Swimsuit models with flawless bodies are apparently not picture perfect enough to help sell garments on H&M websites.
The global retailer from Sweden ignited some controversy this week when Swedish newspaper, Aftonbladet, reported the trendy fashion company was using virtual computer-generated human figures on its site to model lingerie and swimsuits.
The virtual figures had real models’ heads digitally attached in post-production which gave the image a very realistic human appearance. The giveaway clue that these models were not entirely flesh and blood was the robotic identical hand position on their hips.
A national advertising watchdog was quick to denounce the company for “creating unrealistic physical ideals,” and demanded the company “find someone with both body and face that can sell their bikinis.”
H&M defended this practice in a statement sent out to all their offices around the globe, including Toronto, stating that these virtual mannequin pictures are not the only images used on their e-commerce site but real life models and still life pictures are also used.
A section on the site called the Dressing Room allows customers to select a garment and have it modelled on one of these virtual mannequins. It should be noted, in a nod to racial diversity, one of these non-human models is black.
Extreme Photoshopping in advertising is increasingly becoming controversial, recently forcing companies like Nordstrom’s and Ann Taylor to acknowledge their over-enthusiastic retouching of images on their websites.
But some fashion companies like Canadian retailer Jacob recently announced they hope “to reverse the trend in digital photo manipulation that has become excessive in our industry.” The Montreal-based company no longer retouches the model’s body in their ads for clothing and lingerie.
H&M acknowledged that the real models whose heads they used were “well aware of how we are using them to show our items.” But how will this affect the modelling industry if more retailers adopt this kind of virtual reality?
“From an agent’s and a model’s point of view, it could mean less revenue,” says Brandon Hall, an agent at Toronto agency Sutherland Models.
If only a model’s head is being shot, it cuts down on the booking time, and there are no lengthy wardrobe, hair and makeup changes which can increase a model’s hourly rate, he says. Also, since the model’s facial expression never changes, the same image can be used over and over without additional fees.
But Hall doubts H&M, a global retailer with deep pockets, is using this practice for budget reasons.
Since the retailer is known for a rapid turnover — new merchandise arrives daily — this process could just mean cutting down on lengthy photo shoots and speeding up the production process of getting images up faster on the site, says Hall.
“They have essentially created a template.”