5 Questions to noonoouri
Whereas the latest trends used to be spread by magazines and television, nowadays this is mainly done by influencers on digital platforms like Instagram and YouTube. One of these influencers is noonoouri. And like other influencers, her job is to excite, inspire, and influence people.
With almost 365,000 followers on Instagram, noonoouri has an enormous impact on many people’s everyday lives. This young woman is passionate about fashion (especially luxury brands), meets stars, and is an environmentalist and a vegan. But in fact, noonoouri is an animated fictional character—an avatar that only exists in the virtual realm. She was produced and brought to life by Joerg Zuber, founder of the creative agency joerg zuber studio.
Wiebke Hahn (WH): Whereas noonoouri’s avatar colleagues like Shudu (@shudu.gram) and Lil Miquela (@lilmiquela) look much more like humans, noonoouri shares some of the aesthetics of Japanese manga characters. What inspired you to make her look like that? And what’s behind her unusual name?
Joerg Zuber (JZ): When I was five, I had the idea of an artificial figure that was on equal terms with humans. I’ve always been fascinated by extremely long hair, so that was one feature that was clear from the get-go. One of my inspirations for noonoouri was Naomi Campbell, whose otherworldliness has always fascinated me. The way she moves so slinkily like a cat when she’s simply walking, the way she poses, the engaging aura she radiates if you’re allowed to get to know her personally. I was also greatly influenced by Kim Kardashian, by her discipline, her vision, and the continuity with which she embodies (for me) the face of social media. She has contributed greatly to the way we currently communicate and has shown us that (almost) everything is possible.
noonoouri is a made-up name which originated in the art world. When I was at Art Basel in Miami in December 2017, I was spellbound by an exhibit called “nunu”. I liked the phonetics of it, and that led me to develop “noonoouri.” Accordingly, she’s closely related to the art scene, too.
WH: In her role as an influencer, noonoouri represents brands such as Dior and Tommy Hilfiger, and promotes their products to her followers. Yet she also supports reforestation in Kenya through the Zeitz Foundation, and marks Teddy Bear Day by lounging on her bed with a cuddly toy. Can you tell us something about noonoouri’s varied everyday life and the technical production involved?
JZ: noonoouri’s daily life is very disciplined. Every project must be planned in great detail because there are so many people involved behind the scenes. Work starts with brainstorming, coming up with the overall concept, the choice of clothes, the right makeup and hairstyle. Next, we gather all the data and adapt it to her pose, and then it’s time to create the final artwork. Each photo post takes from three to five days work. Animations are even more demanding as we have to generate everything by hand. Sometimes we need a production time of two to six weeks just to produce a clip that’s 10–20 seconds long.
WH: noonoouri has a doll-like appearance with big wide eyes. Above all, her immaculate figure represents a physical ideal that is currently much talked about in connection with body shaming. Yet she’s a role model in her public life. How can this be justified, bearing in mind she also serves as a projection screen for commercial advertising campaigns? What in your view are the challenges and opportunities?
JZ: noonoouri has deliberately been made not to look totally human. As soon as you see her, you realize she’s an artificial character. I’m more interested in generating attention for her values, for the brands and products she advertises than for herself. Instead of placing noonoouri at the center of attention, I try to focus on everything else around her. And strictly speaking, her figure isn’t that perfect—just look at her oversized head, for example! She’s by no means meant to embody a certain ideal of beauty. The messages I want to convey through her are much more important to me. Anyone with a public persona must be aware of their role and act accordingly, with respect and consideration. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a real person or a digital character.
WH: In 2019, the Amsterdam fashion label The Fabricant launched its first digital couture dress on the market, the design of which only exists as a computer file. Fashion is thus increasingly moving from the street into virtual space. How do you think the function of fashion will change as we expand our lives into the digital sphere? Will fashion be supplemented by a “digital wardrobe” for our second, virtual identity?
JZ: For me, digital in the broadest sense of the word is definitely the future. Bear in mind that collections are designed, produced, transported, and stored at great expense, without knowing whether the consumer will like them at all, i.e. whether they will sell. If everything was first presented digitally and then produced on demand, this would save a great deal of resources and reduce the environmental impact of the fashion industry.
WH: What role do you think avatars like noonoouri will play in our society in the future? Where will the boundary be between concrete application and mere sci-fi fantasy? What’s your vision?
JZ: I can only speak for noonoouri here, for she’s already proven that she’s more than just an empty shell. She stands for certain things that her character has developed around. People notice there’s a genuine soul behind the artificial character, a real person who fills it with life. The boundary between virtual and real is starting to dissolve rapidly, especially in the areas of games and roleplay. But it’s regarded as a natural transition by noonoouri’s young target group, who is growing up with this. My vision is to take noonoouri even further into the digital realm, for at the moment she’s very much embedded in the real world.