It was the Pope’s coat that made the possibilities seem endless. ChatGPT had opened to the public a few months before and Instagram users were busy updating their profile pics with Lensa. But when meme-worthy images of a swagged out Frances I in a white puffer coat dropped back in March, much of the internet believed it was real. In turn it showed to many what AI image generators could do for fashion.
Now AI-based works are being adopted across the fashion industry from advertising to editorial faster than you can say Stable Diffusion.
Companies as diverse as Millennial fashion retailer Revolve to ethical knitwear brand Sheep Inc. have launched AI-generated campaigns, while fashion and art bimonthly Cultured Magazine debuted a 30-page editorial in partnership with Louis Vuitton.
Brands are excited about the possibilities of what AI can create — cutting production time and opening images up to an endless array of backgrounds.
“The value proposition for a lot of these brands is very clear,” said Nima Abbasi, partner at Maison Meta, which has created ads for Moncler, Pangaia x Robert Rabensteiner and Revolve. “What we bring is almost like creativity on steroids — quicker, more expansive, with ideas that you would probably not get from a human team.”
The Revolve campaign came together in just three weeks at Maison Meta. “Brands can’t dream of doing production in that timeline, and hand in hand with that goes the reduction in cost of production,” Abbasi said.
Brands are under pressure to engage eyeballs and constantly create content that reaches across traditional media and social channels, all while tightening their budgets. “This allows them to do that and meet the customer’s needs across all channels, while they are really struggling to deal with existing infrastructure and existing resources,” he argued.
Maison Meta recently did a test for an unnamed French luxury house, and trained the AI to understand its signature bag. “Now we can place it in any situation on any model in any angle,” Abbasi said. “You can have the bag on top of a mountain, or on the streets of Japan, in a matter of minutes.”
That quick change movement allows creative directors to visualize and test different concepts almost immediately, a main part of the tech’s appeal. The company is in talks with “about five to seven” brands that are eager to create AI-generated campaigns.
Revolve decided to flip its 20th anniversary campaign on its head. Instead of going retro, the company went all in on AI. Though the brand approached it in a traditional manner — with mood boards, color palette, scene setting and creating “bios” for the looks — the models and clothing were completely AI-generated.
“The main aspect for us was to enhance creativity and leverage the technology to do things that could not be done,” said Revolve cofounder Michael Mente. The billboard campaign featured Surrealist touches thanks to giant flowers.
“It was clear that it wasn’t a traditional campaign, it was clear that it wasn’t traditional photography, but we captured a lot of the essence of fashion photography, and that motion and that vibe combined with technology to do something fresh and new.
“It gave us a little bit more flexibility than we would have had if we had to do a one-day shoot and nail it, make sure everything comes together in that serendipitous way,” he continued, noting that things as simple as changing the hair, which might take two hours on a human model, takes mere seconds with a computer. “There’s actually a little bit more control and also it’s less stressful.”
For the Pangaia project, sustainability also played a key role in the decision to use AI, Abbasi said.
That was true as well for Sheep Inc.’s chief executive officer and cofounder Edzard van der Wyck. The brand photographed human models in the brand’s sustainable designs to showcase its carbon negative Ultra-Light and its net-zero 8-bit Sheep T-shirt lines and placed them in outdoor settings.
Van der Wyck said it might seem “counterintuitive” for a company that is so deeply involved in regenerative farming and sustainable practices to use AI, but he sees it as a way to further lessen the company’s environmental impact.
“AI-generated images allowed us to create breathtaking visuals without the environmental costs of traditional photo shoots, like transportation, equipment production and waste. And it also allowed us to show nature landscapes without having to go into and potentially damage them,” van der Wyck said.
He cited other benefits beyond a lesser carbon footprint. “The decision wasn’t just about the numbers; it was about making a responsible choice in line with our brand’s ethos.”
Cultured Magazine’s Vuitton feature, spotlighting Nicolas Ghesquière’s spring 2023 collection, was billed as a first for a print magazine. Artist David King Reuben, who works in everything from etching to painting, reworked IRL images of the runway looks into a variety of surrealistic and Space Age settings that were 100 percent AI generated.
“It meant no sets, no producers, no models, no lighting or photographers,” Reuben said.
Working on a tight timeline of 10 days, he started from one image of each look and created AI models to fit the clothes. He also spent time “warping the clothes, adding creases and shadows, basically ‘dirtying them up.’” Reuben joked that after years of fashion stylists spending hours steaming garments, he was doing the opposite while trying to make them look real and lived in.
Vuitton immediately said yes to the idea of the AI project, said Cultured editor in chief Sarah Harrelson, arguing the French house’s focus on craftsmanship can creatively coexist with computer-assisted technology.
“AI is obviously a complicated, powerful technology — complex within the art world and within so many worlds. But I think as an editor, it’s really important to embrace new mediums,” Harrelson said.
The magazine has also showcased works from AI artist Refik Anadol, who has created installations for Bulgari, and is already looking at additional AI projects for Cultured’s upcoming Art Basel issue.
“The end editorial result was very interesting, [and] it added an extra layer with a big brand,” she said of the Vuitton project. “The images were visually stimulating, but in terms of speaking to how it’s going to affect our industry, it’s a great unknown.”