Mariamz

Personal mannequins: let’s get beyond gimmicky Augmented Reality

Posted on: July 4, 2011



Does the idea of your electronic likeness appearing in shop windows as you walk past appeal? How about if this virtual self was wearing clothes you don’t own but the retailer thinks you might like?

It was with great anticipation I began reading the other day about new technology allowing people to see virtually what they might look like in clothes, without having to try them on. Not least because I once blogged on how great it would be to fuse real-world shopping with Augmented Reality, to save us time during bricks and mortar shopping trips.

There’s something special about shopping in person – however convenient online retail may be. Touching the clothes, feeling their texture, seeing the exact hue and shade of the fabric before purchase. But then trying stuff on can be such a bind… stripping off, trying to avoid getting make-up on almost unaffordable garments… not to mention the dreaded torment of 360° coverage changing room mirrors.

So I can only imagine that the new ‘personalised mannequin’ concept from Intel Labs was designed by someone who has little concept of why people try on clothes. It works by displaying computer-generated mannequins in shop windows, showing how you personally might look wearing certain garments as you walk past. Apparently: ‘motion tracking technology allows the image to mimic the movement of shoppers rather like a mirror as they twirl and admire what they look like in the clothes.’

The spectacle of such a potentially useful innovation made so gimmicky and impracticable seems to indicate it has been developed by individuals who have spent more time watching Minority Report than understanding most people’s real-world shopping experiences. Trying on clothes is a predominantly private experience because changing rooms enable us not only to see how hot we look – but more importantly sense-check for potential fashion faux pas before we buy.

Changing room experiences can be horrific – unflattering outfits that push you in and let you hang out in ways no-one would never want another living soul to see. One time I literally had to bust my way out back out of a dress. The truth is, although Gok Wan has convinced many around the country to share their body hang-ups in glorious technicolour… most of us go into little cubicles to avoid doing just that.

That’s why my whimsical musings suggested being able to see on our smartphones – whilst browsing in shops – a preview of how we might look like wearing certain garments. Such a system would work by superimposing how each item would look, hang, etc. on our own bodies, as per pre-input dimensions.

Maybe smartphone screens won’t cut it because of their size. But still – there has to be a happy medium that does not involve spontaneous public parades of personal fashion disasters we literally didn’t see coming.

The Ugly Betty series adeptly shows how different ‘types’ of people express themselves through clothing – mimicking and unpacking our obsessions with beauty and fashion and the industry that serves and drives them. But even from within that mindset – I could not see any of its larger than life characters… not Betty Suarez nor Marc St James nor even Amanda Sommers… wanting the whole world in the changing room with them.

So although it’s a tidy notion, see before you buy (and one I’m clearly for), I somehow doubt personalised mannequins in shop windows will appeal to many beyond professional models and size zero tweens. So on this one I’d respectfully suggest Intel goes back to the drawing board with some real women (and men)… to make this innovation into something that works for the rest of us.

Hans Christian Anderson’s Emperor’s New Clothes has warned generations of the perils of pomposity and vanity. But still, however we fight it, we often care about how we look and how others see us. So here’s looking out for the next release, because handing over our vital statistics for retailers to share their self-serving mash-ups of our bodies on big screens… it’s really rather unlikely to catch on.

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