Supermodels have long been the embodiment of the fashion world. These individuals have been revered across the world for there looks, style and fame – creating many aspirational followers. However, the recent creation of AI model ‘Shudu’ has instigated tension in the fashion community, prompting the question of the use of computer-generated models as well as cultural appropriation controversy.
‘Shudu’ was created by digital artist Cameron-James Wilson – a self-described ‘geek’ who has a long history in the fashion industry. Looking for a creative outlet, Wilson been dabbling in the creation of online and customisable Barbies. One of these creations described as a ‘South African Princess’, was the inspiration for ‘Shudu’ – a hyper-real AI model with an extremely dark complexion aimed to represent the African community.
‘Shudu’ quickly became an online sensation after her first post last April – amassing over 89000 followers. Her appearance caught the attention of singer-turned-entrepreneur Rihanna, who released her makeup line ‘Fenty Beauty’. Shudu was signed to promote the beauty line, appearing in a post with orange lipstick on and gathering over 222000 likes – more than four times the average post the brand generated. This caused controversy for more than one reason.
Firstly with Wilson being a white male and ‘Shudu’ embodying a black female, many believe that there are elements of cultural appropriation. This can be further perpetuated by the ongoing black-lives-matter campaign in America, in which the African-American community is speaking out against white privilege and police brutality. There has been backlash online as to how this white photographer could be “capitalising off black bodies”. Some of these comments include “Black models, specifically dark skin black models are not a trend though. We should be the norm”
Another digitally related controversy caused by Shudu was the fact that an AI model was chosen over a real woman. Many believe that individuals and models could have benefitted from the profit from their sheer talent, rather than going to a generator behind a computer screen. Furthermore, the use of the digitally created and enhanced body defies the latest trend of positive body image and using “real models“.
However, Wilson believes that use of Shudu adds to the movement. “It’s meant to be beautiful art which empowers people. It’s not trying to take away an opportunity from anyone or replace anyone. She’s trying to complement those people.” he quoted to Harpers Bazaar. The addition of AI into the fashion world may also make for a cheaper alternative, as well as being able to create an entity which fits the design brief perfectly.
Thus as there are two main controversies caused by Shudu, I will leave readers two questions to ponder. Firstly, do you consider Shudu as a form of cultural appropriation? Furthermore, do you think it is just to introduce AI models into fashion?