cameras and digital hair and makeup tools at their fingertips – for free. And then every vacation, every outfit, every moment of life only began to matter if it got more ‘likes’.

The virtual world started to become a reality, where everyone could be a model – everyone could look like a celebrity. There was no place for flaws. In a world where nothing is real, does it even matter if the people are? If people’s lives are virtual and curated and perfectly beautiful, does it even matter if they’re human?

Apparently not, it turns out. As long as it sells.

ai generated fashion editorial pink rose makeup look
Created via Midjourney, an AI text to image generator*

Welcome the AI Fashion Models

As the name suggests, AI models are those that are generated using artificial intelligence. Unlike traditional digital or CGI models that are handcrafted using 3D software and take days to create and perfect, AI-generated models can be created by anyone with just the click of a button.

AI art-generators or image generators like Dall-E and Midjourney are already taking over the jobs of artists, and now they’re after the jobs of models. In fact, now there are AI image tools that are designed specifically to create fashion shoots, like vue.ai, lalaland.ai and zmo.ai.

ShilpaAhuja.com’s September cover model was generated by artificial intelligence. You may think she’s too beautiful to be real, but stack this magazine cover up against the rest of our covers, and she’ll fit right in. In fact, H&M recently revealed they, too, use AI-generated models on their shopping site.

The Process

So how does this work? Well, many of these AI image apps are still in their beta version, but some are open to public. You can give it a prompt (or a request) in simple language, like, “beautiful Indian fashion model wearing a green dress,” and voila! It creates an image for you in a minute or less. Better yet – it creates options that you can further alter or download.

What lipstick shades is best for cool skin tone
This model is a part of our Lip Color article, which uses AI models only

You can give as detailed prompts as you like, like specifying accessories, features, makeup, ethnicity, aesthetic, expression, etc. You can mention the type of background and lighting you want in the picture, camera angles, etc. And you can even give it a reference image to work with, and specify how creative it can be with it.

No coding knowledge necessary, no fashion knowledge necessary, and this technology is really affordable. AI fashion models are here and will soon take over the world of fashion.

Digital & CGI vs. AI Fashion Models

CGI models (or computer-generated/ digital models) are nothing new. They have been in the fashion scene for years already. We’ve already seen digital influencers like Lil Miquela (the self-proclaimed 19-year-old Robot living in LA), who has 3 million followers on Instagram, and Imma, the Japanese virtual-girl, who has 403K followers.

Shudu, the gorgeous virtual South African model who claims to be, “The World’s First Digital Supermodel” already has 237K followers on Instagram and has worked on paid collaborations with luxury fashion brands like Louis Vuitton, Louboutin and Balmain.

The Diigitals, the company that created Shudu, for example, has also created other CGI models, one of whom, Galaxia, is an alien. Shudu even has a human muse who helps write her story, just like Audrey O. is my comic character as well as fashion avatar.

The AI Tech

Anyway, the new generation of AI image generators are taking this game to a whole new level. While each and every curve of the digital models had to be manually created on softwares by experienced artists, the AI apps can simply create models based off of one simple prompt. By anyone. Within a minute.

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Combine this technology with the upcoming true-to-life garment simulation technology and you get mind-blowing results. These companies, like Clo, create digital models of any fabric or apparel using AI.

The Applications of AI Fashion Models

As you can see here, the AI image-generation technology is very advanced even in its nascent stages. AI is becoming very good at creating lifelike human faces and understanding fashion-related prompts. The possibilities are endless and so are their uses.

1. For Ecommerce

The obvious use for AI-generated fashion images is to create base models for ecommerce websites or online shopping, including haircare, skincare and makeup. Within the next two years, we may even see a replacement of most of the ecommerce models with AI ones.

ai generated model fashion makeup gold jacket

2. For Inspiration

Another big use, especially in the beginning stages of AI advancement, will be to create a reference or starting point for a photo-shoot or editorial. Teams can communicate better with each other about the concepts and desired end-result. Fashion designers, hat or jewelry designers, can use these for inspiration, and even brand owners can use them to tell designers or their marketing teams what they’re looking for.

Cyberpunk Fashion Outfit Green Palette and Silver Clothing
This model is from our Cyberpunk article

3. For Fashion Startups & Small Brands

Since it’s much cheaper to use AI fashion models, these can be the obvious choice for startups and new brands when creating a marketing campaign. They can easily use AI fashion models’ faces and paste them over real bodies wearing their clothes.

4. As a Replacement of Stock Images

Another and the most common use for AI fashion models will be in websites, social media and blogs. Currently, finding the right stock images is time-consuming, but now, one can easily create their own image with the precise fashion style to tell a story. In fact, we have already used some of these AI fashion models as editorials in some of our articles.

5. For Hairstylists, Makeup Artists & their Clients

Hairstylists and MUAs can use AI-generated images as a reference for their next hairstyle or makeup look. It takes hours to do a trial makeup look, whereas AI image-generators can create images in a matter of seconds. Not to mention saving up on the makeup products and labor. Similarly, clients such as brides or influencers, can use AI fashion models to communicate their makeup needs to their makeup artist.

ai fashion models makeup black lipstick look

6. For Creating Diversity

It’s way easier and cheaper to just create AI fashion models than find racially diverse human models. Now, it’ll be possible (and super-easy) for someone sitting in Sri Lanka, for example, to create a fashion brand for US using Caucasian models. Similarly, you can modify other aspects of a model like their body type, features, skin conditions, etc.

7. To Recreate or Alter a Celebrity or Person

Brands can use AI images to digitally recreate Marilyn Monroe or to create an African Gigi Hadid. Of course, there are ethical implications of doing so, but these things are possible (and with the celeb’s consent, probable).

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This animation is from our Anti-Aging article

This possibility can also help human models work more easily. Models can digitally de-age themselves using CGI and do other alterations like remove acne, vitiligo, pregnant bellies (!), helping them find work when they otherwise couldn’t. I know it sounds weird, but how different is it really than putting on makeup or a wig?

8. The Metaverse Angle

Fashion has always been about expressing yourself. In the virtual world, that’s no longer limited to taking your picture and putting it up on social media. You can create your digital avatars for online games and Virtual Reality experiences.

And with the upcoming popularity of VR platforms like those in the metaverse, everyone will want to express their personal style in never-seen-before ways. These avatars can be anything – from a digital person who looks vaguely like you to a cartoon or even an alien animal.

Cyberpunk Fashion Model Neon Green Aesthetic and Makeup

Will AI Take Over Modeling Jobs?

Now, let’s get to the real question – if you’re a model, will your job be taken over by an AI bot? I guess the answer is yes, possibly, but not necessarily. We can’t deny that some of the models who work for product photo shoots, editorials for small brands, and stock photos will largely be replaced in the coming years.

Why does AI create models so well? The answer, sadly, is the ‘cliché’ model face and skinny body. If you Google Lens any of these AI generated models, it’ll show you very similar faces. Human models aren’t much different than their AI clones. The fact that there’s a typical face and body that sells well means there are very few memorable faces.

Why Would Fashion Brands Want to Use CGI or AI Fashion Models?

It’s common knowledge that repetitive jobs are at the risk of being taken over by AI, and a lot in the modelling industry is repetitive. And besides the fact that it can be done by AI, there are a lot of upsides to using AI fashion models from a brand’s perspective.

a. Cheaper (Like, Way Cheaper)

Getting a high-quality photo-shoot is expensive, especially considering the cost of so many people involved, photography equipment and a location. This can be a major cost that affects the bottom-line, especially for smaller brands. Creating product images for an e-commerce website using AI fashion models is much more cost-effective.

b. Quick

A traditional photo-shoot takes weeks to finalize a model from an agency, a photographer, stylist and makeup artist, and then get the shoot done and edited.

However, AI shoots are exponentially quicker. Once they finalize the models, poses and backgrounds, a brand manager can upload product images in bulk and they’ll be automatically fitted on the AI fashion models within minutes.

Post apocalyptic Fashion Model Outfit and Face Gear

c. Remote Work

Traditionally, you could only work with models or photographers in your area, unless you wanted to pay for travel costs. It was actually the Covid-19 pandemic that first made brands realize they need digital alternatives for models. You don’t have to worry about AI models being sick. But now that the AI tech is available, brands can simply collaborate with remote digital artists who can create the shoot from anywhere in the world.

d. Diversity

AI makes it easier for brands to be diverse, and showcase their clothes on different body types and ethnicities. It also makes it easier for brands to hire models who will share their message better, connecting them with a more diverse group of customers. For example, the Diigitals also created a virtual model with Down syndrome.

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e. More Control

Last but not the least, a brand or creator can control the CGI and AI models down to the last pixel. Every aspect can be modified to suit the needs. The reason creators create them is similar to why I created Audrey O. You can tell a story through them that you can’t tell with your own body or person. Miquela will forever be 19 years old, just like my cartoon Audrey O. will always be 27. At this point, she’s 11 years younger than me and unlike me, doesn’t have a postpartum belly.

f. Higher Sales

Turns out, even supermodels aren’t perfect enough. AI models are designed to amass followers, or sell a product, so they’ll do it better than a human model, if you look at the logic of it. Brands can simply keep altering their AI top model, depending on what their sales data says.

While human supermodels age and need a strict diet, and sometimes surgery, to keep looking the same, CGI models always stay young and fashionable and pretty. They’ll always be available to shoot, and be involved in controversy only if it pays the brand. Even their personality is curated.

The Role of Models in the A.I. Era

Now, you must be thinking, well fashion modeling is so much more than being just a pretty face and wearing clothes. And if you’re thinking that, then you’re going in the right direction. If you’re a model that constantly explores what it means to be a model in fresh, creative and unique ways, then your job is safe. For now.

The only caveat here is that modeling is already an underpaid profession, with bad working conditions. There are grueling work hours, strict lifestyles (diets, workouts) and huge competition. Not to mention that it’s a short-lived career.

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Moreover, models have to do a lot of free work to get ahead, and in their initial years, they’re usually not unique. You develop your persona and uniqueness as you go. Models of tomorrow may not have that luxury.

However, the good part is that the world still needs human models for many things. Making trends popular, creating a glam personality and aspiration, having a voice, and even being a role model are things that only humans can do. Plus the client-model relationship will still matter in many areas.

So if you’re a model, there’s no better time than now to embrace your flaws. Avoid trying to get your face to look like a typical “model”. Let your personality show through your shoots, expressions and poses. Be unique and be yourself. Work on building your personal brand.

The Future of AI Fashion Models

Currently, AI image generators usually create different model faces for each prompt. In the near future, creators will have more control over this. AI will be able to save model faces and bodies you like and create different poses for those. Pretty soon, they’ll be able to have a library of poses, from cover shoots to street style.

Lipstick shades for medium skin tone

Moreover, AI selfie and video technology is being developed as I type this. So we’ll soon have technology that can create videos using AI models too. And you may just be able to upload your own pic in the brand’s website and it’ll show you a whole video of yourself trying on all their clothes one by one. And makeup and shoes and bags.

I’m sure you won’t even wanna buy these things at that point, you’ll just want a clip of that video to post on your ‘gram. Or import as an avatar for whatever VR social media is trendy then. What a time to be alive!

*All images generated via Midjourney; minimally edited.

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