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The next chance for fashion in the metaverse is to turn real models into digital avatars


Photogenics, a modeling agency in Los Angeles, is starting an avatar division. This will give brands a new way to work with talent in the metaverse that isn’t just digital. All of the avatars are based on models who are currently signed with the agency. They serve as the models’ “alternate selves” in the metaverse.

Photogenics used 3D scans of the models’ faces to make the avatars, while their bodies were made from scratch. Nicole Bordeaux, the CEO of Photogenics, says that they were also given different voices and styles so that they “felt real.” Nina Hawkins, the designer and founder of Lilium Labs, helped the models decide what their avatars would look like, such as what features, clothes, and accessories they would and would not be comfortable with. Some of the models tried to look like real people, while others were more creative with their looks. The models can also decide if and when they want to update their avatars as they get older and change. There are 13 models on the list right now, and more are in the works.

Photogenics models can do shoots, drops, wearables, events, and other modeling jobs in the metaverse. Brands pay a fee to use the avatar models for a certain amount of time in their metaverse campaigns. Photogenics transfers an NFT that has a built-in expiration date, at which point the proof of license is no longer valid.The client license agreement spells out rates and usage, but Photogenics hasn’t said how profits will be split or how models will be paid. All they’ve said is that it’s a partnership between all parties and may depend on the project. Brands can also hire Hawkins through the agency to turn their designs into digital files and dress the models. Sage Morei is a designer and the founder of Horizon Lab. He made the promotional video for this first group of avatars and can also make video campaigns for you.

Bordeaux says that she doesn’t want the industry to “fall to computer-generated talent,” and she hopes that Photogenics’ approach will help avoid the problems that come with making virtual characters that don’t feel real.She hopes to achieve this by developing avatar personas that mirror models’ “real live selves” including “what they believe in and what they stand for”, Bordeaux says.According to Timmu Tke, CEO and co-founder of the avatar platform Ready Player Me, models’ avatars may be able to convey different aspects of their personalities in the digital realm than they can in the real world, which would make them more dynamic.

Avatars and other virtual characters are now important parts of virtual worlds. Already, brands have made deals with both real and made-up versions of famous people to wear their clothes. Miquela Sousa, who goes by the name “Lil Miquela,” is probably the best-known virtual influencer. She has worked with brands like Calvin Klein (with Bella Hadid) and Pacsun.Gucci made avatars of creative director Alessandro Michele and singer Miley Cyrus for the online game Roblox. Tommy Hilfiger and Gucci have teamed up with a company called Superplastic, whose characters will walk a virtual Tommy fashion show during New York Fashion Week.LVMH made a fake ambassador named Livi to be the face of all of the group’s innovation strategies. Burberry dressed a computer-generated version of Kendall Jenner for a 2020 ad campaign. In 2018, Balmain hired three CGI models from The Digitals, a company that makes avatars.

Digital models have brought up questions and sparked debate about what they can do that traditional models can’t and how developers can make digital avatars in an ethical way, especially in terms of how they show race and gender.In the past, debates have shown how important it is for brands to think about diversity not only in the features of their avatars but also in the creators they hire to make them.

“We’ve had artists and celebrities create their avatars on Roblox to be able to engage with our global community and extend their personal brand into new social spaces where culture and trends are being shaped,” says Christina Wootton, VP of global partnerships at Roblox.

But the Photogenics models’ ability to choose their features does bring up questions about the morality of flattering AR filters and the ease of augmentation, which could make it hard to tell what’s real and what’s not.Assistant professor at Chapman University’s School of Communication Megan Vendemia says that it will be important to keep a close eye on how avatars that look like real people are used in virtual environments. This is because manipulation could cause problems similar to those caused by deep fakes.

Bordeaux from Photogenics says that as more of the agency’s models get the chance to go into the metaverse, she wants to include a wider range of body shapes and sizes to better reflect the agency’s makeup.“The diversity is already there,” says Bordeaux. Having digital versions of their work could also help models in their careers by giving them more ways to make money. If a model gets pregnant, for example, so can their avatar, or the model might choose to keep their avatar the same so they can keep working in the metaverse.

“In the real world, models often get booked based on their personalities,” says Photogenics creative director Melanie deJesus. “That’s why building up a personality will be important in the future when you can interact with these avatars. I think clients will really value that,” she says.

Photogenics plans to build more metaverse activations, such as NFT projects and more 3D designer engagements, in addition to making more types of models.With the technology we have now, the models will mostly be licensed for campaigns in the near future, but the agency doesn’t rule out gaming or metaverse partnerships in the future.

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