The Washington PostThe Washington Post

An AI-generated ‘Balenciaga Pope’ fooled us all. How much does it matter?

By Ashley Fetters Maloy, Anne Branigin

27 Mar 2023 · 5 min read

Editor's Note

The Post reports on how the viral image of Pope Francis wearing the puffy white jacket took the internet by storm last week, when it was revealed that the picture was created by A.I..

Look: The pope’s clothes are almost always interesting. They’re either surreal because they’re arcane and generically holy (an old man traverses the world wearing a long robe and matching hat, like Gandalf) or because they’re startlingly contemporary (the same old man also wears a Swatch watch). The very fact that his daily clothes and accoutrements have to be in keeping with sacred tradition can fascinate, too. His leather loafers should be red like martyrs’ blood; the car he rides is often specially modified for him to stand up to greet the faithful who gather to see him.

So when a photo surfaced this weekend, just before the fifth Sunday of Lent, of Pope Francis in a long, white, trendy-looking puffer coat with his traditional pectoral cross and white zucchetto cap, it’s not hard to imagine what happened next: People went wild. “OKAAYYY,” wrote one Twitter user who shared the image. “Ayo. Blessed be,” wrote another. This particular puffer — gargantuan and gleaming, with a cinched waist and imposing oversize hood — landed in that slim Venn diagram sweet spot between “what the pope might actually, practically wear to keep warm on a cold day” and “what the wealthiest 26-year-olds are currently wearing around SoHo.”

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