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Why AI was the guest of honor at Rag and Bone’s Fashion Week dinner

The retailer has pushed the limits of how to display its season’s collections since announcing the end of traditional runway shows in 2017.

Why AI was the guest of honor at Rag and Bone’s Fashion Week dinner
[Image: courtesy of Elie Zananiri]

It’s been two years since Rag and Bone cofounder Marcus Wainwright announced the death of the runway fashion show–for his brand, anyway–and he has no plans on reviving it.

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Wainwright has challenged himself to think of new frameworks to display his collections in ways that pushes past what’s conventional but isn’t a gimmick that overshadows the clothes. Rag and Bone has explored such experiences as self-portrait sessions, narrative and unscripted films, and choreographed experiences to launch new collections.

For fall 2019, Wainwright decided to throw a dinner party . . . with AI as the guest of honor.

Around 50 curated guests, styled in Rag and Bone’s latest, were invited to the Weylin in Brooklyn this past Friday. Photographing celebrities like Lakeith Stanfield, Emma Roberts, Liev Schreiber, and Justin Theroux in your clothes at a chic dinner spread is fine, and those photographs will certainly be part of the Rag and Bone’s campaign. But Wainwright wanted something more.

“We started exploring how to capture [the collection] in different ways and the idea of artificial intelligence came up,” he says. “It just felt like it would be a very interesting way to capture clothing in a three-dimensional way, which you can’t do with film and photography.”

Rag & Bone’s A Last Supper [Photo: courtesy of Ulrich Knoblauch]
In order to make the AI as natural a guest as possible (the irony in that statement is noted), A Last Supper employed two types of artificial neural networks (aka deep learning technology): convolutional neural networks that classify objects and people in images, and long short-term memory recurrent neural networks that predict sequences of text once given a starting point. These aided in allowing the AI to give opening remarks, gather information, learn throughout the evening, and then share some closing remarks. To actually capture the collection, point cloud data–a representation of how the AI sees the world–was used, and the footage was compiled into a conceptual video with original music from Radiohead’s Thom Yorke.

“There’s an inherent risk with trying something new. But I look at filmmakers, musicians, technology companies, and that sense of adventure and innovation is what I find inspiring,” Wainwright says. “People who’ve got the balls to do the opposite of what someone else is doing, I find that very inspiring.”

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Rag & Bone’s A Last Supper [Photo: courtesy of Ulrich Knoblauch]
“But there are some realities to what we have to achieve,” he continues. “You can’t just have innovation for innovation’s sake. And I think we’ve been guilty sometimes of challenging the status quo without having a very defined objective in mind.”

Wainwright admits that last year’s film Why Can’t We Get Along for the Rag and Bone spring collection didn’t make the clothes as visible as he wanted. “You didn’t really get an idea of what that season was like, because you didn’t have enough people in it, and there wasn’t enough focus on the order of it,” he says. “If you did not know what Rag and Bone was at all and you had never seen any Rag and Bone clothes, I don’t think you would have got a clear picture of what Rag and Bone stands for.”

[Image: courtesy of Elie Zananiri]
With A Last Supper, Wainwright and his team made sure to start with the clothes and work backward. Not only were there more models (i.e., dinner guests), but the AI added a new layer on how we look at clothes in general.

“Involving technology the way we’re doing it is not something I would think about fashion at all,” says Aaron Duffy, A Last Supper‘s creative lead and founder of communications and art company Special Guest. “But it’s really worth thinking about, because this is the path that we’re on. Our lives are going to be paralleled by artificial intelligence, and what we get to do in an art-making world is imagine what that could be like.”

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About the author

KC covers entertainment and pop culture for Fast Company. Previously, KC was part of the Emmy Award-winning team at "Good Morning America" where he was the social media producer.

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