Emily Pellegrini is impeccably beautiful, never tired or annoyed, and really cheap - that's because she's not a real person. She is a model generated using artificial intelligence. A fake person making real money. Her followers on social media are in the six-figure range and she is flirted with by more or less famous people.
In addition to her, there are now a few who have made it into the headlines - and at first glance you might think that something is fundamentally changing in the fashion industry. AI models are flawless – but also artificial. Whether they can really replace real people is questionable.
The MGM Models Group is Germany's largest model agency. Customers include Chanel, Balenciaga and Dior, as well as H
How did you first come into contact with the topic of AI models? Do you already have people in your portfolio who don't actually exist? No, we don't have any AI models in our portfolio and we won't have any in the future either. But of course I'm constantly asked about it, most recently by a professor of artificial intelligence who told me that I was almost "vinyl" and that I had to rethink my business model because in the future there will only be AI models. But I'm staying pretty calm because I don't believe that this will catch on.
Have there already been inquiries from your customers? Yes, of course my customers are trying to save money and work on the models with AI. There are already quite advanced programs that can create all kinds of models. Beautiful faces are cut together and the customer can mirror entire collections onto the models' bodies. But the end customers are not convinced by the result. It has not yet caught on.
Why is that not convincing in your opinion? When I book a model for a campaign, it's not just about physical attractiveness, but above all about charisma. How does it affect me? What are their facial expressions, their gestures, their movement? Is it authentic? Does she seem likeable? This is what triggers identification and ultimately an impulse to buy in the viewer. “Humanity”... no AI model can do that.
Which customers are those who are interested in this? These are mostly large companies in the discount or fast fashion sector that really have to book a lot of models because they produce a lot of collections and have to photograph large quantities of items. They are the ones who are primarily working on these concepts – and have been doing so for ten years. There have been really wild topics in the past where, for example, pictures of model heads were purchased from us, which were then put on avatars in order to be able to photograph as many settings as possible. But that just looks too artificial.
I recently wrote about the AI models Emily Pellegrini and Aitana Lopez, who many people have fallen for. Do you recognize immediately when a model was created with AI? No, I've fallen for it too. This is often done really well. You think this is a normal person who maybe used a lot of filters or retouched his face. But if you see several pictures of a person like that, you'll eventually realize that they're fake. You can tell from the gestures and facial expressions that these are not realistic or authentic movements.
From your perspective, what can real models do better? You've already said that AI models are hardly able to convey emotions... Yes, if you think about a rousing laugh in advertising, for example, where you almost have to laugh along - AI can't create a situation like that. Also when it comes to natural movements: an AI has no sex appeal. And then it is these little flaws that define us as people. Nobody is perfect. Maybe an ear sticks out or a nose is a little big. But that’s what makes a person special – perhaps also particularly attractive.
A fairly clichéd argument for AI models is that you no longer have to deal with “bitchy models”. Is it really the case that there are these statements in the industry and you no longer want to deal with real people? Yes, there is, but above all it is due to the costs. A model is expensive, the photography, the stylist - a day like that in the studio simply costs money. But I think we're kidding ourselves. There have already been systems with artificially created models in the past, "Looklet" for example, H
But don't you see the topic of diversity as an opportunity? For example, that an AI is specifically tasked with creating as diverse models as possible, with very different body types? I was recently at a roadshow for a large customer who had developed a system in which employees stand on stage and textiles from potential customers carry. They were then photographed and replayed for the audience using the AI - for example by deciding, "We'll make it a slightly Asian guy." At some point, this fictional character was shown on stage and this "normal", real employee stands next to her and sees herself in this pimped-up version. There was an awkward silence in the audience. Many customers have an ethical barrier to messing with people like that - you just don't do that.
So you don't see any threat to your business at all that these pimped-up models will prevail? My business doesn't just consist of photo shoots. We have the runway, we have videos and, increasingly, influencers who are given a product to try on and promote live on social media. In my opinion, AI doesn't work at all in this segment. Where should the danger be? In addition, people who fell for these AI models certainly found it stupid that it wasn't a real person.
However, when we talk about these models, Emily Pellegrini for example, there is no denying that an incredible number of people follow them on Instagram - over 200,000. And these AI models work as influencers and present goods. Isn't that successful? I think it's because it's exciting and new. Something has emerged that people find interesting. If we have hundreds or thousands of AI models, it will become boring again. And 200,000 followers – if you compare that to a model like Caro Daur, who has over four million followers, this number is negligible. We're talking about it now because it's exciting what technology can do, because it's amazing how realistic these models are. But the question is: do we really want that? I think no. I'm not afraid of it. If I imagine I was browsing through magazines or Instagram and every second or third person was no longer real - I wouldn't find that exciting and I don't think anyone else would either.
It is also said that the influencer market is already very oversaturated. So this division won't have any competition from the artificial Emily Pellegrinis of this world? No. I think the market is so inflationary now because there are too many influencers. In my opinion, this boils down to those who make truly authentic content. People are very interested in what is being advertised and to whom, and discuss it. This leaves the young mother with two children who tells her beauty tricks live rather than the typical superficial fashion influencer with the same content every day. This gets boring quickly.
However, I see a paradox there. On the one hand, people want content that is as authentic as possible, but on the other hand, images are almost always edited. How do you view it? When we talk about artificial intelligence, don't we also have to talk about photo editing? I think retouching everything to perfection is a trend that is now outdated. People don't believe in it anymore. You don't have to give up filters completely, but you still want to recognize yourself - especially when it comes to beauty tips where people want to see the before and after.
Shouldn't AI or Photoshop images at least be labeled? I think there will be a labeling requirement. This has to happen. This is also important for youth protection reasons. I also believe that we all need to learn how to use social media properly. This is a cause of serious mental illness for many young people when they are constantly shown this perfect "high life" that the people behind it usually don't even lead. This will definitely be regulated at some point. And then at the latest it is rather embarrassing to advertise as a company with non-existent people.
You look to the future of the fashion industry without fear, but will your work change in any way? I think the requirements will change. Our business model will shift more and more towards influencers and creators; we will look after the social media area more intensively. And what is coming are so-called avatars when shopping. This means you can enter your measurements and try on clothes virtually. But I don't see that as competition for my business model.