IMAGE by VANESSA JACKMAN.
WORDS by SIGRID (SIGGI) MCCARTHY.
Personal style can be a very powerful and satisfying form of expression. It can convey one’s love of certain eras, highlight their unique point of view, and ultimately arm them with the necessary strength to get through a particularly bleak day. As visual beings, our eyes are drawn to vibrant colour and most of us appreciate a pleasant distraction from the monotony seen down our city streets.
To be stylish, one does not necessarily have to be good looking in the traditional sense. Having a sense of style is more about wearing a garment a certain way; a way that makes it your own. It is about pairing unexpected items together and making them work. It can be simple, outlandish, or confronting – as long as it says something about you.
Lately, I have found myself feeling a little ambivalent about the nature of street style. On the one hand, I adore perusing blogs that capture the beauty from the streets (my favourites being those run by photographers Vanessa Jackman, Scott Schuman and Maya Villiger), but on the other hand, I can’t help but see right through its ever-growing falsity. It is becoming more and more obvious that street style has moved away from a celebration of creativity and more towards ‘Street Style’ with a capital S - a way for people to be seen.
For many years, certain people have captured passers-by and documented the evolution of Street Style. Bill Cunningham, a street photography veteran, has taken candid photographs for The New York Times since the late 1970s. The notion of Street Style has been around for a long time, but in the past few years it has exploded into a sort of sport that only devoted fashion followers play. We can thank (or blame) the rise of online bloggers and of self-proclaimed photographers for changing the very nature of Street Style. What was once a unique way to capture the development of a city’s culture has now become oversaturated and commercialised – an inauthentic representation of the streets.
Unfortunately, Street Style has become about more than just dressing for mere pleasure; it has become the main reason for people dressing in a particular way. People in the fashion game want to be noticed and more so, they want to be validated by others. With this in mind, the evolution of Street Style is perhaps inevitable. Being photographed by a Street Style photographer means others admire your outfit, and arguably the extension of this is that you yourself are in fact admired too.
As a society, we have become obsessed by the lives of others – how they live, what they eat, the way they dress and who they are with. Street Style photography is just a small fragment of a bigger issue; the issue being that we are now preoccupied by the lives of others, and also by the need to be seen and photographed.
Rosalind Jana was the Vogue UK Talent Contest Winner in 2011 and is the person behind the insightful fashion blog ‘Clothes, Cameras and Coffee.’ She recently made an interesting observation that resonated with me and reinforced my thoughts on the evolution of Street Style. “What you wear can tell a story, convey personality (or obscure it), provide an antidote to routine and make life a touch more joyous…but there has been a general shift from Street Style as a celebration of creativity to a further form of (often covert) advertising.” Says Rosalind.
I argue that there are currently two kinds of Street Style – style that is captured on the street and not during fashion week, and style that is captured during fashion week and that is focused around the runway locations. The latter is arguably a fabricated version of Street Style, as it is built around the notion that people dress to be photographed and ‘on show’. Fashion week, whether it is in London, Paris, New York or Milan, attracts global attention and people actually dress for the occasion.
People admiring the photographs that stem from these events have forgotten, or do not fully understand that the subjects being captured are generally not in the streets, nor caught unaware by a random photographer. They are usually industry-based individuals, or industry groupies hungry for exposure, photographed outside fashion venues by what are essentially fashion paparazzi. Simply put, they are men and women parading down a makeshift outdoor runway.
Head fashion reporter and editor for the International Herald Tribune, Suzy Menkes, recently wrote an article for the NY Times discussing what she refers to as the ‘Circus of Fashion’:
“We were once described as “black crows” - us fashion folk gathered outside an abandoned, crumbling downtown building in a uniform of Comme des Garçons or Yohji Yamamoto. “Whose funeral is it?” passers-by would whisper with a mix of hushed caring and ghoulish inquiry, as we lined up for the hip, underground presentations back in the 1990s. Today, the people outside fashion shows are more like peacocks than crows. They pose and preen, in their multipatterned dresses, spidery legs balanced on club-sandwich platform shoes, or in thigh-high boots under sculptured coats blooming with flat flowers.” Says Menkes.
What she is saying is evident every season - people flock to the fashion capitals of the world during fashion week and the Internet is then inundated with Street Style photographs of those eager for exposure. What’s interesting to note however is that many of the stylish people we see on these blogs are professional models and/or very wealthy individuals with exclusive access to high fashion. They are not your average man or woman who just happens to have good style. Essentially, we are given a very a narrow take on street style and we are usually only exposed to a certain demographic. The models being photographed are more often than not still made up in their dramatic show make-up and hairstyles, and this merely enhances a photograph (and of course the model’s overall stylishness). These beautiful creatures walking through their natural habitat utterly seduce Street Style photographers.
One of the most celebrated women in the industry at the moment, and arguably the leader of the Russian Fashion Pack, is the stunning and unique Ulyana Sergeenko. This Russian photographer, designer, stylist and occasional fashion model is known for her eccentric and old-world dress sense, and she is a favourite amongst Street Style photographers. Her friends (who make up the Russian Fashion Pack mentioned earlier) - Miroslava Duma, Vika Gazinskaya, Elena Perminova and Natalia Vodianova – often wear her designs when attending fashion shows, and so she is essentially getting her clothing/name out there by hosting a fashion show outside of legitimate events. Vika Gazinskaya, also an emerging fashion designer, sees the Street Style phenomenon as an opportunity to promote young designers. “I always say, in all the interviews, it’s a great opportunity for the young designers who have no budget for advertising.”
The commercialisation of Street Style has received much critical attention within the industry, and there are varying thoughts on the issue. Recently, the man behind ‘The Sartorialist’, Scott Schuman, was asked how he felt about brands giving people clothes to wear in hopes they will end up on a Street Style blog like his.
He responded by saying, “I don’t really care where these people get their clothes from, it doesn’t matter to me, it isn’t going to matter 100 years from now. A good shot is a good shot…But you can tell who are the people going over the top to create a shot [or] to be shot. There’s something about that, that, to me anyway, doesn’t create a good shot. There’s something very calculated about it.”
This calculation that Schuman mentions is very common within the Street Style community – many photographers get their subjects to pose for the perfect shot and this in itself removes any authenticity that may have existed.
The evolution of Street Style is no doubt a fascinating one, and it is difficult to predict how far it will go in the future. Perhaps the streets will soon be filled with outlandish peacocks and the sound of camera shutters will become as common as the sound of the birds themselves.