Ella Emhoff Makes Her Runway Debut at New York Fashion Week

New York Fashion Week Was More About Content Than Creativity

What exactly to say for a Fashion Week that its hallmark is the surprise runway by a celebrity stepdaughter? No offense, Ella Emhoff’s runway appearance at Proenza Schouler bore all the characteristics of a fresh face donning power dressing, a la Gen Z; tailored pants, and a relaxed jacket. Interesting, but that was it all.

Perhaps the problem lies in the calendar or otherwise in the lack of a calendar, Back in  January, Tom Ford, the chair of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, released the American Collections Calendar as an effort to unite all American names under one roof, including those showing in Paris and London. Later on, IMG presented a schedule of its own that included  Jason Wu, Veronica Beard, Markarian, Tadashi Shoji, Badgley Mischka, Anna Sui, Victor Glemaud, and Rodarte, amongst others. Further adding to the ambiguity, many of them are also on the CFDA’s “American Collections” schedule. Not exactly handy for all of us trying to tune up with all the digital presentations, live-streamed shows, and talks.

Not surprisingly, big brands seem to acknowledge the problem, by completely opting out. Several large American brands such as Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren, and Tory Burch have snubbed this season’s New York Fashion week and chose not to show. In the end, we had Proenza Schouler’s tailored knits (Ella Emhoff included), Gabriella Hearst’s monastic dresses, Rebecca Minkoff’s, relaxed florals streamed on Instagram, TikTok, and Only Fans (yes, the X-rated platform).

With many great names away, some might say this would be an opportunity for new designers to shine-in any calendar. Then again, how do find those new names where they don’t have a platform or have too many? One of them it was the Black In Fashion Council Showroom, created by The Cut‘s editor-in-chief Lindsay Peoples Wagner and fashion consultant Sandrine Charles of the newly launched Black in Fashion Council in June, Their virtual showroom presented work of emerging Black designers such as Marrisa Wilson, House of Aama, Chelsea Paris, and Michel Men, There was some true talent there if you knew how to look.

What’s left to say here is that the format is wrong for many smaller brands and designers that do great design and tailoring-but can’t get through the digital noise or simply don’t have the resources to bring their vision to digital life. They need support as much as editors need a clear calendar to look forward to. One that doesn’t just include anyone American showing anywhere. As far as I know, New York Fashion Week has always been about New York’s buzz and vibe, its cultural zeitgeist. A post -covid New York City will be a challenge for everyone, not only fashion designers. Tough, not less exciting, though. Let’s hope.

Kamala Harris Vogue US

Politicians on the Cover-What Happens When Politics Become a Fashion Spectacle

In today’s material world, politicians are not strange to fashion and lifestyle magazines. Most recently, US Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris has made the February cover of magazine Vogue cementing her status as both an influential figure-and a style icon, despite of the controversy following the move. A daring choice but not a rare one as politicians often chose to grace the cover of fashion and entertainment magazines, grabbing some of the allure connected with the fashion world. Former US President Barack Obama appeared on the cover of InStyle and Vanity Fair while former First Lady Michelle Obama has graced the covers of several fashion and women’s magazines in the past, including Vogue. Hillary Clinton appeared on the cover of Vogue in 1998 in a portrait-like shoot that oozed glamour and authority while Newsweek got under serious under fire for choosing Sarah Palin -in shorts! – as its 2009 cover.

Fashion magazine covers appear irresistible for members of the state hierarchy. For Michelle Washington, Fashion Stylist & GQ Insider, fashion is inherently political. “ When we question if fashion is political, the answer is…yes. The fashion industry is all too aware of the significance clothing carries and within the past decade, people have become politically polarized; played out before our eyes on various platforms of social media. ” Indeed, any cover star appearing on Vogue or Vanity Fair signifies less than the epitome of a cultural moment-and becomes part of a spectacle unfolding before the public’s eyes.

This mass spectacle is one that equals influence and power For Marco Briziarelli, Associate Professor of Communication & Journalism, at the University of New Mexico; politicians who seek symbolic expression through fashion seek political power. “Political power, as any form of social power, is relational and in many ways abstract, i.e. objectively there but invisible, you don’t see particles or atoms of power right? In this sense, the spectacle is a form of representation as well as attainment of power, like money is a form of representation of economic value. What are the implications of that? Well, politics, even genuinely good politics, has a necessary spectacular aspect. ” he explains.

If so, it’s not hard to see why certain politicians seek to appear in fashion media. It’s part of the public persona and constitutes their narrative. It is also, about embracing the political and social zeitgeist. As Michelle Washington points out, for decades, fashion has been the zeitgeist of our times.“ It really shows the intersection of fashion and politics while revealing how powerful people in politics are also influential fashion icons. Having politicians on the cover of fashion magazines certainly increases the visibility of complex issues, but it should not negate the expectation of fashion escapism that we anticipate from fashion magazines.”

Still, what happens when politics become a spectacle, albeit a very poignant one,? For Marco Briziarelli, the answer is based on those abstract relations of social power that become visible only through representations. “ Representations (the principle don’t tell me, show me) are very useful in order to visualize abstract or complex things. The problem with spectacular representations is that they also tend to provide gross simplifications of any issues, thus reducing the complexity of the social or history to ‘fairy tales’, false dichotomies and unjustified polarizations of meanings. Politics, ideally, is a rational form through which we deal with the complexity created by living together. Spectacular politics does not address nor grasp such complexity. ”

Can Couture Hold the Answer to Fashion’s Turbulent Future?

Is escapism relevant today? Where does our inner urge for exhibitionism go when we are on lockdown sporting sweatshirt bottoms? Enter couture. For the season,designers made some serious effort to both consider those questions and present their own version of response. Some brands are producing photograph portfolios of their collections while others are hosting presentations in a socially distanced setting. Opulent daywear, elaborate craftsmanship, and coed collections set the tone for the season. Daywear for couture might sound innovative enough in an era where we all live and work in sweatshirts but actually, it isn’t.

In fact, daywear has always been a couture staple, at least for the last 50 years. From Yves Saint Laurent’s Christian Dior debut with an ingenious take on the Mod look in the form of a crocodile jacket with mink trim and Givenchy’s elaborate daywear, couture had always had something to say when it comes to the everyday life of the rich and fortunate, This season also included menswear, something interesting to observe, yet not new to couture collections, either.

Lets speak with examples. In Valentino, Pierre Paolo Pizzioli decided to Italian palazzo, the Galleria Colonna in Rome, to show his high fashion slash intellectual take on  Couture as daywear.“My idea is to witness the moment,” Piccioli explained, as he fittingly named the collection ‘Temporal.’ We spotted lush evening skirts paired with turtleneck sweaters and slinky dresses in creams and neutrals along with sudden bursts of super-bright pinks and neon greens. Those were wearable couture clothes for the everyday activities of the fortunate and rich. There was fantasy, imagination, and a solid sense that everything that is beautiful has a place in our everyday world. In that sense, our routine has become the ultimate ceremony, For Piccioli, “the roots, the rituals, the processes of the haute couture are an exaltation of the human being. Time is a code and a mantra, as time spent by the seamstresses to work on a dress is the most valuable aspect.”

Kim Jones’ Fendi Haute Couture show was a debut but somehow didn’t feel as such. It was his first collection for the Roman house, of course; it was also his first-ever womenswear collection and Fendi’s debut spring haute couture show. Kim Jones’s approach echoed the idea that as soon as this is over, we will all go for glamour and embellishments in gender-fluid styles. Think roaring twenties meet futurism. The resulting collection was soft, delicate, and combined traditionally delicate shapes with masculine detailing. Flowing capes with soft trouser suits, marbled dresses, and the epitome of Jones coed concept, a beaded dresses affixed with part of a tailored blazer. Modeled by a stellar cast of icons that included Kate Moss Naomi Campbell, Demy Moore, the collection was a sincere effort to deliver something that matters, yet it didn’t.

Will technological innovation then help increase couture’s relevance to an ever-changing postmodern world? Iris Van Herpen thinks so, and has a point to prove with her collection.The designer paired with Parley for the Oceans and used their proprietary fabric, made from ocean waste to make an interesting point, that sustainability can very well reach couture levels.  “Basically, there’s not a lot of reason not to use sustainable materials anymore, other than changing your mindset,” she said. In a couture sea of opulence and ostentatious waste, the idea of creating sustainable luxury that looks and feels greats, sounds surprisingly fresh, ”I really believe that couture can be the frontier for fashion, innovation, and sustainability”, noted Van Herpen, and we cannot but applaud.

PFW 2021 Dior protestor

Welcome, 2021. Instead of Trends, a Manifesto

2020 will go down in history as the year that made the fashion industry rethink its core values and perceptions. 2021 can only be better though if we create it than eagerly anticipate its influence. The StyleTitle said goodbye to 2020 but published no 2020 trends we loved overview. Or any 2021 trends forecasting, at least for now. Gone are the in’s, out’s, and must-haves of the season. Beyond the obvious, in the territory of the creative and the unexpected, there lies the true power of fashion as a social mirror, and as wearable art.

At this point, trends and hype seen to have no actual impact on what is being developed in front of our eyes. It’s time for a manifesto. Written by fashion for fashion. A reality test based on creativity and imagination.A journey to the future but with reference to the past we love and cherish, not in a museum-like sense but a vivid representation of today. That will serve all but the elite yet written by the elite, the lovers of the impossible and the connoisseurs of our deepest desires. We need truth, respect, and representation. We need to take the courageous step to ignore what sells and take into account what matters. This will sell in the long run.

Fashion comes both from the street and the creative imagination of true talents such as Yves Saint Laurent, Alexander  McQueen, and John Galliano. This is how the actual discourse happens and innovation takes place. Enough with fashion art festivals, meaningless collaborations, and drop-offs that serve the hype. Commercialism will eventually transform the industry into a self-feeding monster we won’t recognize.

Our post-modern approach of anything goes has long ago killed constructive fashion criticism, giving a voice and a platform to practically everyone that has an Instagram account. This kind of democratization is what makes fashion reviews look and read like product placements or advertorials. And without writers remembering us how high our expectations must be, there comes the shady empire of hype we experience today,

In 2021, let’s be true, for a change.Everything else will follow.

For World AIDS Day, We Shop Designer Collaborations From Designers Against Aids

If there is one day you can shop, and shop guilt-free, this is World Aids Day, today. That is, if you plan to visit the Designers Against AIDS website and indulge in unique products of collaborations between the charity and all the designers you love. Non-profit organization ‘Beauty Without Irony’ has launched the international project ‘Designers Against AIDS’ (DAA) in 2004 in order to raise AIDS awareness in the international media and towards the public, using the power of contemporary pop culture (music, fashion, design, arts, sports, film, celebrities) thus establishing unique collaborations with fashion and pop idols.

Ninette Murk, the Founder and Creative Director of Beauty without Irony is the soul and voice of DAA, pursuing her dream to unify fashion and social change for years. “Never take the easy road, but the one that is shown by your heart,” she says. “We believe that fashion can really help charity causes if the intentions are authentic and the products are good and attractive, and that’s what we aim to do. Everything in the online store comes from donations or collaborations. We use 100% of all the proceeds to help fund our work raising awareness about safe sex, mental health, and tolerance- and building a better world together.” Today she handpicks her favorite collective items from the DAA online stores especially for World Aids Day-and for you.

Véronique Branquinho/Delvaux for DAA

” I know Véronique for a long time, Delvaux is a Belgian classic and condoms cases… how much more logical can you get? This is an example of a perfect synergy. These cases are quite popular in Japan, they call them ‘Kawai’- not sure they use them to carry condoms in though.”

Robert Smith (The Cure) for DAA

” Robert was one of the first people to design a print for DAA, in 2005. My then creative director, Javier Barcala, also worked for MTV Spain and he asked him for a design after an interview. Thankfully he said yes. And I love The Cure.”

Designers Against AIDS: The First Decade!

“Our first book: no explanation needed so proud of it!”

Katharine Hamnett Slogan Tee

She’s also an activist who uses fashion as the carrier of her messages (another one is Vivienne Westwood), she is very honest and outspoken and passionate a woman to admire. Plus her slogan tees are iconic.

XL Hand embroidered scarves made from vintage silk saris

” I sourced these scarves myself in India, love the old embroidery techniques, the colors, the beautiful silks (vintage saris)… They look like they’re designed by Dries Van Noten (who manufactures a lot of his special pieces in India) but these are more affordable. Best Christmas present ever! We have around 15 of them left I think.”

Anything from NACO Paris

” Another designer friend who has been supportive from the start. His designs are fun, upbeat, well thought out and he always goes his own way. I love that kind of people.”

Gucci Fest Video by Gus Van Sant with Silvia Calderoni

Gucci Fest Was Full of Good Intentions. Is That the Way to Judge It Though?

It seems fashion cannot live without fashion shows, or at least something that will replace them. A few days ago, the British Fashion Council, Florence’s Pitti Uomo trade fair, and Paris’s Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode have announced their A/W 2021 line up packed with physical or digital shows and presentations. Balenciaga, on the other hand, is set to unveil “Afterworld: The Age of Tomorrow” which it’s billing as a “record-breaking video game” set in the year 2031 and featuring Demna Gvasalia’s main collection for fall 2021. Exciting but hardly considered new.

Before that though, we had witnessed a series of retakes over the traditional formats with most prominent the Gucci approach to the fashion agenda. Alessandro Michele had expressed his goal to reshape the fashion calendar in his “Notes from the Silence,” open letter two months earlier; Now, he materialized it by presenting a series of events from November 16 to 22 that included several short videos directed by no other than Gus Van Sant and prominent collaborations with other creators such as Italian performing artist Silvia Calderoni. Dubbed the Gucci Fest, the house presented an agenda full of fashion and cinema in which, in addition to the latest Gucci collection by Michele, the works of 15 talented young independent designers were also exhibited, specially selected by the creative director himself. A very promising description, indeed.

We watched it all, probably along with most fashion experts and lovers.And we also read the reviews-they were mixed. What was surprising though was that most comments focused on the intentions and not on the overall content. Anyone who wishes to revolutionize the fashion calendar and offer something new should be judged favorably but not everything new is great, innovative, or useful in the long-term. Sometimes, it’s never even new.

That brings us to the question: Overall, in fashion, is the idea that matters or the execution of the idea? How should we approach a fashion show followed by a lot of show notes or a digital experiment that comes with a written (or spoken) manifesto? In the end, does it matter what designers have to say about themselves and their work? We let the Gucci Fest controversy to fuel further a discussion on concept and final product, on good intentions and good (or bad) executions.

For Iolo Lewis Edwards, the Director of High Fashion Talk, everything is important. “I think it’s a bit of both, but I like to focus on the ideas when thinking about them, and how they are expressed. “ he notes, “Of course the way you communicate this is also important.I try not to think of high fashion in terms of what I would wear but as an artistic expression.”Still, what if, in our perception, the show manifesto corresponds to the live or digital experience? “I think if this happens it’s just a missing link somewhere. Maybe I don’t fully comprehend a reference, maybe I have missed something. Of course, you have to take into consideration the limitations there are for a designer to realize their ideas; budget, time, capability.” he concludes.

Shonagh Marshall is a curator and the founder of Denier,a digital platform with conversations on fashion’s relationship to the three pillars of sustainability: people, the planet, and profit. For her, the show notes as another object to consider, a paper-based object that accompanies the collection to the archive. “Within the show notes, you hear how the collection was intended to be perceived, as an artist statement, you are welcome to imprint your own meaning on to the collection, contextualizing it within history, and contemporary discourse. Likewise, the catwalk show and the casting leave further clues for what the designer was thinking when designing this collection. What cannot be ignored is the commercial intention, this is a space for selling.” she adds.

Designers love to speak, write manifestos, proclaim their intentions to revolutionize design, the fashion calendar and the overall experience. Then we are faced with a final product, a show, a series of digital content that says otherwise-or says nothing. At the end of the day, there is only one question to ask: what matters more, the designers’ manifestos or what we see through their work? Do we need to actually take notice of what fashion creatives have to say about their work?

“I think so” says Shonagh.”Whether we disagree with what they tell us about their work it is important in the process of analysis to take their words into account. However, I think that the industry needs more critical voices, those who have historical and socio-political knowledge to analyze designers’ contributions. I think of fashion as ideological, and therefore it plays a large and important role in the construction of society. So the language employed to talk about it cannot hinge on accepting the words the designer has offered. These words have often been crafted as a clever and potent marketing pitch, adding constructed narrative elements to the garments and rooting them within a created trend.”

For Iolo, the designer’s narrative is perhaps the only thing that matters: “Nobody else can know everything that goes on in their head, and a designer is continuously trying to communicate this. If they have to provide a few notes to help everyone understand what they are saying it is great because I think one of the best things in life is to have a greater understanding of the world.”

Mary Katranzou SS 2020 show at Temple of Poseidon, Sounio, Greece

Meet Generation G: the Modern Greek Program at the University of Michigan Introduces Greek Creativity to the World

They say the definition of true creativity is going back to your roots-only to project them further into the future. Greeks have been doing it since the beginning of history, carrying a tradition that once set them at the forefront of innovation. Modern Greek creators masterly incorporate this tradition into new perspectives in all aspects of creative arts.

Showcasing this creative buzz was exactly what the C.P. Cavafy Professorship initiative aims: to create a video series of interviews with creative people who self-identify as Greek and aim to make the world better and brighter. Those series of conversations with Greeks that have made their mark on modern creative arts aim to further showcase their work and their perception of society. The overall project is the brainchild and the joint venture of Professor Artemis Leontis and journalist VOGUE Greece editor Giota Tachtara and is set to present into the world the view and creative force of Greek creatives that make a difference.

.“Like any other exciting project, it started out as a friendly conversation over coffee and tea with Professor Artemis Leontis and the amazing team that makes the Modern Greek Program here, at the University of Michigan. We always talked about how foreigners see Greece and how they’re not really familiar with anything contemporary, so we thought we should put together a project that would focus on artists, scholars, activists, etc to introduce to the world the amazing things that this generation is doing.” says Giota Tachtara in an email interview for TheStyleTitle.

In fact, the vibrant Greek-American community in Ann Arbor has been more than supportive of the initiative; it actually felt like a communal team effort. The covid-19 pandemic did felt like a threat to the execution of the overall program, but Greeks do thrive through difficulties. “The original idea was to invite everyone here to give talks and interview them and give them a chance to interact with the brilliant students of the Modern Greek Program and the community, but the traveling restrictions and the new covid rules about gatherings in the university changed everything. Even with zoom though, I think we’ve achieved our goal to have inspiring talks, κουβέντες while exploring the challenges of this era and all the new ideas that come out of it.” comments Ms. Tachtara.

The program has launched with no other than Mary Katranzou herself- it even incorporated audience questions that allowed the revered designer to further elaborate on her work and inspiration from her Greek roots. And what an inspiration it has been! Interviewed by VOGUE Greece editor Giota Tachtara and featuring questions from students and the broader community, Katratzou had the rare opportunity to talk about her approach on textiles, shapes, and design, her appreciation of ancient Greek mythology-and that iconic SS2020 fashion show at the ancient temple of Poseidon in Sounio, Greece. Her journey from central Saint Martin’s School to fame has been the blueprint for many aspiring Greek creatives that aim to present their work to the world through innovating techniques, returning to traditional craftsmanship, and fresh strategy plans.

In the end, this is what Generation G is all about, a new generation of artists and creatives that redefine Greek culture and widen its reach. Ms. Tachtara sums it up: “G stands for Greek, Gifted, and Global. They identify as Greeks, they’re doing amazing things and they can live anywhere on the planet. It’s a generation that could truly change the world and make us feel very optimistic about the future of Greece and Greek culture.  “Amen to that. From a fellow Greek.

Learn more about the program here

The Style Title Raf Simons FW2001 review

Showback: Raf Simons FW 2001 Was The Show That Foretold 7/11

In 2018, street wear website HighSnobiety reported a Grailed user offering the staggering $47,000 for a rare Raf Simons piece, the famous “Riot Riot Riot Camo Bomber” from Raf Simons’ Fall/Winter 2001 collection. Considered as one of the most influential shows of the Belgian designer and trendsetter, the collection featured some of the most iconic designs of all time admired by fans and celebrities such as Kanye West and Kim Kardashian amongst many. The latter was even spotted flaunting the much-revered bomber on the street as part of her sexy-meets -cool street style.

Make no mistake the bomber in question was no random choice. From creating his own eponymous label to becoming a wild successful trendsetter, Raf Simons has been cultivating a devoted cult following that follows his every move-and purchases his designs. With a resume that counts creative direction stints at Dior and Jil Sander as well as a most recent, much-anticipated collaboration with Miuccia Prada, the Belgian designer seems he has done it all: streetwear innovation, progressive tailoring, sneaker design-you name it it’s there. Above all though, Simons has created a unique mental landscape of images, sounds, and cultural references that is entirely and distinctively his own. No surprise that art director Peter Saville, the well-known designer of iconic album covers (think Peter Gabriel, Pulp, New Order, Roxy Music) addressed him as “one of the great pioneers of convergence, transporting the art of sub-cultures into contemporary fashion.” In short,  the very future of cool.

Inside this subversive eloquent universe of references, there are shows-cultural milestones that stand out. One of them is the aforementioned iconic Fall Winter 2001 one. It was Simons’s first collection after a much-needed one-year sabbatical which he uses to expand his creative horizons past fashion exploring creative design and art. Then, the show happened. Described as “terrorist chic” by The Guardian fashion editor Charlie Porter, the collection was Simons take on street subcultures’ codes elevated into something fresh and new.

Set in a dark warehouse full of scaffolding, strobe lights, an eerie atmosphere of fog, and dystopic industrial sounds, the show became an instant classic and a major aesthetic influence. This was a collection from the depths of youth counter cultures galvanized into a consistent Simons’ universe of parkas, military-style jackets and bombers wore in layers, loose sweaters, and hoodies worn with balaclavas. Decorated with Marxist slogans, Manic Street Preachers photos, and cult film imagery, the collection was an iconography of youth rioting against the old establishment via the eyes of a unique fashion creator.

Imagine the antithesis with the high-fashion audience, their surprise being part of the contradiction set in Simons’ mind. Punk, mod, and garage influencers may have their place in today’s fashion and major street style brands, but for 2001 it was an aggressive new take on where fashion should be looking for evolution: counter cultures. From Mani Street Preachers’ images to Christiane F film stills, the collection’s iconography was of a solid, personal universe that distilled the freshest and newest of fashion experiments of the time: those of the street, in a time where streetwear was slowly entering the high fashion world. “At the flea market in Vienna, I saw youngsters from the Ukraine or Romania, who simply lay layer by layer and thus create their own volumes because of the cold,” he told the Swiss paper Neue Zürcher Zeitung at the time.

The influence of this over layered, radical, ‘terrorist chic’ was profound to the audience-and to show critics later on. Simons’ styling evoked the idea of threat expressed through dress, especially what western eyes of the time would perceive as such. Balaclavas and keffiyehs (traditional Arab headdresses) played out the audience’s ideas of unfamiliarity as a threat. It was the clothes’ volumes, the dark colors, the covered faces and the styling that referred to an intimidating world outside the western perception of safety-it was a youth riot against old establishment conventions. What else to call this collection of iconoclasts but “Riot Riot Riot”?

It was a strange, almost prophetic timing. Raf Simons’s radical take on youth culture, echoing the rise of terrorist attacks throughout the world at the time, was destined to anticipate and foretell the biggest of all, the September 11 attacks, less than two years after the iconic show. This series of coordinated terrorist attacks by the Islamist terrorist group Al-Qaeda against the United States marked a radical shift to almost all western world; it was the beginning of the end for the capitalistic euphoria and a strong cultural shake, with consequences that last till today. In his own world, Simons has been what great artists of all times were; a prophet of his own time.

Lil Miquela Instagram

Created Perfect: Virtual Influencers Are Redefining What is Real

Mugler’s artistic director Casey Cadwallader isn’t one to be afraid of a challenge. The new post COVID19 reality meant Mugler’s new film showcasing the collection starring Bella Hadid, had to be done differently and safely-from a distance. Then the idea came up: “What if we make her into an avatar?” Bella was prepped in a New York studio and styled by Haley Wollens -with Cadwallader monitoring the digitization shoot via Zoom. “Digi-Bella”, Bella’s virtual avatar for Mugler was born.

Digi -Bella isn’t the first: In an era where influencers, or as now called, public opinion leaders, dominate social media, H2R (Human 2-Robot) interaction is evolving at a rapid pace. And while we seem to be years away from actually encountering robots on the streets, social media is the place when virtual influencers are taking center space. Fictional computer-generated people, with realistic human characteristics, features, and personalities to match, are becoming our newest social media friends and influencers.

Some of the most popular virtual influencers such as Lil Miquela and Seraphine Song have already reached well over the million-follower milestone as people all over the world continue to be infatuated with their ‘lives’ Lil Miquela, perhaps the most popular of all, is an avatar operating under a strict code of directions while working with brands and advertisers creating partnerships to promote products or services. Her success has inspired more venture capitalists to invest heavily in virtual creators and progress the technology forward; it’s of no surprise that for Danika Laszuk, general director of Betaworks’ startup boot camp, the future is digital beings that actually are powered. “Avatars and robots are the future. I would very much commission a digital model for a project,” tells us No.3 Media owner Mark Barnard. “Imagine how easier it would become; tiredness and needs would be eliminated. Still, he confesses, I feel there will be no real spark, no personality.”

Still, doesn’t it all feel a bit… weird? “The boundary between science fiction and social reality is an optical illusion,” wrote Donna Haraway in her famous 1985 essay “A Cyborg Manifesto.” And while she was talking about ways to use technology to make bodies more livable and society more ethically coherent, it very much feels she is actually talking about Lil Miquela and her friends. The question remains: in a world where personas can be created specifically to be famous, how do human influencers compare? Virtual influencers are programmed and monitored, allowing the owning company total control over their actions. The issue of human influencers acting out of persona and hurting their image and followers is simply eliminated.

When some of the most popular influencers are actually digital beings powered by AI, the questions are mounting. Can a collection of pixels represent anything, while taking a job that could have gone to an underrepresented group? And what is the true representation after all? If a medium has the power to shape the truth, then we have to wonder if anything is actually true at all. Are we dreaming of an idealized future where human difference is resolved not through political struggle but through digital morphing? Are we in fact in a quest for algorithmic sublime ideals? To address those questions, we caught up with industry experts, Ollie Rankin, VR Storyteller and a VFX Supervisor at Pansensory Interactive and Christopher Travers founder of  Virtual Humans.

So are virtual influencers the future of fashion and advertising? For Ollie Rankin, they are. “I would instead say that virtual influencers are part of the future of fashion and advertising. It’ll be a while before virtual influencers are able to engage in anything more than superficial conversations, so humans will still have a place. But there are already a number of reasons it makes sense for virtual influencers to become more common. They are very low maintenance and low risk compared to humans. What brand doesn’t want an influencer that’s always awake, never asks for anything, is always on brand, has no skeletons in their closet, and zero risk of quitting or creating bad press?”

Travers is aware that the fashion and advertising industries are in need of value content. “The fashion and advertising industries as flashy industries that depend on glance value, followed by substance, to succeed. Virtual influencers provide that nuanced glance value and, when paired with a captivating story, provide the substance consumers crave out of media experiences. The ability to engage consumers strongly concretes virtual influencers as the perfect pairing for brands. Virtual influencers are the perfect tool for fashion and advertising heads to accomplish their goals.”

Virtual influencers are indeed created perfect. And yet, how does this align with the age of body positivity and acceptance? “That’s a great question and it’s too soon to answer with certainty, says Rankin. “On the one hand, virtual influencers could reinforce ideal body stereotypes and encourage body shaming. But, by being known to be artificial, they could also lead us to finally internalize as a society the fact that the public image of celebrities and influencers isn’t a realistic portrayal of human imperfection. The best case here is that it actually leads to more body positivity and acceptance.”

For Travers, the whole idea is  knowing whether an experience is real or ‘created real’. “Virtual influencers are perfectly imperfect. Every decision they make or freckle they have are preconceived for a purpose. I would say that as long as people know whether or not the experiences they consume are fictional or nonfiction, they can derive a proper judgment of their own self-worth in relation to that media or message.” Still, he showcases the dilemma: “Humans derive ideals of self-worth from the fictional storylines out of Hollywood and the non-fiction storylines out of social media influencer culture. The Kardashians built an empire blurring the lines between fiction and non, negatively morphing millions of impressionable humans’ perception of self along the way. Virtual influencers, while fake, are as capable as any human at promoting body positivity and acceptance—it all comes down to the message they try to send and the story they tell.”

And this is an important question to ask. Are AI and VR technology actually blurring the line between what is ‘real’ and what is not? Definitely, says Rankin. “And we’re only just at the beginning. Deep fake and related AI approaches to creating images and video are becoming closer and closer to reality every day. At the moment the computational demands of AI and VR are too high for current consumer hardware to create a virtual reality that is indistinguishable from the real reality. Frame rate/latency and resolution/fidelity are the barriers right now, but the hardware and software continue to improve, almost exponentially. When AI is able to create real-time photoreal spatial recreations of reality in VR, it will finally be possible to fool all the people all the time.”

Christopher Travers also believes there has to be a solid distinction of those worlds. “There’s the real world, then there’s the digital world, which is a construct existing inside of the real world. The digital world is growing thanks to the onset of stereos, televisions, phones, computers, and now smartwatches/AR glasses. These devices are literal windows to digital consumption. When we open those windows, we create a new connection between the digital world and the real world. When we power down a device, we close a window. The line between what is real and what is not existing at and only at, these windows. It’s up to you to recognize that everything you consume in the digital world is idealized and constructed, just like the digital world itself. Today, the line between what is real and what is not is simply numb.”

‘Imagine The Future’-The 35th Hyeres Festival Promotes Creativity in a Time of Crisis

We already know this is a fashion season with many changes-and the Hyeres International Festival of Fashion and Photography was no exception.  Its new corona-affected version, took place at the Villa Noailles, as usual, but with several members of the jury not physically attending it. Nonetheless, with the help of Zoom, both the president of the fashion jury Jonathan Anderson and the president of the photography jury Paolo Roversi as well as Tim Blanks, model Kaia Gerber, Tyler Mitchell were able to exchange insights on artistic freedom, fashion creativity-and vote for the winners.

Did all that influence the perspective of the jury? Unavoidably. This 35th edition of the Hyères Festival was indeed significant in many ways. It showcased the importance of digital presentation over physical events and questioned the very idea of creativity in a time of crisis. The work of the competing designers focused on hard questions and offered solutions based on traditional craftsmanship, personal experiences, and no-limits experimentation.

“What I thought was so amazing was that all the designers are incredibly honest. And the authenticity level in each designer’s work is there—and it’s in them. I quite like that it’s not a total defined thing; it’s more about experimentation. We sometimes in this industry like things to be overnight successes. We want designers to immediately start a business, and we want what’s next. What’s really nice here is that each individual holds his own court, and at the same time, they have ideas that they are willing to experiment with. I think that we should allow that. It shouldn’t be like we want you to start a business tomorrow. I think it should be an experimental moment” , president of the jury J. Anderson told Vogue.

Perhaps nothing showcased this shift in values better than Tom Van der Borght, winner of the Hyeres First Award. The 42-year-old impressed with a menswear collection of intricate, colorful garments blurred the lines between fashion and performance art. Using diverse materials such as ropes, plastic cable ties, and Swarovski crystals he presented a very personal yet very modern new version of haute couture based on craftsmanship. His win told us exactly what we seemed to forget:  the idea of the fashion designer focused on a persistent seek for experimentation only to illustrate a very personal point of view. In his view, there is nothing more modern than being unique.

Uniqueness perhaps is the message from Hyeres and the one that could save this season. The industry needs to remember it’s not youth per se that will save the world, is talent, experimentation, and perseverance.  A clear point of view- and a dream, this is the luxury of the future. “We need to find a new definition of luxury. We are so used in classic luxury materials such as gold or leather –but I love using materials others don’t find interesting.”  Tom Van der Borght told AFP. And we couldn’t agree more.