Instagram influencers, despite the power they hold in the fashion, beauty and lifestyle industries, have sometimes faced the criticism of being too detached from reality. Their stratospheric rise to popularity was seen by many to signal an inclusive and grounded approach to fashion marketing – to reflect the ambitious but normal young adult and to feed information of products and services to an online audience.
In recent years, though, the market has become crowded and influencers are faced with the challenge to produce striking content that stands out from their (many) peers and competitors. Heavily edited photos, borrowed luxury goods to project a fantasy of wealth, lavish holidays – these are some of the factors that have allegedly alienated the influencer from the audience they originally targeted. Their perceived detachment from reality, however, pales in comparison to what appears to be an emerging trend in brand-influencer collaborations.
Computer-generated influencers appear to be the latest muses for many luxury brands. These avatars, created by individual artists, are the queens of their own domain. Like characters from a novel or film, these modern day Galateas have fleshed out personalities curated by the people behind the accounts. The most famous of these is Miquela Sousa (@lilmiquela), an account with over a million followers dedicated to a petite brunette with a penchant for trendy street-style. Her aesthetic feeds heavily on current fashion movements whilst her personality reflects the political zeitgeist; in one post, Miquela will feature a collaboration with Supreme, and in another, she will offer social commentary. Her design is equally hyper-realistic; freckles and individual strands of hair are animated to emulate a real young woman.
Much like Miquela, the ‘fake’ model Shudu (@shudu.gram) has become an online marvel due to her realistic design. This tall, dark-skinned conception projects a more luxurious image, with partnerships with the likes of Pat McGrath and Fenty Beauty dotted around her feed. This editorial-inspired character was created by fashion photographer Cameron-James Wilson and has opened a debate regarding the space she occupies. Does Shudu take away opportunities from real models? How comfortable is the public with a white man who brings to screen a somewhat sexualised female black character?