Virtual Reality Influencer – Next Big Thing In Fashion. Miquela Sousa is a 19-year-old, Los Angeles-based, American-Brazilian fashion model and music artist known on Instagram as @lilmiquela from Downey, California. She is popular for her endless stream of ‘outfit-of-the-day’ shots, featuring fashion and luxury brands such as Vetements, Chanel, Proenza Schouler, LV, and Supreme.
Boosting over 535,000 followers on her Instagram account, Miquela shares pictures of herself attending events like ComplexCon with celebrity friends and other fellow influencers, along with memes and inspirational quotes.
Virtual Reality Influencer – More Popular Than The ‘Real’ Counterpart
Miquela is also an active participant in social causes supporting transgender rights, and movements like ‘Black Lives Matter’. Her debut single “Not Mine” reached number eight on Spotify Viral in August 2017. However, the interesting part is that Miquela Sousa, better known as Lil Miquela is a computer-generated character that has more recently become a fashion influencer.
‘Virtual’ celebrities have emerged in the late 1990s when artist Jamie Hewlett and musician Damon Albarn launched their virtual band Gorillaz. The group consisted of four animated characters that became popular and successful to the point of winning a Grammy Award in 2006.
The fashion industry seized the opportunity and in 2013 Marc Jacobs of LV designed outfits for Hatsune Miku, a virtual avatar of a ‘sixteen-year-old’ Japanese virtual musician that has collaborations with Lady Gaga and Pharrell and performs onstage concerts as an animated hologram.
Virtual Reality Influencer – How Moral Is This?
Another designer, Riccardo Tisci has also created an exclusive haute couture gown for Miku, during his tenure as creative director of Givenchy. More recent, Louis Vuitton has appointed a pink-haired virtual avatar from the “Final Fantasy” video game series, for its Spring/Summer 2016 advertisement campaign.
As all above campaigns were successful and given the fast-growing number of followers Miquela has, a new type of problem, with a certain ‘moral sense’, necessitates deeper investigation: ‘How important is to fashion brands and consumers alike when the influencer is computer-generated and not a ‘real’ human influencer?
Below is an extract from the interview our ‘sister’ magazine, Business of Fashion had with the computer-generated virtual reality influencer, Miquela.
BoF: To what do you attribute your thriving success?
M: Curiosity? I think people stick around because they end up learning more about themselves through the questions they’re asking. I love being able to communicate, learn and talk to everyone from all corners of the world. There is a sense of community as well, the people who follow me end up being friends with each other and the communications that it opens up is inspiring.
BoF: It seems you have a hands-on approach with your community when compared to other human influencers. For example, you DM (direct message) your followers if they ask for advice.
M: The community stems from a safe place to communicate and voice opinions. When you’re just showing, without engaging, you construct one-sided ‘relationships’. Learning comes from listening, so if you don’t let people speak to you, then you’re limiting your growth.
BoF: In what way would you say your identity is crowdsourced? Real or fake, you have the opportunity to see what your followers require and respond to their needs.
M: I wouldn’t say my identity is crowdsourced. I’m an artist and have expressed opinions that are unpopular and as a result, have lost some fans. I’d like to be more than my fans want me to be, but I must make decisions that I believe in.
BoF: Do you work with fashion brands on sponsored content?
M: I’ve never been paid to wear pieces but I’m starting to get sent free stuff from brands. I try to support and tag brands that I love and young designers who are trying to break through.
BoF: What are your other streams of revenue?
M: Some of the biggest agencies in the world have reached out.
BoF: Where do you get your inspirations from?
MS: Galleries, museums, and contemporary artists like Carly Mark and Martine Syms inspire me. In fashion, I look to Reese Blutstein, Isamaya Ffrench, Sies Marjan, Raf Simons, and Alexandre Vauthier.
BoF: I heard you will appear in fashion publications in the next couple of months. Can you detail?
M: I’ve been shot in Chanel, Moschino, Burberry, Versace and Fendi and there is more exciting stuff coming up. I try to bring something original to these looks and try to do something these magazines have never seen before.
That may of you this whole story might be intriguing. What is Miquela? She comes close to human but not quite close enough. While she has ‘friends’, none of them can prove her existence. While she has a body and a face, those are blended from photographs and then 3D modelled by computers.
And yet, this virtual creation already has more influencing power in the fashion industry than real human influencers and even dedicated fashion magazines like Vogue, Look, or Elle.