Shudu Gram posing for the new Samsung phone advertising campaign

Which one is not a real model ?

Yes there is one, but it is difficult to tell when looking at the picture quickly, right ?

What are virtual models ?

In the recent years, we have seen appear more and more realistic humanoids or avatars online. Originally designed as a 3D piece of art shared on creative social medias such as Instagram, it started to take another path when gaining popularity : virtual modeling.

There are currently approximately 15 digital models pursuing a “career” online, mostly on Instagram. Among these, the first digital supermodel to have been created is Shudu Gram in 2017 by the Londonian photographer Cameron-James Wilson. Shudu Gram’s “career” really started in 2018. Since her creation, she managed to reach 210K followers on Instagram. Moreover, her last video post in August 2020 receiving 40,2K views.

Shudu Gram is posing for Tiffany and co. on her instagram page

Shudu Gram post for Tiffany and co. in 2018

Some of these avatars even become big influencers ! It is the case with the most famous and followed CGI (Computer Generated Image) influencers : Imma (from Aww Inc. Tokyo) and Lil Miquela, Blawko and Bermuda (from Brud).

This is the instagram page of the digital influencer Imma Gram

Imma Gram CGI influencer instagram page

This is the instagram page of the digital influencer Lil Miquela

Lil Miquela CGI influencer instagram page










Why did digital models become trendy ?

Brands, especially luxury brands, collaborate more and more with digital models for various campaigns. We have an example with Olivier Rousteing, the fashion designer of Balmain who collaborated with Shudu Gram for a fashion campaign in 2018 on Instagram.

We can see 3 digital models posing for the fashion brand Balmain on instagram

Margot, Shudu and Zhi posing for a Balmain campaign in 2018

Other brands have worked with digital modeling such as Tiffany & Co., Fenty Beauty, Swarovski, Ellesse, Vogue, Samsung, Louboutin, etc.


Thoughts on digital models

Digital models can generate a lot of engagement on social medias because of the fascination (negative or positive) they arouse. Some people will mention ethical issues regarding body image, the unreachable and too unrealistic perfection, the lack of diversity in beauty ideals, the fear of stealing the work of real models… Cameron-James Wilson also received criticism with Shudu Gram saying he was using the “trendy image of black woman” to gain popularity, moreover, without paying anyone. On the other hand, some people appreciate the creativity of the designers, the innovation and freshness destabilizing the classical vision of the model industry and online advertising.

Moreover, brands can consider digital models as safer influencers. Indeed, they don’t engage into bad buzz like it can happen with other influencers, there is more control on the image. Therefore, it is often a good return on investment.


Such success has pushed the Singaporean fashion photographer Shavonne Wong to start the first virtual modeling agency in August 2020 called Gen V. She used her free time during pandemic to learn new skills online and catch an opportunity in this recent market. Her vision was to change the classical standards of high fashion. She wanted to modernize it and offer new unique faces and shapes for models, like the 3 models she created : Kade, Lilium, and Lunah. Her objective for the future is to keep bringing diversity to the fashion industry.


Is it an evolving trend ?

This trend has indeed increased more and more with pandemic situations like this year. Many luxury brands have resorted to dolls, puppets, or digital models for their digital fashion shows during fashion weeks in 2020. Some others are also even using video game (like Animal Crossing : New Horizons) or manga characters (like Luffy and Zoro from One Piece) to endorse some of their products.

Luffy used for a Gucci campaign in 2020

Zoro used for a Gucci campaign in 2020













Although digital models are getting popular, it seems impossible that they could replace real models completely. Even when including more diversity, many people are seeking for real human connection which definitly still lacks with digital models. Furthermore, the FTC (The Federal Trade Commission) is getting more serious with the rules that should be applied for virtual models, just as there are some for human social influencers endorsing products.

First, people, especially teenagers, should be aware that these influencers are fake people by mentioning it clearly in the description. Also, when doing a adversiting, there should be the classic informative disclosure “#ad” or “#sponsored”.


What is your viewpoint on virtual models ? Don’t hesitate to share your thoughts~~

You can also learn more about influencers if you want !


Sources :

CNN Business, « Instagram star isn’t what she seems. But brands are buying in » (25/06/2018)

Coconuts, “Singapore’s first virtual modeling agency struts into the fashion world” (02/11/20), « Les mannequins de demain seront-ils (eux aussi) virtuels ? » (11/12/2020)

Le Monde, « Fascinante ou flippante, Shudu Gram est une femme virtuelle influente » (23/04/18)