Fashion Observed

Trend observations with a sociological eye from afar...

by Darryl S. Warren  

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Artificial Influencer

T echnology is the big buzz these days. Strategic management company McKinsey & Co. itself found that our adoption towards digital was huge. It was expected to take us years to switch over to a more digitally-focused landscape and, instead, it took us months to become more digitally aligned. This crosses over a wide variety of aspects ranging from design and sample creation to manufacturing chains and retail with increased incorporation of big data and program integration at every step. Why, we're not surprised that technology does the thinking for us, too.

Oh...wait a minute...we almost forgot AI.

We know, this isn't new news. Fashion, from companies such as StitchFix to retail goliaths such as Amazon and Walmart have been utilizing machine learning with AI algorithms to track and indicate items that sell, making design recommendations along the way. Amazon Israel's AI has been going further, with its AI making value judgments on whether some designs are considered fashionable while its San Francisco location has created programming that can take existing designs as a creative launch point and design new incarnations, like fashion design spin-offs. Another company, Glitch, sells designs created by their AI, which generates unlikely combinations into wearable designs.

It was a few years ago when IBM and Jason Grech launched a couture collection at Melbourne Fashion Week in 2016, which was developed by using AI algorithms to analyze and predict fashion trends from runway. They didn't just look at a few pictures, either; they analyzed over 500,00 images based on a decades worth of fashion images and social platforms to inform of new trend directions that informed this collection. In 2018, IBM, Tommy Hilfiger and New York's Fashion Institute of Technology Infor Design and Tech Lab all teamed up to create a project that was called Reimagine Retail. What did they do? They took over 15,000 of Tommy Hilfiger's product images, around 600,000 runway images and an estimated 100,000 patterns (all from public sites), combined all of this with added design qualifiers such as silhouette, colors, prints and patterns and let AI do it's work, generating new garment ideas based on the information. From this, they released a sample as proof of concept to demonstrate the power of AI in design innovation. India's largest e-retail site Myntra doesn't just sell fashion, they make it and have come to rely on their AI to churn out best-sellers in a fraction of the time, cutting the design process from six months to just one. This is done via their in-house team called Rapid, utilizing a software called Vorta (although they have their "pet name" for this: Ratatouille). Their AI informs the team on what designs are sure to be top-sellers after qualities and constraints are entered into the program. This coupled with their accumulated data sets results in pieces that are likely to appeal to their customer base and this has proven to be more successful than they anticipated.

It's not just the big companies that are using AI, either. Cross & Freckle is a t-shirt producer that has gone beyond using AI to generate image on their product; they've used AI in every creative aspect of the company, from brand logo to marketing copy. This is using AI to design entirely, and we've been seeing this happen in a few places thanks to one individual with vision. Last year, MIT graduates Pinar Yanardag and Emily Salvador recently launched their fashion brand which seems to be unsure of it's name (in articles they have it as but social media has it as glitch_ai and their website is Little Black Dress so we hope to get an update soon) but is sure of their goal of aiming to re-imagine dress design using AI to create new design approaches. They took inspiration from artist Robbie Barrat, who had been working with AI algorithms to turn out new design creations. You might have heard of him when he took a catalogue of Balenciaga designs, put them through AI and had the algorithm generate new incarnations based on what wasn't made yet. Fashion was immediately inspired, and this caught on like wild fire. Soon after, he found himself collaborating with Acne Studios on a menswear collection for Fall Winter 2020. Looking at these, it's easy to see how the pioneering efforts of one have reverberated through fashion in general. Collections from Accidental Cutting (here & here), Adeam (here), Adidas' Y3 (here), Agartha (here), Alexander McQueen (here), Atsushi Nakashima (here and here), Balenciaga (here), Denisa Dovala (here), Emil Heliot (here and here), JT by JT (here), Kepler London (here), Kiko Kostadinov (here), Krystal Paniagua (here), Locoone (here), Maxxij (here), Meanswhile (here), Moschino (here), NIHL (here), No. 21 (here), Ricardo Preto (here), Ronald van der Kemp (here), Sabina Bambino (here & here), Social Work (here), Sportmax (here), ThreeASFOUR (here), Yohji Yamamoto (here), Y Project (here, here and here) and Zero + Maria Cornejo (here) along with work from students and graduates such as Anna-Karin Friberg (here), Alida Bard (here), Benedetta Lanzione (here), Ellis Cynthia Whitehurst (here), Flora Nisbet (here), Jade Cropper (here), Joe Cheng (here), Johanna Parv (here), Lauren Daccus (here), Lisa Helena Jacobsson (here), Luca Holzinger (here and here), Nattapong Khongruk (here) and Sasha Heinsaar (here) show the boundary breaking and material combination and construction innovations resulting from inspiration via technology in an unlikely manner that, really, has given licence to attempt design from unlikely parameters.

That's right: we can now officially say that AI has become the influencer.

But will it replace human beings? Hardly. The advantage of technology is that it can create without boundaries because, unless these are programmed, do not exist within the algorithm. It means that innovation in fashion can be created easily by AI because it doesn't know the rules, rules that can sometimes limit and undermine a creative mind. And while it can even be programmed for taste, it still ultimately needs a human touch. We are the ones who take the results and fine tune them. Without our influence, it doesn't connect. But thanks to technology, we sure found a cool way out of our comfort zone, and with continued collaborations, we will see our 21st century identity evolve.

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