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  • Robert Farago

Modeling is Dead

AI killed the runway star

“When you have to hire a model, book an agency, have a stylist, do the makeup, feed them on set — all that costs money.” This piercing glimpse into the obvious arrived via Shawn Grain Carter, professor of fashion business management at the N.Y. Fashion Institute of Technology.

Ms. Carter was reacting to the backlash against Levi’s for using – sorry creating – AI models for their ads. Saving the publicly held company millions of dollars, reams of paperwork, untold amounts of drama, potential lawsuits (copyright, sexual harassment) and the world’s most precious, irreplaceable resource: time.

When Levi’s got caught with its proverbial pants down – the modeling industry is nothing if not bitchy – the company’s marketing mavens cited none of the above concerns. They cried diversity! Sustainability!

“While AI will likely never fully replace human models for us,” Levi’s new tech exec Dr. Amy Gershkoff Bolles prevaricated in a press release, “they will supplement human models, increasing the number and diversity of our models for our products in a sustainable way.”

Levi’s used’s “hyper-realistic” models, available in different body types, ages and skin tones so “buyers see what an article of clothing would like on different models.” Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger are also on board. Why wouldn’t they be? Time is money! And money is money.

There’s no getting around it: photoshop or no, real world models are toast. see this as a problem, but not the one I expected:

Utilizing AI technology to improve diversity may sound like a creative solution to a longstanding problem, but Levi’s decision opens up a lot of questions about how this will actually help consumers. The brand has yet to share which platforms the AI models will be available on, and it’s unclear whether buyers will get to customized their AI model.

In other words, AI models will soon be… you! An idealized version of you? Whatever. The modeling industry is, justifiably, scared shitless. As are models.

They are now, officially, surplus to requirements. Well, not entirely. Sara Ziff, the founder of the nonprofit advocacy group Model Alliance, reports that AI-enabled agencies are “stealing” her members:

Ziff said some have complained that companies are hiring them to conduct body scans, which can form the basis for product development without their knowledge or receiving compensation. “So they’re able to design the clothes on virtually using a scan of the model’s body, rather than actually having to book the model in person,” said Ziff, who declined to provide examples, citing the Model Alliance’s policy of maintaining an anonymous hotline for industry workers to flag complaints.

Ms. Ziff’s org had better get onto that copyright issue STAT (the Supreme Court’s Warhol vs. Goldstein AI “fair use” copyright ruling can’t come soon enough). Meanwhile, so much for sexual harassment, Model Alliance’s raison d’etre.

Saying that, runways? Schmoozefests? Predators got to predate. As long as there are beautiful women, there’ll be men filling their heads with dreams of fame and their drinks with Rohypnol.

The digital takeover of the modeling world is a continuation of social media’s usurpation. When I was a kid, a “supermodel” was one of maybe 12 women who dominated the glossies, TV ads, billboards, etc. The Cindy Crawford era is dead.

Nowadays, TikTok and its ilk are suffused with tens of thousands of unsolicited, algorithmically-determined “thirst traps.” Short, sometimes obscene (but never pornographic) videos of scantily clad women.

Levi’s and the rest are working with “content creators” who are “reflective of broad consumer base.” The majority of these “models” have no rep other than themselves.

Many – but hardly all – make a living from their “work” from product endorsements, sponsorship, YouTube monetization and/or funneling admirers to pay sites like Only Fans. In short, the modeling biz has already been democratized or, if you will, flattened.

Digital models will squash the modeling industry like a bug. Which will leave consumers where? Pretty much where they are now: in a world where teens and older women measure themselves against an impossible beauty standard.

The corporate quest for diversity will continue for political reasons. But if you think AI will issue in a new age of plus-sized or “realistic” models you think wrong. AI models will be instantly and constantly fine-tuned to meet commercial needs. What people want. Faster, cheaper, more beautiful and less human.

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