Strike a pose! These models aren't real, but their success sure is lifelike

  • Style
  • Sunday, 18 Oct 2020

Shudu, Imma and Miquela Sousa are among the most famous virtual models in the fashion industry. Photo composite (from left): Instagram/@shudu.gram, @imma.gram, @lilmiquela

Two years ago, everyone in the fashion circle was stunned when Balmain unveiled a campaign featuring virtual models. The Pre-Fall 2018 collection looked gorgeous, of course – but what stood out was Shudu.

No one would probably have guessed that the visuals were a product of computer generated-imagery (CGI), on the account of how realistic they looked, if the fashion house had not proudly made the declaration. Along with Margot and Zhi, it called the trio “the new virtual Balmain army”.

The label has worked with famous faces like Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner in the past, which was why its decision to go virtual surprised everyone.

Today, the idea of CGI models is once again pushed into the spotlight. You don't have to adhere to pandemic physical distancing restrictions if you don't hold proper fashion shoots.

Shudu was first created by British photographer Cameron-James Wilson in 2017. Attention started to gather pace early in 2018 when Rihanna’s beauty brand Fenty reposted an image of her wearing the brand’s lipstick.

Read more: The rundown on fashion weeks and how they're coping with going digital

Wilson later created Margot and Zhi when approached by Balmain. In a June interview with website Highsnobiety, he said that he doesn’t see virtual people taking over the real world.

“The work that’s involved is extremely intense. The only reason I can make Shudu what she is, is because I have a knowledge of photography, hair and make up, ” Wilson commented, on how the process is not straightforward.

Currently, Shudu is still very much in demand.

“The world’s first digital supermodel, ” states her Instagram profile, which currently has over 200,000 followers.

She is also in the lineup of The Diigitals Agency, an all-digital modelling agency (which recently presented its first virtual runway show with virtual models), and has continued to score fashion bookings for different labels since.

Lifelike success

Another recognisable virtual face is Japanese model Imma. She was created last year by company ModelingCafe, the result of transposing her 3-D animated head onto a live-action background.

“I’m interested in Japanese culture, film and art, ” her Instagram profile with close to 270,000 followers, notes.

It reads very much like the bio a hip, trendy (and real) woman would write to describe herself.

She made it to the cover of Grazia China’s April edition. She was also snapped up by Ikea Japan in August – where she appeared not only in an ad, but a physical video installation for a store located in Tokyo.

For a beauty feature in i-D Japan last year, she appeared alongside two real live models. The accompanying article discussed the notion of beauty and how it changes with the times. And yes, there was even an interview with Imma.

Read more: Who are the models making headlines for the 2020 fashion season?

Miquela Sousa, otherwise known by her social media name Lil Miquela, is probably the most experienced virtual model. She was created in 2016.

More than 2.7 million people currently follow her on Instagram. Sousa has snagged gigs from fashion labels the likes of Calvin Klein, Prada and much more.

The duo that brought her to life, Trevor McFedries and Sara DeCou, also founded a tech company in the US that invented other “virtual influencers”.

“I’d like to be described as an artist or a singer or something that denotes my craft rather than focus on the superficial qualities of who I am, ” Sousa told Business Of Fashion in a 2018 interview.

She explained: “I love being able to communicate, learn and talk to everyone from all corners of the world.

“There is a sense of community to it as well, the people who follow me end up being friends with each other and the communications that it opens up is inspiring.”

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cgi , models , fashion , trends , Shudu , Imma , Miquela Sousa


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