Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Thank God Fashion Week is Over. Or It?

It's been two weeks now since New York Fashion Week ended, but the relentless posting of bloggers from the events has only just subsided. Just in time, I might add, for London Fashion Week and Paris Fashion Week pictures to go up, along with pics from any number of more minor fashion weeks launched in aspiring creative capitals throughout the globe. The street style jet set keeps busy this time of year, hopping from one style-star-studded event to the next. They've got bills to pay, after all, and orders from Vogue, Elle, W, and GQ to fill. And those pubs want big names: Anna Della Russo, Miroslava Duma, Nick Wooster, Angelo Flaccavento, names, I might add, that were familiar to few prior to the rise of the style blogosphere. Don't get me wrong, though; I like a good pic of Kanye West emerging from the fog of lens blur bokeh as much as the next guy. But let's face it: from a spectator point of view, this scouring of fashion events for style stars is getting kind of boring. I've seen enough shots of Kate Lanphear stomping through rain-soaked alleyways already. Oh wait, was that Anna Wintour escaping into a cab? Who cares?! It looks just like every other picture of Anna Wintour escaping into a cab. Anna Wintour cab shots are almost an industry unto themselves. Fashion Week comes, and suddenly, otherwise edgy photographers turn into amateur paparazzi. It's enough to make you think street style blogs these days are just a poor man's TMZ. Just look at Le 21ème's recent shot of poor Ulyana Segeenko at Paris Fashion Week. 

Image by Adam Katz Sinding.
Here's the same shot from a slightly different angle on Streetfsn.

Image by Nam.
There was a time, not that long ago, when street style was about "ordinary people," quirky, subcultural people, no doubt, but ordinary nonetheless — and it should be clear that by "ordinary" we mean "not famous." Street style, after all, began as a practice of British photojournalism in the 1960s and '70s. Photographers scoured the streets of London, looking for perfect examples of mods, teds, punks, and skins to frighten the older generation with (Polhemus 1994; Smedley 2000). It wasn't until i-D and The Face, self-consciously outre lifestyle publications launched in the early 1980s, that street style came to be re-imagined as a form of populist fashion photography. These magazines pioneered the "straight up" (see Rocamora and O'Neill 2008), un-flashy, no frills shots of scruffy new wavers standing in front of brick walls. That quickly became the convention of street style photography, later repeated, and expanded upon by such notables as Shoichi Aoki and Jamel Shabazz. This is essentially the template, by the way, that you see today on such websites as Hel Looks and Cinder & Skylark, two of my favorite blogs staying true to the old school street style aesthetic. 

A classic "straight up" in i-D. Image by Steve Johnston.
Recognition by the fashion industry has utterly complicated this simple aesthetic. On one hand, this has no doubt increased the sophistication of the work. Street style photographers have gotten more experimental, venturing into art photography terrain (for examples, see The Sartorialist, Le21ème, Streetfsn, Vanessa Jackman, etc). On the other, it has introduced major market considerations, and bloggers have begun to alter their products accordingly. Is this a bad thing? I suppose it depends on your stake in the game. Many street style photographers are now gainfully employed, manning the trenches outside runway shows, snapping rather ordinary (and often tedious) shots of models on the catwalk that we could easily access elsewhere. But it also means we're likely to see fewer and fewer shots of cool but ordinary people walking on city streets — streets, that is, far away from fashion events.

References Cited

Polhemus, T. (1994). Streetstyle: From Sidewalk to Catwalk. London, Thames & Hudson
Rocamora, A. and A. O'Neill (2008) Fashioning the Street: Images of the Street in Fashion Media. Fashion as Photograph: Viewing and Reviewing Images of Fashion. E. Shinkle. London and New York, I.B. Tauris: 185-199.
Smedley, E. (2000). Escaping to Reality: Fashion Photography in the 1990s. Fashion Cultures: Theories, Explorations and Analysis. S. Bruzzi and P. C. Gibson. London and New York, Routledge: 143-156.

1 comment:

  1. I will continue to post photos of "ordinary" folks putting their personal style out there on my blog, as well as my own style. We don't have fashion week in London, Ontario.


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