Generative AI won’t be the end of human fashion designers

A new technology threatens to disrupt an entire creative field and automate human skill and invention, rendering people nearly useless as it produces an endless amount of soulless trash.

The statement may reflect current fears about generative artificial intelligence in fashion and other industries, but it also describes how many artists and critics felt about the invention of photography in the 19th century. Their plight is frequently summed up by the account of the French artist Paul Delaroche, who is said to have exclaimed upon seeing a daguerreotype in 1840: “Painting is dead!

It wasn’t, but the concern was understandable. Painters, who held a virtual monopoly on capturing visual scenes, were faced with new technology that could do the job with unparalleled speed and precision. The anxiety persisted for decades. In 1901, the artist Henrietta Clopath noted in the art magazine “Brush and Pencil” that some thought that once color photography was perfected and generalized “the painter will have nothing more to do”.

Some in today’s fashion are also worried about the generative AI boom that portends a time when all fashion will be designed by an algorithm and human designers will be on the streets. It’s too early to tell what the full impact of the technology will ultimately be, but the likelihood of that seems low. If art after photography is any indication, fashion will adapt.

“I think it will push us to appreciate physical craftsmanship even more,” Matthew Drinkwater, director of the fashion innovation agency at the London College of Fashion, told me in June.

As its title suggests, Drinkwater is not technophobic. The FIA’s aim is to anticipate the technologies that will be important in the next three to five years and to explore their possibilities. The agency began experimenting with image-generating AI systems in 2019, and Drinkwater believes the technology could change the way designers work. What he doesn’t believe is that it will eliminate the need for human creativity or knowledge of the art of fashion. To produce good designs with AI, they still need to understand physical clothing.

“When it becomes really simple to generate digital images, the tangibility of physical products becomes even more important to us,” he said.

While AI-enabled fantasy imagery seems to be contributing to a surreal marketing surge, that doesn’t mean traditional campaigns will go away either. On the contrary, Tom Hyde, vice president of strategy at creative agency Movers + Shakers, recently told BoF that he thinks the pendulum may soon swing the other way.

“We could see a backlash and return to physical reality, craftsmanship and real experiential creativity in the world,” he said.

In painting, the advent of photography is said to have helped spur the movement towards expressionism, which eschewed realistic depictions of the world – which a camera could do anyway – in favor of using of formal characteristics such as line, color and composition to project the artist. inner thoughts and emotions. But many painters have also been inspired by photography, especially its ability to freeze time. Today, famous artists such as Gerhard Richter may use both mediums or combine them.

Photography, which would take time to be widely recognized as an art form in its own right capable of doing more than mechanically reproducing the world, would also have a profound effect on fashion, of course. Fashion photography, with its roots in Victorian portraiture, evolved from images of dresses to the sale of dreams, to paraphrase the famous vogue photographer Irving Penn. It has become one of fashion’s most important methods of communicating with its audience.

Technology is never just a tool, and while it can have a big impact on the world, it’s how it’s used that matters. Some like Iris Van Herpen and Bottega Veneta find ways to put it at the service of craftsmanship rather than in its place. When it comes to generative AI, it’s up to fashion companies to decide if and how they want to use it.

Drinkwater believes there will be more and more opportunities for those interested in digital design, whether it’s AI or 3D design tools. But many will still pursue the more traditional physical route. (In fact, generative AI is proving a tough sell to many fashion students so far.) However, they don’t have to be mutually exclusive, and each could potentially benefit the other.

“Eventually you’ll get this really nice mixed-media tech that’s going to build this next generation of experiences,” Drinkwater said.

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