A “Clothing Retoucher” Exposes How Fake Online Retail Is

After luxury retailer Net-a-Porter got caught photoshopping a bomber jacket recently, you might feel like you can’t trust any online brands anymore.

But if you work in the fashion industry, you probably aren’t surprised one bit. And if you’re just a consumer, you’re probably wondering just how far e-tailers go with the Photoshop on clothing. After all, if a company with nice-ass clothing like Net-a-Porter has to photoshop, what are the newbie and non-luxury websites doing?

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Well, we were curious too. So we talked to someone who actually knows the industry. Marine Michel‘s first job out of college was as a professional retoucher for a luxury retailer that was basically the German version of Net-a-Porter, so we asked her to spill the beans.

What kind of stuff did you have to do while working there?

Basically we had a studio there, and they had all the clothes coming in and they would shoot the pictures, and they would give us hundreds of pictures from the day. We’d have to do skin retouching, making sure there were no pimples on the models, no hair out of place, and basically improving the general look of the pictures so they’re all kind of unified and they all fit together. That included changing the feet of the models, so we would cut out the feet and paste on this preset that all the graphic designers had there, and it was just two feet with a shadow underneath, already made.

We had to photoshop this in for every picture. Same for necks, the back of the neck, so the hair would be perfect on the back of the neck. It was pretty intense actually, and we had to do about 15 pictures an hour, so that’s a lot. It’s very, very fast work.

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So every model would have the same feet basically?

In the end yeah, they would all have the same feet or the same hands so it looks like there’s just one model working there, but there are actually like two to four. It just has to look totally perfect. I mean, it’s high-end clients, you know, so they want everything to look similar.

So what about the clothes? What kind of retouching did you do on the clothes?

Well there was a lot of cleaning up of course, stains, etc. But also making the clothes look a little better quality, so anything from stitches to shinier zippers, just making the fabric look nicer. You know, sometimes you have this fabric cloth were you can immediately see through it from shitty online shops. Like when the girl is wearing a dress and she has her legs slightly apart you can see through the dress and you know this is super bad polyester fabric. Well, we would color it in so it would look like nice heavy material. I mean the dress might cost 500 bucks, but it’s still shit quality, that doesn’t change anything. But we gotta sell it, so we gotta make it look good.

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If you guys are doing all that retouching for expensive clothing, I can only imagine how much fast fashion retailers must retouch everything.

I think they do it way less because I notice these things now when I go on online shops. In the UK we have Boohoo, which is quite cheap, and it doesn’t look that retouched. Maybe a little bit of skin retouching, but very finely done, same for H&M, it’s not that bad. But when you go to luxury retailers then you realize how much they do it and they pay us really like shit. It’s like 10 bucks an hour.

Where there ever times when you notice people would return stuff and complain how it didn’t look it did online?

Yeah definitely, because we were in the studio with the whole team. It would happen that sometimes people were really unhappy with the quality. For example, it’s not only clothes, but also jewelry, we had these bracelets flown in from Italy and they were really expensive, like 1000 euros each. They were supposed to be with crystals and stuff like that, and the crystals popped off immediately as we received them. Not because of damage from packaging, but because they were glued on really badly and then we just sent them back to the client with glue that we got from the office and nobody said anything. This happened all the time, clothes would get rips in them just from the models putting them on, and we would have to photoshop them.

So since you know what goes into photoshopping, you kind of noticed how Boohoo and H&M don’t retouch as much. When you online shop, do you feel like you can usually tell what an item looks like in real life or what has been retouched?

Yeah a little bit, I don’t want to say that I’m an expert at it cause I’m sure there are people who are amazing at retouching, but I also used to work for a fashion magazine as an art director and I did the photo retouching for them, so I know what it looks like, what has been heavily edited. I think most of the cheaper brands are somehow a little bit more honest. Unless they’re doing the changing of the colors of the clothing without actually changing the clothing, just changing the color on photoshop, that is pretty obvious. But the cheaper brands are pretty honest because they can’t afford to do this heavy retouching for the price of cost, it’s expensive. Or they have to outsource, but most people don’t outsource it anywhere else so they just do it locally, and they avoid doing too much work so they just take off the sunlight or acne you know, they don’t really retouch the clothing.

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