Future of Fashion Styling: Is Artificial Intelligence Here to Hurt Or Help?

Every stylist can tell you about their ‘dread shoot’. The fashion styling opportunity that they completely floundered because the merchandise just didn’t work.  Perhaps the looks didn’t fit the client just right or their fashion future predictions just didn’t resonate with the masses and critics alike. Hey, it happens. Fashion is far from static and with constantly shifting perceptions and human rudiments, some things are bound to be out of a stylist’s control. But what if you could get a little help from the digital-sphere? With more fashion designers and brands turning to Artificial Intelligence (AI), could it be a viable option for stylists of the future? Or will it make the human stylist redundant?

2018 KiraKira trend [Image: Michael Halpern]

What could AI do for stylists?

Previously, the only option designers or brands had was to hire trend-analysis firms such as WGSN to do the manual research. That’s months of combing through information to predict trends, which doesn’t come cheap. Computers can do the same work in a fraction of the time. Using an algorithm, AI could easily go through a compilation of personal data and reveal to a stylist what people actually want or like. For instance, designer Tommy Hilfiger teamed up with the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) and IBM for a project that would work with AI tools. According to CB Insights, the 3D design tool would decipher, “real-time fashion industry trends, customer sentiment around Tommy Hilfiger products and runway images, and resurfacing themes in trending patterns, silhouettes, colours, and styles.”

Gucci’s Spring 2018 campaign. [Image Ignasi Monreal / Gucci]

With the speed at which trends come and go, being able to predict what the next wave will be could provide any fashion designer or stylist with an added advantage. By analysing different elements of information, they can provide data that minimizes risk but still inspires the artist in their next creative project. JASONGRECH, an Australian couture designer, partnered with IBM’s cognitive tech – known as the Watson cognitive system – to help fashion his collection for Melbourne Fashion Week 2016. The algorithm helped this designer, whom typically designed in darker colours, make the timely shift to pastels.

 

Retails spaces are already embracing Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) such as Obsess VR to make shopping an immersive experience. But its platforms such as Wide Eyes TechnologiesCortexicaThread Genius, ViSenze, and Sarafan that are tapping into hyper-personalization. That is, using visual recognition, product matching tech and attribute tagging to analyse shopper’s habits and advice brands on anything from marketing strategies and customer preferred experience to product classification. Now, imagine a stylist with this kind of information. Coupled with the assessment they make in person, they’d be able to make offer more accurate style recommendations to their clients or project. They could also tap into the made-to-order demand that more customers are insisting on.

Gender Neutral fashion trend 2018 [Image: Tilly and William]

Why stylist may be against AI…

There is the worry that AI could be so efficient that it would replace the stylist altogether. Take for the example the success of Stitch Fix. The start-up has only been around for seven years now but it already has millions of users who use this fashion service to predict clothing items that they may be interested in. It can credit its success rate to its algorithm based on “keep-and-return” records. Through this data, they’ve gone a step further and even developed apparel and recommend new designs that they should add to their inventory. With access to such a diverse feedback model, they are able to make strategic decisions that increases the customer satisfaction rate significantly.

 

 

Then there are Digital stylists such as Epytom and Mode.ai that are designed to give stylist advice. Eventually, companies are aiming to create technology that allows consumers to scan their body’s successfully at home to answer the plea for customization and solve the fit-issue. One service already attempting to do this is Metail.

 

Reason not to panic just yet…

Granted, these robots or systems are able to go through dense data and output recommendations in seconds. Nevertheless, they aren’t able to process emotion the way humans can; and isn’t fashion emotive?  Additionally, its trend forecasting capabilities could accurately aid the business side fashion, but it may come up short on the creative angle. The individual creativity element is what prevents the repetition of concepts and is able to present diversity such as Avant-Garde.

Rihanna carrying a Jacquemus petite purse [Image: Vogue]

In an interview with The Observer, American fashion designer, Zac Posen, elaborated, “AI will not be able to synthesize the irrational surprises that only humans have. On a daily basis, a human brain processes so much experiences and influences that can lead to changes in taste and choices immediately and irrationally. That’s something I don’t believe AI or algorithms can be as quick or reactive yet.” So, instead of these cognitive technologies coming in to replace the stylist, it can be argued that they are here to enhance and accelerate the creative process.

[Image: Stitch Fix/Digiday]

Even in the case of Stitch Fix, humans are still involved. Yes, it uses and algorithm but it was coded by the company’s 85-person data team. Furthermore, they still have human stylists who, after the system has made a commendation, will make the final decision on the selection.

FIT’s Graduating Seniors Present “The Future of Fashion” [Image: Hannah Lajba / Mark Von Holden / WWD]

For now, it seems that tech and human stylists can co-exist. However, who is to say that these machines or AI robots won’t eventually be able to learn human expert judgement – especially in the emotion arena? While time will have to tell with this frontier, we can still appreciate the human intuition that guides fashion future predictions today. For a little stylist-inspiration, check out Fashion Institute of Technology’s annual Future of Fashion show; where the graduating seniors from FIT present looks to editors, potential employers and buyers as their final projects. You can watch it here.

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