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This Computer Can Track How Fashion Spreads From the Runway to the Street

Researchers created an algorithm to recognize and analyze fashion on the runway and in the street

(Masterfile/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

As algorithms get more sophisticated and humans figure out how to build more intelligent computers, the benefits are reaching new disciplines. Computers have entered the world of fine art analysis and now they’re assessing the sucess of fashion designers, reports a writer for MIT Technology Review

Researchers at National Taiwan University in Taipei have taught a computer algorithm to recognize the components of an outfit and its style. With their trained algorithm, they’ve shown how street fashion reflects the designs seen marching down the runway at fashion shows. 

The algorithm works by first analyzing nine regions on a person’s body: the upper and lower, left and right arms; upper and lower left and right legs; and the torso. According to MIT Technology Review

[The algorithm] then analyses the color, texture, skin, and so on for each of these areas to create a list that acts like a visual feature vector for the entire body. Comparing fashion styles then boils down to the relatively simple mathematical process of comparing these 72-dimension vectors.

Using that framework, the researchers compared two sets of photographs: one from the New York Fashion Week shows in 2014 and 2015 and another from "street-chic" fashions taken during the corresponding seasons. The researchers write, in the pre-print archive arXiv, "We observe that there are always some classic colors, patterns or styles that have a large amount of clothing images in the fashion shows of every year." 

White, grey and black were popular for the upper body in 2014 and 2015. Solid patterns also dominate. But there were also changes that the algorithm flagged. Unique features in fashion for 2015 as opposed to 2014 included blue, multicolor, red and cyan for the upper body. Blue and purple for the lower body were also notable trends. The analysis revealed mirroring changes in street fashion for the appropriate season.

 “We could tell that many people have the penchant to emulate clothing styles shown in the fashion shows,” the researchers write.

However in some cases, street fashion didn’t follow the fashion shows’ trends. Summer clothing for 2015 included light colors on top and bottom, in contrast to the light tops and darker bottoms seen on the runway. 

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