How AI is enabling a virtual world of fashion

'The blurring of our physical and digital lives is going to lead to fashion shows that are markedly different from the traditional runway of the past.'
24 September 2020
  • Creative AI is being used to develop creative fashion solutions and experiences
  • New creative AI courses explore its uses in the fashion industry while challenging the perception of fashion design and showcasing
  • Use of creative AI include computer-generated artwork which sold at Christie’s for US$432,500 in 2018

Artificial intelligence (AI) in fashion is no longer a secret and has widely been used to mostly help businesses to streamline processes and increase sales. But the skillsets of fashion designers and computer scientists are miles apart, so it’s not until recently that the creative applications of AI in this industry have been explored.

“Initial uses of artificial intelligence have focused on quantifiable business needs, which has allowed for start-ups to offer a service to brands,” Matthew Drinkwater, head of the fashion innovation agency (FIA) at London College of Fashion (LCF), told Forbes. “Creativity is much more difficult to quantify and therefore more likely to follow behind.”

Creative AI and fashion

Seeing the opportunity for AI to play a bigger role in the creative process, LCF has launched an AI course aiming to develop creative fashion solutions and experiences that challenge the current approaches to fashion design.

The 8-week “AI and Fashion” course, which has already seen 20 fashion students learn Python to write code, was developed by the FIA in partnership with Dr. Pinar Yanardag, a former post-doc at MIT Media Lab and creator of collaborative collective How to Generate (Almost) Anything.

Despite being complete beginners in learning Python, the students were said to be able to thrive once they understood the technical capabilities of AI.

The students were asked to come up with proof-of-concept showcases and uses of AI within the fashion industry, before being shown how to gather appropriate data to train their algorithms to classify items of clothing and predict fashion trends from social media, as well as use style transfer to recognize imagery and create new designs.

By the end of the course, the students created a virtual fashion show using archive LCF show footage that was placed in different 3D environments with models wearing new 3D-generated and animated garments.

The AI models used were generative adversarial networks (GANs). GANs are said to have become the defining look of contemporary AI art and can be used to create photos of imaginary fashion models without the need to hire a model, photographer, or makeup artist.

The technology is a type of machine learning where two adversarial models are trained simultaneously – a generator (the designer) and discriminator (the design critic). The basic idea of GANs is that during training, the generator becomes better at creating images that look real, while the discriminator becomes better at detecting images that are not real. This enables the model to learn in an unsupervised manner.

Computer vision algorithms were used to detect skeletal movement from archive video footage, which then turned into a 3D pose simulation that allowed them to animate purely digital avatars in Blender based on the initial footage’s movement details.

CLO software was then used to design and animate the 3D garments before style transfer allowed additional detail to the clothes to be applied. The virtual fashion show was finally realized in Unity, where the digital models were imported, and FIA’s 3D Designer created immersive, animated environments.

The proof-of-concept virtual show was launched at London Fashion Week, with most brands live streaming catwalk shows behind closed doors, or releasing catwalk-style videos online, due to current ongoing social distancing measures.

New possibilities

Engagement numbers for digital shows have shown to be low in comparison to physical fashion shows, however, enthusiasm for AI-generated virtual fashion experiences continue to grow.

“It has long been evident that fashion weeks have needed to evolve to provide a much more varied and accessible experience,” Drinkwater said, “one fact is undeniable, the increased blurring of our physical and digital lives is going to lead to fashion shows that are markedly different from the traditional runway of the past.”

Notable uses of creative AI include the creation of computer-generated artwork, Portrait of Edmond Belamy, which was sold for US$432,500 in 2018 and was made by self-taught AI artist Robbie Barrat using a GAN model. Since then, Barrat has gone on to work on an AI-generated Balenciaga runway show and trained neural networks for fashion brand Acne Studios to generate designs for their AW20 men’s collection.

The full potential for creative AI in fashion has yet to be discovered, however, with continuous restrictions and physical live events barely possible, realizing the opportunities the technology presents is something brands would do well to capitalize on.

As creative AI continues to find valuable use cases within the fashion industry, the possibility of an exciting facet of fashion emerging is very real.