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HomeFashionExactly What Is Copy, the First AI-Powered Fashion Magazine, Trying to Prove?

Exactly What Is Copy, the First AI-Powered Fashion Magazine, Trying to Prove?

AI-generated image on the cover of Copy.

Photo: Courtesy of Copy Magazine

It was a Sunday night, quiet in the house, and I sat on the sofa with a hefty issue of Copy—billed as “the world’s first AI-powered fashion magazine” by its creator Carl-Axel Wahlstrӧm. The more I flipped the more unsettled I became. I knew the “models” were composites, but they look like real people; plus they had real sounding names, as did the brands. Had I missed out on something? I was desperate to find a breadcrumb, something that would help me make sense of it all.

“I’m too fabulous to fit in a budget,” a pull quote from a story on young rich Hamptonites, induced a deep eye roll, but another, from a beauty story, “Say goodbye to emotions, wrinkles, and individuality,” made me wonder just what Wahlstrӧm’s objective was. Was I to buy into this world of hyper-perfection where fashion was not just flat and banal, but reduced to stereotypes?

That feeling of disorientation was intentional, said Wahlstrӧm on a call from Stockholm, his homebase. A 41-year-old Swede, Wahlstrӧm holds a degree in marketing communication. After entering the workforce, he gravitated towards fashion, launching a magazine called Fashion Tale in 2008 that he published through 2012. I have a back issue that is all fashion illustrations. It seems fair to categorize it as an alt publication, and one that was more interested in ideation than the pursuit of luxury. Much of Wahlstrӧm’s career has been working with fast fashion. Being Swedish, he’s worked with local brands including H&M, & Other Stories, Gant, and Björn Borg. It’s not just a matter of opportunity, but inclination, and something that he’s exploring in Copy as well.

When Wahlstrӧm started playing with AI he wasn’t doing so in order to make a magazine, but that changed in the press of a button. From one day to the next, he explains, the technology improved enough to allow him to prompt imagery that was realistic rather than airbrushed or abstract. “It was love at first sight,” says the creative director. “I saw a lot of red warning flags, but I also felt that I was part of something new and revolutionary. I understood quite early that the technique is still very young and that it has a lot of faults, but I had this urge to just get it out, to be able to say I made the world’s—as far as I know—first AI fashion magazine. I realized that no one would ever sponsor me, I would not be able to get advertisers, so I just decided that I was going to finance it myself, do it myself, and I’m going to try to win over the technology, because the technology wasn’t that good and it’s still not that good. The reason why I think that we have created such a beautiful result is that we have added so much human intellect and knowledge and the craftsmanship into the images.”

The bigger the fashion industry has become—the more fast fashion, but also high fashion—everything is just competing against itself. I think the summary of what AI is doing is quite on point in that it sort of reduces it to nothing. And I sort of embraced that [nothingness].

The RealReal just released a report that indicated people want to “look rich.” It seems to be the same case in your magazine.
Almost unconsciously, I have had this urge to make my characters, these AI fictive persons, look quite rich and successful. In many of the stories, people look quite fancy and very respectable in a way. How rich people are living their lives and how they’re dressing themselves has always fascinated people, and it still does.

I found reading the magazine very disorienting. It was only when I arrived at the beauty editorial with its ironic take on fashion speak that I started to rethink everything.
I definitely agree with you that the skincare, the beauty story, is the most sort of obvious one. When I made those quotes…I was scared of putting them into print because I felt like you can’t criticize the cosmetic industry. What am I doing? I’m writing ironic things, suggesting that you shouldn’t maybe buy makeup—and I’m a male who’s saying this. I was really anxious about putting them into print; but I think that the same sort of tone of voice is represented in all of the stories, only on different levels. For example, in one of the stories which is about very rich women in the Hamptons, I’ve really over-exaggerated their lifestyle and also amplified how money can bring you joy, which everybody knows is not true. I really want to enhance that in a way so you should question it.

Do you think Copy is a kind of cosplay of a high fashion magazine?
It is in a way because I don’t feel like I belong there; I don’t feel like I’m part of the gang; I feel like I’m an outsider trying to do something that should fit in, but I know for sure that it won’t. I know for sure that the people who really know what’s going on—[fashion insiders]—won’t buy into it. They will see that this is sort of like a fake, but I like being in that category. It makes it a little bit more interesting maybe just because of that. I don’t think that anyone is independent; I think that we are all very influenced. For me, the problem with fashion images during the last years has been the narrative. Why is it produced, and by who, and with what purpose? In my opinion, the problem with stereotypes and norms is when large companies make a lot of money on it. This magazine has no interest in making money, it’s more of a discussion. A visual story by an AI and me, a collaboration between human and technology.



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