Hyperrealism in Fashion: Blurring the Lines between Reality and Simulation

Cover Image: Lil Miquela

By Emily Music

In today’s digital age, technological advancements have transcended the limitations of reality. These changes have influenced the design and creation of clothing and accessories, leading to the emergence of hyperrealism in fashion. As explained by French philosopher Jean Baudrillard, hyperrealism characterizes a society where the difference between reality and simulation becomes indistinct. In a hyperreal world, simulations are created and embraced as a substitute for real-world experiences, blurring the lines between what is real and what is not. 

The rise of AI-generated content has led to a world where nothing seems truly real. Even fictitious worlds can be disconcertingly realistic. TikTok creator @thealgorythm notes that this is leading to the emergence of caricatures of reality in fashion. Where designs that are inspired by the virtual world are brought to life in a way that challenges our perception of reality. As the border between the metaverse and the real world blurs, brands are creating products that have a cartoonish look and feel. This has resulted in clothing that would appear more natural on a digital avatar rather than on a human.

For instance, Loewe Spring/Summer ’23 collection featured pixelated items and heels resembling Minnie Mouse’s shoes. A nod to Minecraft glitches and Disney cartoons. The brand’s creative director, Jonathan Anderson is aware of the fast-paced changes taking place in our world – a world where a pair of Big Red Boots can “free us from the constraints of reality… if you kick someone with these boots they go BOING” says MSCHF in its product description. 

One of the pixelated looks from Loewe SS23

As early as 2018, Calvin Klein’s Fall-Winter campaign provided a glimpse into the direction the fashion business was headed. The campaign featured Lil Miquela, an AI-generated model and influencer who has since infiltrated the industry. She has been spotted sitting front row at Prada’s SS18 show and has continued to work with streetwear and high-fashion brands. What’s most interesting about Miquela’s role, is that she is by all means a model, paid by brands to wear real-life clothing. Digital models can be created to have any desired look or style, and they are not limited by factors such as availability of location. They can be programmed to interact with fans and consumers in a way that is tailored to the brand’s needs. However, some have raised concerns about the ethical implications of using virtual influencers. If brands are using AI-influencers and models to avoid possible controversy when featuring a real-flawed human, this may lead to the displacement of real models and the perpetuation of unrealistic beauty standards.  

Lil Miquela

Fashion houses have also begun launching their own ‘hyper-real’ virtual sales showrooms. Several brands, including Diesel, Marni, Margiela, and Viktor and Rolf – all part of the OTB group – have recently introduced this unique feature to their Spring/Summer 2021 sales campaigns. Virtual showrooms offer new opportunities for brands to engage with customers and provide them with personalised shopping experiences. By using high-quality 360° images, videos, and 2D close-ups of new collections, customers can get a more detailed and realistic view of the clothes they are interested in buying. This also helps to reduce the number of physical samples that need to be produced, cutting down on costs and reducing one’s carbon footprint. As technological experimentation flourishes, visual showrooms and other technology-driven fashion trends provide brands with new ways to engage customers and reduce their environmental impact.

From the ultra-realistic JW Anderson Pigeon clutch worn by Sarah Jessica Parker on the set of “And Just Like That…” to AI campaigns, the fashion industry is rapidly embracing the digital era. Where cartoonish fashion and hyperreality are linked by their shared interest in blurring the lines between reality and fiction, and in exploring the impact of technology and digital media on our perceptions of the world. These current trends offer a glimpse into a world that is both familiar and strange, playful and surreal, challenging us to think differently about the role of fashion in our lives and its influence on art and culture.

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