A top fashion house used virtual models to 'present diversity' and the internet is furious

A top fashion house used virtual models to 'present diversity' and the internet is furious

With Olivier Rousteing at the helm as creative director, Balmain has only gone from strength to strength. The fashion house's collaboration with H&M was the retailer's most successful designer collaboration ever, and megastars like Kim Kardashian, Rihanna and Madonna have been frequently photographed in his clothes since he assumed the role back in 2011.

But while Rousteing's has certainly committed, in his own words, to "giving a new vision to fashion", his most recent venture has proved to be too visionary for some. The brand's latest campaign features a new "Virtual Army" comprised of a trio of digitally generated models.

However, it was Rousteing's comments to Refinery29 that caused the most furore. The 32-year-old said that he had turned to some of his favourite musical artists, such as Micheal Jackson, to aid the campaigns goal of "[presenting] diversity in the world."

"I love the fact that [Jackson] was really inclusive and, you know, that's what I'm trying to do with the virtual reality army: different beauty, shapes, ages, and genders," he told the publication. "This is the beginning of what it will mean to present diversity in the world."

But given that the campaign is supposed to be championing inclusivity, some were unconvinced that using digital models was the right way to achieve this goal. The comments section of the brand's Instagram post saw people slam the fashion house for not hiring real and diverse models, who are still not getting enough representation on the catwalk and beyond.

"Honestly, a bit disappointed with the embrace of this digital model concept," one social media user wrote. "@balmain really set precedent for having models of not just one type of representation, but even crossing the boundaries of different eras and even pop culture. It feels like this is a bit of an insult to that particular heritage that you guys have established over these few years."

"It appears @balmain is taking away paid modeling opportunities from strong women whom find it hard enough to make a living within a challenging industry (and would actually represent the brand outside of the campaign)," another commenter added. "They said this shows diversity... yet they won't hire real models who are just as diverse. Major step back."

A third individual highlighted that modelling opportunities for women of colour are already limited. "Yep not feeling it. Also why not support real black models who are already so marginalized within the industry rather than digitally create one?"

"This is problematic. Instead of hiring a black model, the photographer created one. Is it that hard to pay black women? Also shows how much dark skin is still being exoticised by the media," another Instagram user corroborated.

Each model in Balmain's Virtual Army was designed by photographer, Cameron-James Wilson - who is known for being the creator of the world's first digital supermodel, Shudu.