Back in the glory days of cyberpunk, people talked a lot about avatars: a person’s representation in cyberspace. While an avatar today is just the small image attached to your Twitter account, the word used to mean something more: a dynamic, ever-mutating digital body that reflected all the data cyberspace knew about you.
This is the meaning of avatar that French digital art collective Normals is tapping into with the new iPhone app, Apparel. The idea is weird: an app that can generatively design a T-shirt for your online avatar to wear, based on Twitter data. And the results aren’t exactly something you’d put on for a night out on the town. It’s what fashion will look like when we all call it quits in meatspace and upload our brains to the cloud.
Apparel the app is a spin-off of Apparel the art project, Normals’ previous attempt to create fashion that was “50% neoprene, 50% digital” — in other words, a garment that existed both physically and online at the same time. Here’s how it works. When you download the app, Apparel asks to connect to your Twitter profile, at which point, it uses your data to algorithmically generate a 3-D mesh of what a T-shirt fitting your avatar would look like. The app has an augmented reality side too, so if you point your iPhone camera at Apparel’s official website, it’ll show you what your T-shirt would look like in the real world.
Not surprisingly, these shirts don’t exactly translate to physical fashion super gracefully. Some of Apparel’s T-shirts can look more like a bunch of animals shoved into a telepod together than viable designs, in fact. But as a sort of generative data viz about what you’re putting out there online, Apparel is strangely captivating. It’s fascinating watching how a few tweets can and can’t change what your avatar is wearing.