Growing Influence of A.I. on the Fashion & Beauty Industries

If you haven’t heard of A.I., or artificial intelligence, by now, it’s seriously time to pay attention. Something once exclusive to dystopian and futuristic movies is now infiltrating our homes and everything around us. That sounds a little scary, but some A.I. is actually pretty interesting and useful for everyday life. I mean, have you heard of Alexa? Anyways, the fashion and beauty industries are constantly on the hunt for something new and shocking, so it’s only natural for A.I. to make its way into that realm. Keep reading to learn about how A.I. is being implemented in the fashion and beauty industries and its implications.

Photorealistic Images

Something gaining prevalence in the fashion and beauty industries is the usage of A.I. to create photorealistic images. Photorealism refers to photos that look real but were actually created digitally. Dazed Beauty, an alternative publication showcasing radical fashion and youth culture, recently collaborated with Kylie Jenner to create what I believe to be one of the coolest collaborations to date. The photos themselves are striking, however, it’s the concept behind them that is what makes the shoot so mind-blowing. Why? Because A.I. did her makeup.

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Beauty_GAN is an A.I. algorithm developed to create beauty-related images without the help of a person. More eloquently, it is a “living artwork born of technology and is intended to challenge creativity and originality, a smart algorithm that understands the new definitions of beauty, with an output of images, video, and soon, an augmented reality filter”. It does this by analyzing source material from, in this case, Instagram and then producing imagery based upon what it has “seen”. As it goes through the images in its sample, Beauty_GAN begins to “learn” about and distinguish between specific features. Starting with photos of Jenner in almost no makeup as a blank canvas, the program was applied to “paint” her face based upon its knowledge of the most relevant and popular beauty looks. The outcome was an explosion of color and visual texture.

Since the program isn’t human, it is unaware of general ideas and stigmas behind what society perceives to be “beautiful” which creates a unique and unexpected outcome. The Beauty_GANN team describes the program as a “mirror of popular culture, but the reflection staring back at you might not be what you expected. We teach a machine to see us and what it shows us back is not always what we see ourselves”. The makeup that Beauty_GAN generated drastically strayed from the typical “Instagram model” look of winged eyeliner and heavy contour that we are so used to.

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A quote that really stuck with me from the original Dazed Beauty article was something said by the creative director Sebastian Zimmerhackl; “It doesn’t look perfect because it’s an experiment… in the future, it is the artistic mistakes that we will remember.” The A.I. might have made a few glitchy mistakes, however, I think these imperfections are what make the photos so interesting to look at. Any photographer could have shot Jenner in brightly colored makeup and they would have been beautiful, but not special. It’s the complex process behind these photos that give them real value.

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Influencers

Every day while I’m scrolling through my Instagram feed I’m bombarded with sponsored posts featuring beautiful models in exotic places trying to convince me to buy the latest (fill in the blank). This phenomenon is not new. Influencers themselves have become mainstream, however, there are a few new players that are changing up the game. Specifically, “it girl” Lil Miquela.

For those of you who don’t know, Miquela Sousa, most commonly referred to as “Lil Miquela”, is a 19-year-old Brazilian-American influencer, artist, and social justice warrior from California. Starting her account in 2016, Miquela now has 1.5 million followers on Instagram, and this number is quickly growing. Just to clarify, Miquela is not real. She is essentially a CGI avatar created by the startup company Brud, specifically former DJ Trevor McFedries, which specializes in A.I. and robotics. This hasn’t stopped her from partnering with brands like Prada and Opening Ceremony, appearing in magazines, and producing music, however. She’s even a contributing editor for the previously mentioned Dazed Beauty.

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With her rising popularity, I think more companies will start developing their own influencers to promote their products. After all, why pay an actual person when Miquela can look picture perfect anywhere and at any time? It’s a whole lot cheaper than paying Kim Kardashian upwards of $500,000 to post a photo with Sugar Bear Hair vitamins (as if she’s ever put those in her mouth). Additionally, it will be a lot easier to send out a controlled message to their target market. Why a risk is an influential person saying something negative about a product if you can have an avatar spit out exactly what you want to say?

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There are some aspects of using A.I. influencers that are problematic, however. Brands may want to proceed with caution if they wish to maintain their credibility. Since A.I. “influencers” aren’t real people, why should consumers trust their opinion on products? Is Miquela a trustworthy source for skin care products if she herself will never experience acne? Part of the reason why companies use influencers is to more easily convince an audience that a product is worth investing since so-and-so uses it. It’s essentially a more trendy and aesthetically pleasing testimonial than the “real actors” on t.v. that are using Febreeze for the first time.

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Another point of contention is legislation. Since Miquela isn’t a real person, she is exempt from the Federal Trade Commission’s requirement of influencers disclosing their partnerships with brands and whether or not a post is sponsored. This can lead to the deception of consumers who may be under the impression that Miquela is a real person (which you will see happens frequently if you read the comment sections of her posts). President Trump recently addressed the legality of A.I. in his executive order, mentioning how the regulation of A.I. in the United States should be prioritized. I wouldn’t be surprised if legislation is soon passed that addresses the exclusion of A.I. from the FTC’s guidelines in order to prevent deception.

 

Customized Products// Specialization

Gone are the days of selling a product to the masses– today’s consumers want customization, and a lot of it. This makes sense considering everybody has different skin types, hair types, undertones, etc. Forward-thinking companies have begun developing their own A.I. software programs to gain insight regarding these discrepancies to better address their customers’ wants and needs.

Proven, a skincare brand that uses “cutting edge technology to improve the everyday lives of women”, has bots scroll through a ginormous database and, through machine learning, make connections between products, ingredients, and reviews. This data gives the company insight on how different ingredients of each product affect people with different skin types, ethnic backgrounds, and geographic regions. The company is then able to reformulate their products based upon this data. The function of Beauty, a personalized hair care brand, aims to provide their customers with a tailored formula as well. Instead of using bots, however, they had a team of MIT engineers and data scientists develop an algorithm to create the perfect formula for each customer based upon their hair type and preferences including the color, fragrance, and name on the bottle. If you don’t like the final product, they’ll reformulate it or give you a full refund.

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Cosmetic companies have begun utilizing complex software programs as well to provide their customers with further assistance. L’Oreal recently acquired Modiface which is an augmented reality company that helps users visualize what they would look like with different makeup and hairstyles. One program, in particular, scans a person’s face and provides recommendations for skin care products. L’Oreal has also partnered with Facebook to provide its users with augmented reality technology that enables them to virtually try on makeup to see how certain products would look on them. bareMinerals has a similar app by the name of Made-2-Fit which develops a custom Made-2-Fit Fresh Faced Liquid Foundation for you after you submit a few selfies.

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Overall, I think there is a lot of good that can come from an increase in A.I. throughout the fashion and beauty industries. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather know how a product will look on me before I spend a bunch of money. Also, Lil Miquela is freaking cool.