Balmain, the French fashion house founded by Pierre Balmain in 1945, has been known to feature the likes of Gigi Hadid, Kendal Jenner and Rihanna among others. However, on the 30th of August, Balmain posted the first look at their ‘virtual army’ on Instagram, introducing Margot, Shudu and Zhi to the world.
One of the three introduced is the ‘world’s first digital supermodel’, Shudu who was created by Cameron-James Wilson, a London-based photographer. She has appeared in photo shoots for Fenty Beauty and more along with a 142K following on Instagram herself and has previously gained controversy earlier this year. The outrage online was probably warranted as a survey in 2016 found that an overwhelming 78% of models in fashion adverts are white as opposed to only 22% being black, Asian or Hispanic. Having a ‘fake’ model in the center of the new campaign seems like a slap in the face for the real women of color who aspire to be models.
A white photographer figured out a way to profit off of black women without ever having to pay one. Now pls, tell me how our economic system is in no way built on and quite frankly reliant on racism and misogyny 🤧🤔 https://t.co/k7tDc7cXLL
— Glodan ✨💛✨ (@hodayum) February 27, 2018
But, is it really a good thing? The new Balmain Army gives diversity in an industry that’s so deprived of it already. Yes, these digital models won’t be walking down runways anytime soon, but could their diversity be enough? Some argue that “it’s simply art” and that these models are just animated people. But, do we really need computer generated models when agencies can just as easily start hiring more diverse models? Virtual models probably won’t replace real models and this is likely just a creative moment that will come and go, but that still doesn’t explain why the pre-fall 2018 campaign had to be fronted by animated people (albeit really beautiful people) as models rather than real, probably more capable models.
The clothing is “styled” by CLO Virtual Fashion and the newcomers, Margot and Zhi were digitally created by the same photographer as Shudu and just like her, the new additions have re-sparked the controversy caused by Shudu’s first appearance. User @bymannyroman on Instagram commented: “This is so messed up on so many levels. It just continues to prove that models are easily discarded.” Another user commented: “it’s no longer just art when a male caucasian is profiting off creating ethnic models who had it hard already working in the fashion space.”
Earlier this year, Creative Director Oliver Rousteing created a promo video for Balmain. In it, he says he wants to help “bridge the gap between fashion and technology,” but maybe fashion houses should first start bridging the gap between the fashion industry and diversity first.