AI is transforming the fashion world but the fast-growing technology will never be a replacement for designers' "original creativity".
This is the opinion of fashion innovator Calvin Wong, who has developed the Interactive Design Assistant for Fashion (AiDA) -- the world's first designer-led AI system. It uses image-recognition technology to speed up the time it takes for a design to go from a first sketch to the catwalk.
"Designers have their fabric prints, patterns, color tones, initial sketches and they upload the images. Then our AI system can recognize those design elements and come up with more proposals for designers to refine and modify their original design," Wong told AFP.
Wong said AiDA's particular strength was its ability to present "all the possible combinations" for a designer to consider, something that was impossible without artificial intelligence.
An exhibition at Hong Kong's M+ Museum in December featured collections by 14 designers developed using the tool.
But Wong stressed it was about "facilitating designers’ inspiration" not "using AI to take over their creativity". "We must treasure the designer's original creativity," he added.
Wong heads up the Laboratory for Artificial Intelligence in Design (AidLab), a collaboration between Britain's Royal College of Art (RCA) and Hong Kong Polytechnic University where he is a professor in fashion.
- Preservation of skills
RCA vice chancellor Naren Barfield predicted the impact of AI on the fashion industry would be "transformational". "The impact is going to be huge from the ideation and conception stage through to prototyping, right the way through to manufacture, distribution and then ultimately recycling," he said.
So-called personalization is already being used to improve customer experience with better product recommendations and more effective searches, helping shoppers find what they want quickly and easily. But as the technology evolves, so is the range of highly specialized tools being developed.
AiDA was just one of the AidLab projects being showcased in the British capital ahead of London Fashion Week.
Others included the Neo Couture project, which aims to use advanced technologies to digitally preserve the specialized skills and techniques used by couturiers. This tool is creating an AI-assisted training system to help teach couture skills.
- Under control
The future of AI in fashion design, however, is not clear cut. New York brand Collina Strada's founder Hillary Taymour this week admitted that she and her team used AI image generator Midjourney to create the collection they showed at New York Fashion Week earlier this month.
Although Taymour only used images of the brand's own past looks to help generate its Spring/Summer 2024 collection, looming legal issues could keep AI-generated clothes off the catwalks for now.
"I would expect to hear from designers that there are questions of intellectual property rights, and to get that regulated will need a lot of work," said Rebecca Lewin, a senior curator at London's Design Museum.
RCA's Barfield said the area would be tricky, but he expected it to be resolved.
He suggested that if AI gives companies competitive advantage, they'll invest and take it up quickly. The only thing currently holding companies back was the "massive investment" in infrastructure required, he said.
As for designers' fears that it might become a substitute for the human creative process, he said, the key is in who controls the decision making.
Using a "genetic algorithm" where you started with one design and used the software to generate successive ones, the computer could produce 1,000 varying looks, something that might take weeks to draw, he said. On the other hand, if the designer retained control, AI could offer huge benefits by hugely speeding up the process "without necessarily making the decisions for them", he added.