Description: Mudgett runs a fashion label, but his partner is an AI called CHIMERA. It assists designers, rather than replacing them. The results are stunning.
Speaker: Joshua Mudgett, J//MUJET
Interviewer: Sophia Stuart
(Transcription by RA Fisher Ink)
Stuart: It’s lovely to be here. So, rather excitingly, when Joshua goes to work in the morning and to his design atelier, there’s an AI that’s waiting for him that he co-designs with and so that’s what we’re going to learn about today. So, I think we have this here. But rather interestingly Joshua, you actually went to MIT, first of all, before you went to Parsons. And that’s not a very usual trajectory, so explain how that happened.
Mudgett: Yeah. I think I always really wanted my work to have a basis in real tech and science rather than just being aesthetically driven. I knew what I wanted to do, and I think the only real way to translate it was to first get the grounding in the science and then move it into the fashion. And—
Stuart: There’s a tiny echo, but keep going.
Mudgett: Anyway, I think it’s really about—I think the question is what is it?
Stuart: You always said to me that you kind of started with a question when you were thinking about design. But just before we get to that, did any of your professors at MIT say, “Joshua, what the hell are you doing?”
Mudgett: Yeah. I mean—right. Like I think with fashion, people are saying that they don’t understand the tech. And in tech, they don’t understand why are you working in fashion, and then I’m always like—
Stuart: Right, so you understand both.
Mudgett: Yeah, but I think, you know, fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world. And I think there’s always like—and tech is what drives the world, right? I think it’s—they understand each other. I think when I speak to professors at Parsons and then MIT, I think they both kind of understand that I’m coming at it from a point of interest from tech and fashion.
Stuart: Right. And a point—to your point, to a grounding in both as well, having studied electrical engineering and computer science at MIT and now—and you’re still currently at Parsons, aren’t you?
Stuart: Yeah. Great.
Mudgett: I’m in my senior year there, yeah.
Stuart: So, should we go to your next slide to get some visuals? So, you’re—I just did a cover story for “Four Seasons Magazine” where I talked about AI and the future of fashion. And—there you go. Try it now.
Mudgett: Is it good?
Stuart: Not on yet. I’ll keep talking
Stuart: There you go. Perfect. Perfect. So, I interviewed a lot of my former colleagues and also people that I had worked with in Paris and various places, and I said, “Do you have an AI working with you?” And the answer was “no.” And they kind of put the phone down. But you do, so let’s talk about Chimera. So, explain what Chimera is and how you work with your AI.
Mudgett: Sure. So, my fashion brand, J•Mujet, was kind of founded on this concept of working with science and technology to ask questions of the world. And fashion was just the best way to translate it. Chimera is a collection of different AIs and technologies that we use to...it’s basically a way of designing with artificial intelligence to assist fashion designers. But I think it’s really a question a of what does it mean to design with artificial intelligence. And that’s what it started with. And the answer was these crazy new methods of production.
Stuart: And an efficient method of production too, yes?
Mudgett: Yeah. Yeah. It also is really good for the supply chain as well, because it’s made to order. These are some of the collections here.
Stuart: They’re beautiful.
Stuart: And also, on this slide, you point out that you’re using different types of textiles. Do you want to talk about that?
Mudgett: Sure. So, this collection here was a collection where we basically asked the AI, “What is your gender?” And then, we made these garments, and they are constructed with sustainable textiles developed by the J•Mujet brand. This one is silicone based—it’s a silicone biodegradable substitute made with okra and jellyfish DNA.
Stuart: With jellyfish DNA?
Mudgett: Yeah. It’s a bit weird.
Stuart: How did you extract jellyfish DNA? Is there a supplier?
Mudgett: [LAUGHS] You can buy it online.
Stuart: You can buy it online. I love that. I love it.
Mudgett: Yeah. It’s like Mary Lou is like ordering skulls online. I’m buying jellyfish DNA [LAUGHS].
Stuart: I love it. So, this is cloned leather?
Mudgett: So, this is a bio—
Stuart: So, this is vegan leather, yeah?
Mudgett: Yeah. It’s real skin. You know, it’s real skin leather, but it’s vegan as well. This is from the collection of I asked the AI, “What is your aesthetic?” And it says, “3D printed embroidery developed by the AI.”
Stuart: So, this is literally from the mind of the AI? This is what it came up with?
Mudgett: Yeah. Well, it’s a collaboration between the designer and the AI and this was the result. Yeah. I think this kind of shows the process.
Stuart: Very cool. Let’s say I have, you know, in my fantasy head, I have a trip coming up to Hong Kong, and let’s say I wanted to become one of your clients, and I wanted to come to you and ask you and Chimera, your AI, to design me a very special piece. How would we start that conversation?
Mudgett: I think the conversation is initiated with, as we’re at atelier form right now, you would reach out and say, “I want this for this event.” And I have you give me a serious of answers to questions, and you answer them with visual and text responses.
Stuart: Give me a couple of ideas of the questions.
Mudgett: So, the questions are: what is your gender, what’s your aesthetic, what’s beautiful to you?
Stuart: Can I be no gender?
Mudgett: Yes. Yeah. Because you don’t answer it from a dropdown menu. You type in your answer and you also submit images.
Stuart: So, it’s a freeform input? I’m not doing a form input? It’s literally freeform.
Stuart: That’s very important.
Mudgett: And then for fit, we are implementing body scans, so that it’s a completely bespoke outfit for you, designed for you, to fit you.
Stuart: So, I’m slipping into my nearest 3D scanner?
Mudgett: Yeah. Yeah.
Stuart: Okay. And then I’m sending you that digitally?
Stuart: And how many data points do you need from me before you and Chimera really come up with a piece that you think “this is her”?
Mudgett: Well, it started out with quite a bit, but we’ve kind of leaned it down to about 12 questions namely around like: what kind of garments do you like and what’s your aesthetic and such? And then, you can see here. The bottom box, I believe is up there. It’s like some of the inputs for the aesthetic collection. And then above it is the output for the dress—or the two-piece outfit that you see there. And that’s about—
Stuart: So, talk us from the top to the bottom what’s actually happening there.
Mudgett: Yeah. Sure. Well, it’s actually—so, the top is actually the output 3D model for the garment with the print. The print was made by the AI as well. And the bottom part are actually just the input images that we input for aesthetic. We say, “What’s your aesthetic?” And this is a collection we put out.
Stuart: So, you’re literally teaching your neural net based on your own input, based on the client’s input, based on what’s currently in fashion, based on a lot of—because you have a lot of really interesting influences yourself. Do you want to just talk about that? I mean the great Rick Owens and Cyberpunk and just some of your ideas there?
Mudgett: Yeah. I mean I try to take a bit of the go out of fashion. But there’s always like the fashion designer in me. And I think that it’s, you know [LAUGHS]. But I think it’s really—I always loved like Cyberpunk and different—to really experiment with what it means to be a fashion brand. Rick Owens is somebody who does that very well; Iris Van Herpen, they’re all like very inspirational people, but I think they don’t ever approach fashion from a tech—a real like understanding of the technology which I think is really important.
Stuart: And when you say technology, you mean like—oh! Nice mike. You mean right from, not just the aesthetic, but the underlying construction of the garment, the supply chain. I mean everything is influenced by the technology decisions at each point.
Mudgett: Yeah. Yes. We try to not make any decisions that aren’t informed in research and the technology we’re working with. We also try to make sure that every decision we make is conscientious of sustainability. That’s obviously why we’re working with biofabrics as well as AI. I think every step of the process has its own unique research that needs to be done for it. And I think that that kind of layered necessity is what put a lot of people off.
Stuart: Right. But as you know all the different stages, you’re able to go into that. So, let’s go back to my fantasy trip to Hong Kong. So, what’s the second communication that you and I would have with each other? So, you’d give me some ideas of what you and the AI had come up with?
Mudgett: Well, essentially, I’d send you all the outputs, right? I’d send you all the 3D models. And that’s how we do our samples. We don’t sew up samples. We do 3D models, and we send it to you and say, “This is all the answers we’ve gotten. And this is what we believe you would like, and you can work”—like I think when we’re working with atelier, most of what we do is conversation as well. We don’t just like give you an output and we’re like, “hope you like it.”
Stuart: “Here’s what you’re wearing to Hong Kong.”
Mudgett: Yeah. Yeah. Moving forward though, we have an application that we’re launching which is more direct to consumer-based as well, so this is a whole new method of interacting with Chimera.
Stuart: Very cool. And we should also mention that you’re using Python-based and you’re using a lot of different AI sort of constructions there, including the generative—the adversarial network, which we should say was originally developed by Ian Goodfellow who is now with Google Brain. It’s always important to give credit where it’s due. How did you decide on what you wanted to use?
Mudgett: Well, as far as adversarial networks, I always thought that they really gave interesting responses, to be honest with you. And they don’t have deterministic biases. And there’s a lot of upside to using GANs with art in general. That’s only one of many of the different technologies that we use as a chimera of different AIs. And I think it’s that collaboration of different technologies that make a successful brand, I think.
Stuart: Right. Because it’s constantly questioning itself. Because you said you started with a question and the neural net is constantly asking, “Is this right? Is this what Joshua would want?” It’s constantly—so, you’re literally in dialogue with an AI every time you go into your atelier, which is kind of cool/spooky.
Mudgett: It’s a little spooky sometimes. You’re not wrong. And I think it’s very much like a—once you sit down and interact with it, you see that it’s something that’s very human though. Despite being a layer of new technologies.
Stuart: Explain a bit more about that, because I’ve had that experience too. You know, I’ve sat and watched AIs think and actually go through the process of how it’s extrapolating an answer, and sometimes you think, “This is so clearly nonhuman in a really fascinating, of the future way.”
Mudgett: Yeah. I would say the process is the most human thing. This is obviously just a string of ones and zeros, you know. It’s a computer. But the way that we have formulated is that we ask you things that are very human questions. What’s inspiring to you?
Stuart: Because you’re talking about the human body.
Mudgett: Yeah. It’s like when we’re designing for somebody, it’s the same thing like if you make an appointment with a designer, the questions are: well, what’s inspiring to you, what’s your aesthetic?
Stuart: Who do you want to look like?
Mudgett: Yeah. What kind of clothes do you like?
Stuart: Or what faults do you want to hide? That’s the big one. Yeah.
Mudgett: Yes [LAUGHS]. For sure.
Stuart: Your outfit is also made by you and the Chimera, and we should say—do we have Laura Tang? [ph 11:42.2] So, Laura Tang? Laura, would you stand up for us just briefly?
Mudgett: Yes. So, this is my co-founder at the Chimera Project, and she’s actually wearing this outfit which we have here, this one.
Stuart: So, this was designed by Joshua and the AI Chimera. Thank you, Laura.
Mudgett: Yeah. And this is the first part of our new project which is the Chimera Project, which started off as part of my J•Mujet brand and now we’re making a really user-centered—well, I don’t like the word user, but it’s a very customer-centered product.
Stuart: Right. I love the idea that, going back to my Hong Kong fantasy, that I could be asking questions, and I could be saying, “Yes. That is what I want to wear or really? Is that what you think I am?” Which would be really curious, I think, as a human, just to see what an AI thinks I might be wearing next.
Mudgett: Yeah. I mean also like if you make an appointment with a designer and you’re like, “I don’t like this,” hopefully they’re taking notes, right? But the nice thing about computers is that like if you say, “I do not like this style on me,” it’ll remember.
Stuart: Right. It’ll ingest that input and looks at it.
Stuart: And talk about the outfit that you’re wearing. So, you actually asked Chimera what it should design for you? How did that work?
Mudgett: Yeah, I basically did the same process that you would go through where I said—you know, it asked me where I’m from, what I think is beautiful, and it gave me this blazer which, you know, I loved, so I had it made and yeah.
Stuart: And I see that it has a slight mandarin collar and what’s the fabric that’s used there? That’s very interesting.
Mudgett: It’s an Italian poplin made out of—actually, it’s recycled plastic.
Stuart: That’s amazing.
Mudgett: Same as that as well, the outfit that Laura’s wearing is recycled water bottles.
Mudgett: Yeah. We don’t—I mean, our whole thing. It’s like the new system of production that Chimera enables is that—so, everybody has a very unique garment. It’s a whole new system of production which is a whole new system of sustainability within the garment production world. But then you also can’t just have textiles that like, sure, we’re reducing waste, but we can’t have our textiles damaging the planet on their own in like a—you have to be fully committed to it.
Stuart: Yeah. You’re walking the walk.
Mudgett: Yeah. Trying to.
Stuart: Very good. We have 60 seconds left. Would you go to your last slide? Great. So, if people want to get a hold of you, those are the Instagram handles that they can go to. And what’s next for you, just to wrap it up?
Mudgett: What’s next for us? So, the Chimera Project is actually kind of new, but right now we are having a lot of fun looking into these new methods of production that are possible by AI. So, we’ve been experimenting with tiny factories and looking into all new methods of production. And I think—
Stuart: Because you were thinking of setting up a tiny factory in Brooklyn, right?
Stuart: Yeah. Very Cool. And I’ve seen you having many interesting conversations with people here, so who knows what’s about to happen.
Mudgett: Yeah. I mean most of my time is spent in the fashion sphere, despite being a tech fashion person, and definitely something like this is very interesting.
Stuart: Different crowd.
Stuart: Cool. Well, I’m going to wrap it up now, but it was a such a pleasure to spend this time with you in the last couple of days and talk to you on stage. Thank you, Joshua.