French high fashion brand Balmain has long been at fashion’s cutting edge, but with its latest campaign, it’s gone that one step beyond. You might notice something a little uncanny about the faces behind the new campaign, namely, their not-quite-human appearance, because these new additions to the so-called ‘Balmain Army’ are fully-fledged digital creations. Yes — we have officially entered the age of the digital supermodel.
It’s a departure for the brand, which has previously called upon the likes of actual human models (and ones with considerable cachet at that) such as Kendall Jenner and Milla Jovovich, not to mention social influencers like Kim Kardashian West, to front their campaigns. But this recent move has garnered mixed reactions, with some applauding the ethnic diversity of the new creations, but others left raising their eyebrows.
Coming to us from the mind of creative director and fashion darling Olivier Rousteing and artist Cameron-James Wilson, the three new members of the Balmain Digital Army are named Margot, Shudu, and Zhi:
And if Shudu’s digital face looks familiar, it might be because you’ve seen her before. Not only was she featured on Fenty Beauty, she’s got her own Instagram account, too.
The trio of Digital Beauties; Shudu, Zhi and Margot. . . Created by @olivier_rousteing and #cameronjameswilson @cjw.photo for @balmain in collaboration with @_sunshineco . . Clothing perfectly captured and recreated entirely in 3D by @itsclo3d ensuring true to life fit and form. . . Bag chain 3D sculpting by @mimic_productions . . I would to thank the countless number of people involved in this incredible project that spanned months and hundreds of hours to showcase the power of technology in this exciting new digital era. . . #shudu #margot #zhi #3Dart #thediigitals #digitalsupermodel
But what does it mean for actual diversity, not to mention beauty ideals, that she was magic-ed into ‘reality’ by a white, male artist? Inevitably, a synthetic, digitally created image, of any race, is bound to be idealized, and lacking in the natural depth, imperfection, and soul of an actual person.
MARGOT + ZHI The new virtual troops reflect the same beautiful diverse mix, strong confidence and eagerness to explore new worlds. Anyone and everyone is always welcome to join the #BALMAINARMY. Discover more through the link in bio. In collaboration with #CameronJamesWilson @shudu.gram 3D garments by @itsclo3d #BALMAINPF18 #BALMAINBBOX
The brand positions the models as embodiments of “strong confidence and eagerness to explore new worlds.” Who knew such qualities could only be conjured up through CGI?
And it begs an even bigger question: what does it say about diversity that big brands would rather design virtual models on a computer, than scout a diverse mix of models, y’know, IRL? That’s to say nothing of the impact on actual working models — after all, for every digital model that’s fronting a campaign, there’s an actual model who’s not booking work.
It doesn’t reflect well on an industry which has long struggled with complaints of lack of diversity and representation (according to The Fashion Spot, less than a third of runway models are non-white). But, as with all change, it comes slowly, and perhaps for now, we can just be glad the debate is well and truly raging.
Given that the trio have been introduced as the army’s first members, it seems we can expect more future Balmain faces to be somewhat less than human. But it seems like in an experiment such as this one; only the brand really wins.