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FEELING BLUE: IMG Models has signed a new virtual client as modeling agencies, faced with the threat of AI-generated imagery, seek a foothold in the fast-developing digital realm.

The agency said Wednesday it has added computer-generated model and self-described “alien influencer” Zlu to its books, tapping into public fascination with social media clips that make use of augmented reality and trompe-l’oeil effects.  

Launched by Paris-based Zut Studio in April 2022, the brainchild of creator Ilian Gazut has worked with brands including Karl Lagerfeld, Swarovski, GCDS, Chimi, Fila, Havaianas, Pull and Bear, Citadium and Netflix.

IMG also represents the cartoony female digital fashion avatar Noonoouri, created by German graphic designer Joerg Zuber.

Zlu has 731,000 followers on TikTok and 128,000 on Instagram. By comparison, Lil Miquela — the first virtual influencer to go viral on Instagram — is followed by 3.5 million accounts on TikTok and 2.7 million on Instagram. Launched in 2016, Miquela has been signed to talent agency CAA since 2020.  

Gazut is an architect and visual artist who explores virtual experiences and the relationship between the body and space.

“I am incredibly thrilled to have signed with IMG Models and am looking forward to the exciting journey ahead. This feels like the perfect step to foster my creative growth and break down barriers in the digital realm. I am excited to see how the team will amplify the potential of Zlu,” he said in a statement shared with WWD.

Computer-generated model and

Zlu’s ID photo. Ilian Gazut

Following earlier partnerships at the Roland-Garros tennis tournament and Wimbledon, Zlu has again teamed with Fila for the U.S. Open as the Italian sportswear brand marks the 50th anniversary of its debut in the world of sports. During the event, which runs until Sept. 10, Zlu will feature in New York locations including Rockefeller Center and Washington Square Park.

The signing of the blue-skinned hologram comes as actors in the U.S. strike to protect their digital likenesses from being manipulated by AI technology, among other issues.

Modeling agencies are experimenting with digital advances, whether avatars or 3D creations like Shudu, even though efforts to stage fashion shows in the metaverse have failed to draw large audiences so far. Bella Hadid has even created virtual versions of herself in NFT form sold through a platform called CY-B3LLA.

Elite World Group revealed last year that it had partnered with Igoodi to create 3D avatars of models, while Los Angeles-based agency Photogenics launched the “Avatar Division,” a new business unit with a dozen digital models.