Fashion Photography: When Computers Make Mannequins into Models

The world of fashion photography for e-commerce is facing a problem: consumers. They are looking for more visuals (about ten in the Chinese market, and around five in Europe) to reassure themselves about the products they are about to purchase. The problem is that these visuals are expensive. People and technology are needed to create these photos. Allure Systems, a French-Chinese start-up, has developed a solution to address this problem.

fashion photography
Allure Systems approaches absolute realism. It takes a lot of attention to realize that this is a reconstructed photo of a couple of humans, rather than a single human. The 3-step process, still quite manual, foreshadows complete automation.

 

The new revolution of fashion photography

This period is truly over. Make way for the new industrial revolution of fashion photography for e-commerce. A revolution that is just beginning. A piece of Franco-Chinese technology gives us a taste of what is to come.

To help you understand the ongoing changes in the field of fashion photography for e-commerce, I interviewed Fanny Forgeau of Allure Systems. It is almost frightening when one becomes aware that the photographed characters are recompositions. We notice details here and there that make you aware that these images are made – or reconstituted rather – but the result is nevertheless spectacular and artistically very successful.

There is indeed a small slice of “science fiction”, to use the words of Fanny in her interview. We also see that the technology is still a work in progress some the automation of the process created by Allure Systems. In the meantime, I invite you to dive into the future of fashion photography with Fanny Forgeau.

What is the origin of Allure Systems?

Gabrielle Chou is a French woman who earned her Phd in China and has been living there for around 20 years. She has an exciting story to share with people.

She actually set up three start-ups in China. In fact, Allure Systems is the third startup that she founded two and a half years ago with Jérémy Chamoux.

A need for expensive visuals to better sell online

The basis of the founding idea of the company was an encounter with the boss of showroomprive (A French equivalent to Gilt or Hautelook). She discovered that the challenge of all e-traders today is to meet the strong demand of selling product visuals on the internet.

The consumer wants to understand the product he/she has in front of them when they go online shopping. Up until now, one or two visuals could suffice. Today, we need a minimum of five visuals. In China, consumers need to see at least a dozen photos.

However, a photo shoot is very expensive and very difficult to organize, not to mention the lack of guarantee of quality and homogeneity. What Allure allows, in addition to the productivity gain, is the simplification of the shooting process. Usually, make-up artists, hairdressers, models, photographers, and stylists are needed, but a stylist is all that is necessary with Allure to manipulate mannequins into virtually created real people.

Step 1: to model an “ideal” body from several reconstructed dummies

We virtualize the body, which allows us to produce mannequins that will be accurate replicas, with slightly improved proportions, of these models.

You can take the head of a person, the hands of another, the body of a third … One can thus produce an “ideal” body, and create the silhouette that will perfectly interest the target. “Ideal” may mean different things to a variety of e-merchants. Plus size would be ideal for some, while petite would be ideal for others.

We combine several technologies that allow the virtualization of mannequins. A camera, a dozen cameras, or a couple of rotating cameras. By doing so, we ensure the best possible outcome.

The operation of assembling an “ideal” mannequin is quite technical. The process was created by people who previously worked on video games or special effects. The engineers can manipulate files in 3D. We can imagine that this will be done in a more automated way in the near future.

Step 2: Make a Resin Manikin from the “Ideal” mannequin

The second step is to make a resin dummy from this “ideal” mannequin. We deliver a turnkey studio to an e-trader who owns a shooting studio.

Finally, we need one or two photographers to create all the editorial photos that will add an artistic touch, even if what the technology does is already close to the quality requirement.

Step 3: the assembly of the photos to prepare the setting online

The sending mechanism goes through an online portal that is made available to the merchant. They are able to access it from the studio, then we receive the photos that are combined automatically with technology. We lay the picture of the garment on top of the photo of the virtualized model.

The quality control allows us to make necessary edits and then put the visual directly online all within a few hours.

The future of this technology

We are currently working with a very large American distributor, for whom we are creating a studio in California. Inevitably, this technology is going to change a number of aspects of photography, just like digital has done for years.

On the other hand, I do not think this marks the end of photographers. We still need artists to make quality editorial photos. Moreover, our team includes photographers who are involved in the artistic part of the project.

We are in full internationalization, and the English market is responding very well right now. Our primary challenge is R & D, to always be slightly ahead, and also to automate our processes as much as possible. Another one of our problems is to respond to the massive challenge of 3D virtualization. We know that’s the direction we have to head in, and we are actively working on it.

Diana Mylonas

Diana Mylonas

Junior Consultant at Visionary Marketing
Third year communcation and business student at Villanova University; Currently studying abroad in Paris, France.
Diana Mylonas