With artificial intelligence on the rise, its use in the fashion world raises new moral dilemmas.
Shereen Wu is a burgeoning runway model from the US. She’s also a burgeoning influencer, sharing her career and lifestyle with several thousands of followers.
But it’s not her content creation or modelling skills that have recently thrust Wu into the limelight.
After sharing a recent incident involving designer Michael Costello, Wu has gone viral on Instagram and TikTok, and highlighted the complex issues that arise when AI, fashion, and racism cross paths.
Michael Costello gained notoriety as a designer after appearing on Project Runway, and has since amassed a huge following on social media and beyond. A-list clients and controversial business practices seem to be his bread-and-butter.
Now, Wu has publicly called Costello out for editing her appearance during a recent fashion show. The model proudly shared a photo of herself on the runway with followers, along with a vlog of her experience working with the designer.
The problem was, Costello had shared the same image of Wu…with an entirely different face.
‘That’s not me who [Costello] posted on his story’ Shereen told her followers, pointing to the photo in question.
In place of Wu, Costello had shared the highly airbrushed face of a Caucasian woman photoshopped onto the former’s body.
‘Michael’s a big designer with 1.7 million followers. Editing my face and removing my race is completely disrespectful’.
As an Asian-American woman, Wu’s edited photo raises concerns around whitewashing and racism. Whether Costello created the image himself or not, its existence is undoubtedly problematic.
Wu went on to share screenshots of a conversation she had with Costello on social media, where the designer ‘essentially…blamed the photographer’.
But Shereen didn’t stop there. After approaching the photographer, Wu confirmed he hadn’t edited the image. Rather Costello had sent and deleted numerous messages between the two, implying foul play.
@shereenwu Michael Costello has yet to take responsibility for his actions. I want to explain what happened, and I hope other models in the future feel comfortable to speak up. He has since offered to post my photo side by side with the AI one, but has not voluntarily post it. This offer did not contain an apology, and only happened after a model who’s close with him brought light to the situation. Some points I couldn’t fit: -Replaced the face of a model from the same collection -Lightened the skin of a black model in a photo and proceeded to push blame on the makeup artist (mua did not lighten the skin) -Screamed at models backstage (he screamed at the girl who stumbled on the runway to near tears, only to make an Instagram post praising her after.) But considering how long he’s been acting like this, I doubt any apology from him would be sincere; they would be performative at best. (Sorry for the weird cuts and sped up video I was trying to fit as much as I can in) #michaelcostello #greenscreenvideo #drama #michaelcostellocontroversy ♬ original sound – shereenwu
‘I understand as a model, I am replaceable’ Wu told her followers. ‘But I don’t get paid to do these shows.’
Many are calling out Costello for exploiting a young model who is ultimately working for free in exchange for exposure. And models certainly won’t get exposure without their own face.
The designer reportedly told Wu that she was never meant to walk in his show, but was called on at the last minute when another model dropped out and Wu fit into the dress. He also informed her that the photo was ‘likely edited’ or was A.I generated, something he had ‘no control’ over.
Costello went on to share images from random AI fashion accounts on his story, which Wu deemed an attempt to undermine her.
‘He then posted AI [accounts and artwork] as if to imply that everyone’s doing this, so I shouldn’t be angry’, Wu said.
Costello has since taken down the edited image of Wu, but hasn’t issued an apology.
Despite facing backlash from the designer – including having her account temporarily suspended after sharing her truth – Wu is using her TikTok to unearth previous controversies involving Costello and his team.