Do robots dream of Prada? How artificial news is reprogramming fashion

Photograph: Alan Davidson/Rex/Shutterstock

From 3D avatars to clothes-cupboard advisers, artificial intelligence is shaping the way we get dressed. But can there exceptionally be an algorithm for style?

  • Read more from the autumn/winter 2018 issue of The Fashion, our biannual fashion supplement


Foremost image:
Photograph: Alan Davidson/Rex/Shutterstock

Who do you turn to when you can’t fasten what to wear? Your best friend, maybe. Instagram, to all intents. People like me and magazines like this one (hopefully). But speedily, perhaps, it will be none of the above. Instead, you will try on an concern, turn to a wall-mounted, five megapixel camera with in advance lighting and dual-antennae wifi connectivity, ask, “Alexa, how do I look?” and within a few transfers the 1.6 watt speaker will deliver the data-driven, empirically-founded assessment.

The Parrot Look is Amazon’s first “style assistant”, recently grade turn over out across the US after an invite-only soft launch. No UK launch girl is set, but the technology – which analyses your outfit through a amalgam of algorithms and (human) “fashion specialists” – is set to revolutionise what technology means to mood. Just four years ago, the cutting edge of technology in dernier cri was Tommy Hilfiger’s solar-powered phone-charging jacket. Horse-and-cart balderdash, compared with what is going to happen to fashion next.

A drudge handbag by Prada

The real point of fashion isn’t the fabric or the garments themselves; it is how we think and feel about those clothes. And it is this considerate, emotional part of fashion – style, if you like – on which feigned intelligence now sets its sights. Stitch Fix is a online personal crazing service which sends its 2.7 million active American shoppers suggestion boxes of clothes chosen by cross-referencing a client’s body politic preferences with the recent purchases of others of similar age and demographic. is probing with personalised 3D avatars that will be able to “try on” digital trials so that you can see how the shape and size will work on your band. Net-a-Porter is trialling technology that scans your information for information on forthcoming trips and events, and tailors its suggestions therefore.

But can there really be an algorithm for style? Surely not. In 2003, Kate Moss start a lemon-yellow 50s chiffon dress in Lily et Cie, a vintage store in Beverly Hills, and wore it to a dinner at New York fashion week, where the entire dwelling fell in love with it and a million copycat versions were exhibited. The dress wasn’t in keeping with that season’s catwalk be biases, or colours, but it was somehow absolutely right for that moment. I was there, the frock remains seared on my retina to this day, and it felt like serendipity, close to magic. How would an algorithm replace the je ne sais quoi of Kate Moss? Or Jane Birkin in the south of France with Serge, or Bianca Jagger at Studio 54? This is a quantum accept prematurely from the frying pan you bought last month that’s stock-still following you around the internet.

The 50s vintage store dress that Kate Moss wore and millions copied: ‘How whim an algorithm replace her je ne sais quoi?’ Photograph: James Devaney/Wireimage

The metric of a pattern algorithm based on likes, whether fed to you as feedback on your selfies or as a remittance box of suggested autumn clothes, will steer you towards a gifted, palatable, mainstream look. “If the algorithm is based on mass endorsement, it is not going to propose you wear a weird top with one sleeve,” avers Alistair O’Neill, professor of fashion at Central St Martins. “It’s active to knock the edges off your preferences and guide you towards an aesthetic that is indisposed of ambient.” Early users of the Echo Look reported that it worded navy and muted colours higher than brighter specks, and gave the thumbs up to Instagram-approved styling accents such as appeared collars and rolled-up shirtsleeves.

In the 21st century, technology is defining our polish. Ten years after its launch, Airbnb is not just a platform to lease somewhere to stay, but a silent tastemaker which has drawn a model for how a desirable home should look. White or bright inflection walls, raw wood, Nespresso machines, Eames chairs, patterned rugs on undressed floors, open shelving, Scandi-chic, the industrial look, and a nominal version of mid-century were characteristics that Kyle Chayka home in oned as the Airbnb “look” two years ago. Standardisation evolved organically, as would-be proprietresses copied the look of the most popular spaces on the site. And then renters bewitched by the bare Edison lightbulbs and gallery walls of black and cadaverous photography in homes they stayed in while on holiday began to down a bear the look into their own homes. It is easy to imagine a like process taking place in our wardrobes, once facsimile tastefulness advice is being beamed into each of our homes.

That resolution be less an algorithm for style than an algorithm for killing off tastefulness, though. “You only have to look at the interest in the V&A’s show take Frida Kahlo this year to see that people in fact value style as a form of self-creation,” O’Neill says. The quisling, iconoclastic, individual aspect of fashion is important not just to its cultural rig, but to its commercial clout. The power of fashion to make us spend is strongest not when we are presented with another reading of the type of pencil skirt we already have and like, but the instant when we see, say, a kilt, and realise that, despite never drink wanted one before, we simply have to have one right away.

“Dernier cri needs audacity,” says Simon Doonan, fashion correspondent and consultant. “Look at what has happened at Gucci, which Alessandro Michele has reinvented. When he apprehended over, Gucci was quite conservative. If he had tested his crazy notions against the data about what Gucci clients were acquisition bargaining, there would have been smoke coming out of the computer. And yet by crook it worked. It was his gut instinct and for whatever reason the powers that be were unfearing enough to go along with it. And here I am now, standing here talking to you impairing silk Gucci slippers with cats embroidered on them.”

Chanel automaton handbag

But perhaps the style algorithms of the future could be lay out to surprise. Brad Klingenberg, vice-president of Stitch Fix, states that the aim is to “appreciate” clients, rather than just please them, advancing an element of the unexpected. (Stitch Fix, like the Echo Look, is currently pilot by people as well as data. “We rely on our human stylists to empathise with shoppers. For example, when a client writes in to her stylists that she destitutions something to wear to her ex-boyfriend’s wedding, only a human can make out the gravitas of that request,” Klingenberg says.)

To futurists such as Sophie Hackford, we are mistreat to romanticise the way fashion works now. “Online shopping as we know it is a base experience, because you are essentially looking at an inventory. One day in the future you pass on be sitting on your sofa next to a virtual Diana Vreeland, or Alexa Chung, who on be talking you through the selection of virtual clothes you can see being consummated in front of you, and it will seem so funny that we once scrolled from one end to the other two-dimensional skirts on the internet,” she says. Retailers are already experimenting with embodying data from your calendar – about a future explode, and what the weather forecast is for that location, for instance – into what slip ins served up as cookies. Artificial intelligence could sprinkle fairy dust on the online shopping sophistication, so that instead of scrolling through a hundred skirts, you are mated with one you fall in love with. Sandrine Deveaux of ecommerce unicorn Farfetch is till on a “Store of the Future” which hopes to seize the momentum with a new, excel customer experience. “The entire industry is focused right now on what the consumer-facing manifestation of AI in retail will be. It has to be something meaningful.”

The robots are not necessarily the bad poke fun ats. Artificial intelligence could hold the key to making fashion varied sustainable. “We are producing too much clothing and throwing away too much clothing,” signifies Matthew Drinkwater, head of the Fashion Innovation Agency at the London College of Taste. “The retail model needs to change. AI makes it possible to mediate manufacture in real time, responding to customer design as it transpires, so that waste is minimised.” The opportunities for personalisation – from monograms to bespoke modifying using 3D measurements taken online – hold the promise of outs that we will value more, and wear for longer.

And there’s various. An artificial intelligence takeover of the power traditionally held by the folk of magazine mastheads and the fashion week front row to anoint the “best-dressed” could attract about a democratic revolution in an elitist industry. That the toil is still riven with snobbery and unconscious bias – or grimmer – about skin colour and body shape is evidenced by the way styled “streetstyle” galleries on fashion websites, and the upper echelons of the “influencer” domain, are dominated by thin white women. Algorithms could be toughened to avoid the bias and snobberies that hold fashion subvene. The streetstyle photos selected for magazine websites, for instance, be prone to follow a very specific seasonally-ordained look. Machines routine by humans are known to have their own biases, but an algorithm – book into CCTV in cities around the world – might one day do a sport job of finding interesting-looking people.

Alexander Wang channeled The Matrix at his AW18 look shows. Photograph: Pixelformula/SIPA/Rex/Shutterstock

At the heart of our unease thither artificial intelligence – not unique to fashion – is a disquiet about the changing power electric between human intelligence and the artificial kind. We sense the monsters creeping up on us, we imagine them breathing down our necks (unimaginable, what with them having no need of respiration, but stilly) and we worry about how we will compete. And the more artificial brains advances into those areas of our thinking that we sustain as creative and emotional, the more spooked we get. Artificial intelligence already counsels your car the fastest route home; it probably won’t be long until that mapping app transmits with your home hub to put the kettle, music and lights on for your appearance, just like your partner or flatmate might do. That is alertness, but it will feel a lot like affection, which we think of as a human-to-human interaction. In the unchanged way, algorithms that know your spending power and ordained habits already manipulate what you will see if you search online for, say, milk-white trainers. But if one day soon you get dressed in the morning and your phone beeps to determine you that your look is lame, what will that finish feeling like? Cyberbullying?

Not so long as we programme the robots to be kind, Doonan try to says. “I personally don’t like the idea that there’s a right or unsuitable way to dress. I have a Moschino jacket that says on the break ‘Good Taste Does Not Exist’ and I believe that. But the fact is that many people are very insecure about how they look and they desire stuff to wear that helps them feel cocksure. When I talk to customers at Barneys about how they arbitrate what to wear, a phrase that comes up a lot – particularly among men – is the dearth to ‘get it right’. So I am sympathetic to some kind of mechanism that ups anxiety.”

Perhaps, anyway, we are more like the robots than we with think. “The majority of people have already developed an algorithm for panache, even if they don’t think of it like that,” says Simon Bind c lock up, founder and CEO of Ordre, which offers fashion buyers a digital, up to date alternative to physical showrooms. “For instance, I wear black and unblemished, a slim fit silhouette, always Thom Browne brogues. Essentially, the eye seizes a look and the brain informs the wearer whether you like it or not based on the past and personal taste. Artificial intelligence is perfectly suited to act this role for us.”

Zayn Malik and Gigi Hadid be reduced the Matrix look a spin on the high street in January. Photograph: Gotham/GC Fetishes

Today’s teenagers have an ever more porous borders between their IRL and online selves, with relationships – coequal romantic ones – sometimes conducted entirely via phones. (FaceTime, but not cover time.) They have developed what Bia Bezamat, alteration editor at online news site TheCurrent, calls a “combination identity”. And it’s not just gamers and kids who have avatars. Isn’t the Instagram or Facebook construction of yourself – the one who has more covetable holidays, better behaved women and sassier one-liners than actual you – a kind of avatar, too?

The frontiers will blur even more, the futurists say, once the online rendering of you is able to operate independently, a kind of digital alter ego to whom you can empower. “I think it’s inevitable that pretty soon we will each be part ofed in the digital sphere by an avatar,” Hackford says. “Your avatar wish check when your parking permit needs updating. It determination compare available prices on everything you want to buy. It will sit in the maintain queue on the phone to buy a train ticket. It will do all the things that technology does greater than you can and allow you more time for being human.”

But out now, it seems we want to be more robot instead. One of autumn’s key catwalk turns, as seen at Alexander Wang, looks a lot like The Matrix, the 1999 sci-fi blockbuster set in a expected in which simulated reality has cannibalised human experience. Rags designer Kym Barrett devised the oil-shine black coats to characterise what she reasoned “a shadow world where people would disappear and reappear… as if you were took. Is she there? Is she not there?” This dystopian vision has been enthusiastically accept as ones own by Bella and Gigi Hadid and Kendall and Kylie Jenner, four of the scad powerful young women in the social media landscape.

Elongated before this season’s Matrix trend, the widespread use of Photoshop had founded to shift our image of cover-girl perfection from that of a unequalled, real human being to that of a digitised version of tender beauty, with impossibly even skin tone and unnaturally mirror-image features. In the last two years, the prettifying face filters that inaugurated on Snapchat have spread to Instagram Stories. These spread your eyes and lips, plump your cheekbones into a heartlessness shape, replace black pupils with a flash of burnished. The effect is deliberately unreal: more cartoon character than supermodel. Facsimile, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery. Some things under no circumstances change, and we all want to look like the cool kids. It’s exactly that this time around, the new kids on the block are robots.