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Will Nila, India’s first digital model, be a fashion industry game-changer?

Created by artist and talent management agency Inega, Nila is said to have a distinct personality

Nila debuted on Instagram on 23 June.
Nila debuted on Instagram on 23 June.

As the fashion industry prepares for a digital-led future for shows and events in the backdrop of the covid-19 pandemic, the idea of an Indian, non-human model doesn’t seem far-fetched, and a Mumbai-based artist and talent management agency, Inega, has already created a digital showstopper.

Inega debuted the model, Nila, on Instagram (@nila.gram) on 23 June, claiming that the character is India’s first “virtual model". “Her primary characteristic is kindness and her favourite emotion is love. Otherwise, she’s shy and private and detests anything fake," says Inega CEO Ankit Mehta with perhaps a touch of irony. With just two posts on the account and only a portion of the face visible right now, it is difficult to predict, as an impartial observer, how suitable the “perennially 20-year-old" model will be for photo-shoots and ramp walks. She does look like a flesh-and-blood person, though, and not an animated cartoon character.

Virtual models — and even influencers — have been a part of the global fashion industry since 2016, some popular names being Lil Miquela (Miquela Sousa) and Noonoouri. Miquela, created by Los Angeles-based transmedia studio Brud, has featured in brand campaigns for Chanel, Proenza Schouler and Calvin Klein on her Instagram feed. Noonoori — who’s been on the cover Cosmopolitan India magazine — was created by German graphic designer, Joerg Zuber, and has worked with brands such as Dior, Versace and Marc Jacobs.

Even though the timing of Nila’s launch may seem prescient given the pandemic situation, it was fortuitous, claims Mehta, and an attempt to “push the envelope": “We started working on it since early 2020. We wanted to see if it was possible to create an entirely digital being and build experiences around it." Nila has been created by Inega’s post-production vertical, Inega Prograde, using compositing and computer graphics.

Nila's creators say she is available to model for shoots and campaigns “as long as it’s aligned with the values she stands for." While Inega believes that Indian business and brands will be receptive to such an alternative, his plans for Nila involve her first building her own personality. “We want people to get to know her as if she is a real person. She has her own individuality. It’s like being able to relate to any character in a story because we understand their backstory," he says. During the process of creating Nila, Mehta did look at many faces, but he says there is no real-life inspiration behind the virtual model.

A larger issue looming now is this: with the fashion industry in a recession and professionals associated with it, especially models, suffering from lack of work, can a surge of virtual models spell bad news for the human ones? Mehta disagrees. “Nila is just an alternative in a huge industry. She, like every model, comes with her own limitations and she isn’t any different from the other models in the industry," he says.

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