Friday, June 29, 2012

Philadelphia Street Style: RJ, Baltimore Ave

There is no doubt something reactionary about my choice of RJ for today's shoot. I like his style. It's familiar, "comfortable," as he described it to me, like an old pair of Doc Martens. But it's also about as far as possible from the man in the tailored suit look I've been shooting so much lately. I needed a bit of contrast. 

Taking this shot, I experienced a wave of nostalgia. Or is it recognition? I know this stance. I've used it before myself. It's the stance of subcultural affiliation, the legs firmly planted and defiant, the thumbs hooked in the pockets, the shoulders slightly hunched. I would recognize him as a subculturalist no matter what he wore. It's in his bodily hexis, as sociologist Pierre Bourdieu would have put it. But the question is, which subculture does he belong to? Is he punk? Metal? Grindcore? Industrial? Neo-electro dubstepper? Subculture these days is like a vague, indefinable allegiance. You know it when you see it. It is a visible stance, a posture, a series of gestures. And yet it hovers in a new terrain, this kind of in between space that resists clear identification. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Philly Style Blogger Profile: Mohammed Shariff

Name: Mohammed Shariff
Hometown: Princeton, New Jersey
Currently Based in: Philadelphia
Age: 28
Day Job: Fashion and Entertainment Attorney
What He's Listening to These Days: The Holy Quran (on CD)
How He Describes His Style: Classic with a twist
Style Influences: The Red Shoes, Good Fellas, Flaunt Magazine

Mohammed is working to make these glasses his signature piece. He's intending to wear them in any and all promotional materials for his blog, which in case you don't know it, chronicles fashion from a legal perspective, particularly in regards to intellectual property law. 

Mohammed pointed out lawyers to me as they passed by. "You can tell," he told me, "by the cheap black suits they wear no matter how hot it is." 

Suits, for most people, are a job requirement. They come off as soon as a person gets home. Mohammed, however, takes pride in his, embellishing it with a pocket square, adhering to the fastidious detailing of the well-dressed man. Most peoples' suits don't fit them, he explains, and you can tell when someone doesn't know how to wear one when they button the bottom button. Mohammed's suit, of course, is tailored, and he prefers German-made suits to most other varieties. "American suits tend to be boxy," he told me, "and Italian suits only fit skinny people." 

Frankly, I've posted a lot more suits on this blog in recent weeks than I intended. I had imagined a much larger percentage of leather jackets than sports coats. But then if you believe popular menswear blogs like A Continuous Lean, Sartorially Inclined, and Die Workwear!, we are in the midst of a new peacock revolution. Some people cite Mad Men as one of the main inspirations for this. Others insist it's a response to the continual cheapening of mass production. Menswear, we are told, is about valuing quality and craftsmanship. It is about care and attention, living and dressing consciously. It is, in other words, anti-Walmart, anti-fast fashion, and anti-massification, a literal embodiment of slow fashion. But just try convincing the old guard of Birkenstock-wearing leftists of the revolutionary potential of well-tailored suits! Can you resist the establishment by embodying its most representative garment? 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Philadelphia Street Style: Marc, Walnut St.

Marc, it probably won't surprise you, does some modeling work. He told me his co-workers had just been teasing him about his sweater being too tight. I suggested there was no such thing.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Philadelphia Street Style: Kelsey, 17th Street

I love the phone booth in this image, a feature of the background I originally tried to cut out of the frame. It immediately changes the mood of the photograph, our interpretation of the context, and our reading of the subject. Kelsey is dressed quite contemporary, mixing elements from the girlish to the severe, the rugged to the dainty, juxtaposing boots and short shorts, for example, and a nose-ring with heart sunglasses, and yet the image, with the phone booth present, suddenly reads as anachronistic. Her style looks retro, a throwback to the early '90s. And it lends her style a kind of street urchin authenticity as well, a waifish quality that is far less present in the image below. 

Here her style reads as much cleaner and more innocent, for sale, perhaps, at Abercrombie and Fitch or Hollister, and perfectly at home on any American college campus or beachside retreat. The waifish quality disappears. Getting rid of the phone booth mainstreams her.

Notice the title I have given this post: Philadelphia Street Style followed by a colon, a first name, and a location. I'm trying this out as a new standardized titling scheme. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, it makes good sense in terms of optimizing search engine results. I want my blog to appear on the first page when someone Googles "Philly Street Style" or something of that sort, instead of buried on the third page where no one bothers to look. Second, I'm tired of the pressure to be clever all the time. Standardization takes the weight off. And finally, as usual, I am stealing the idea from other blogs. Standardized titles have begun to read to me as professional — simple and clean. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Jasmine, Walnut St.

I swear I didn't know she was a Dr. Martens store employee until I had already taken these shots.I thought I was through with that racket. Still, I must say, they hire some cool-looking people. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Interview with Liisa Jokinen of Hel Looks

More than one of the street style bloggers I've talked to for this project so far have told me they were inspired to do what they do by Hel Looks, Helsinki, Finland's top street style blog and one of the most widely read street style blogs anywhere. Below is an edited version of my recent conversation via Skype with Liisa Jokinen, the main photographer and editor of Hel Looks, along with a few of the hundreds of images that have propelled Liisa to a position of significant influence in Finland's budding fashion industry. 

Brent:  So what’s the story behind Hel Looks?

Liisa: We started in 2005. People watching has always been my obsession and my hobby, so to speak. I’ve always been interested in peoples’ clothes, why people wear certain things, and the reasons and stories behind their outfits. So it was kind of natural to also start taking pictures of people. But we (Sampo Karjalainen and myself) got the idea for the blog when we were in Stockholm, Sweden for our vacation at Accelerator music festival. It was crowded with really good-looking people, and I was just watching them and thinking that I should have my camera with me. But then came the second day of that festival, and I started thinking that actually the Swedes were not that interesting. They all dress up in the same way, more into fashion than individual styles, and sharing the same rules of what looks good and what does not. It started to feel a bit boring. And I realized that we have much more variety here in Helsinki. Our street styles are more colorful, more crazy and individual.

One of Hel Looks' images from the early days of the blog in 2005. 
Brent: It certainly seems like it from the blog.

Liisa: Of course it also depends on who is taking the picture. I think Hel Looks looks like me, because I am the one who chooses the people.

Brent: So is that your role on Hel Looks?

Liisa: Yeah. We do it together, me and Sampo, but I’m always the one who says, “Hey, let’s take a picture of him or her.”

Brent: Do you go out on the streets together as well to take pictures?

Liisa: Sometimes, but it’s mostly me who has the camera. I freelance and I’m really flexible, so I’m always carrying the camera with me. Sometimes, however, if there is something special happening, we go together and take pictures. But mostly it’s me who is alone in the streets.

Brent: How would you describe Sampo’s role on the blog?

Liisa: He is responsible for all the technical things, and he also does the layout of our site. Plus, he taught me how to take the pictures in the first place.

Image by Hel Looks, 2012.
Brent: So did you not have any background in photography prior to starting this?

Liisa: No. Not at all. Not really.

Brent: So how do you see blogging? Is it more of a career for you, a hobby, something else?

Liisa: I always say that Hel Looks is a hobby project for us, because we don’t want to have any ads there. It’s good to have it as a hobby so that it’s only me and Sampo who can decide the future of it. That way, no one can say to us, “We need more pictures” or “more this and more that.” And we also want to have a simple, very clean lay out. So that’s why we don’t want to have the ads as well.

But then again, since we started doing Hel Looks my whole life has changed. When we started in 2005, I still had my 9-5 job, but after half a year doing Hel Looks I realized that I didn’t’ need to anymore. Now, Hel Looks is like an online portfolio for me. When I started doing Hel Looks, suddenly people knew me in Helsinki. I was someone. “Oh she’s the one who does Hel Looks,” people would say, so I was asked to do many kinds of things, and I realized that this was a good time quit my day job and start freelancing. So many many things that I do I do because of Hel Looks.

Image by Hel Looks 2011.
Brent: And what kind of freelance work do you do?

Liisa: Its mostly for magazines. Fashion magazines like to have these stories of ordinary people showing their style, so that’s what I do for two magazines. But then I also write about style, fashion, and design.

Brent: What are the magazines you write for?

Liisa:  They are called Trendi and Olivia. They are Finnish magazines, so you probably don’t know them. But I also do some writing, because I love to write in the Finnish language, and then I also do styling and also some casting work. And I run an online travel agency which promotes local travelling. It's called Nopsa Travels.

Brent: So Hel Looks itself is perhaps a hobby, but it’s led to all sorts of professional work.

Liisa: Yeah, you could say that.

Image by Hel Looks, 2011.
Brent: What do you look for in the people you photograph? Do you think that there’s a common characteristic among the people you choose to shoot?

Liisa: Yeah, sure. There’s something that I like about them. But maybe it’s that I try to find in them something that I haven’t seen before, something that surprises me. I try not to take pictures of people who are very very fashionable in the conventional sense. And I also try not to take the same picture over and over again, so that there is something new in every picture that we take.

Image by Hel Looks, 2011. 
Brent: When you say that you avoid people who have too fashionable of a look, that strikes me as interesting, because it seems like there is something of a divide — and I don’t know if you notice the same thing — between bloggers who do something more akin to street fashion photography — that is, they take pictures outside fashion shows — and those who do something more like street style photography proper — that, is, which depicts what’s going on in the city itself among everyday people. Do you see that kind of divide between street fashion and street style?

Liisa: Yeah, definitely. There are, in fact, two kinds of (street style) blogs and photographers. Personally I really enjoy looking at both. It’s interesting to see how people dress up at the big fashion events and fashion shows internationally. But then again, it’s a bit boring when too many street style photographers have started to travel from one fashion week to another. The result tends to be that the blogs look more or less the same. We, in contrast, only do Hel Looks. We only try to give an impression of what Helsinki looks like. I think it’s more interesting to have these local blogs than international fashion blogs. Of course there is space for both of them, but it’s a pity if everyone starts going to fashion shows only.

Image by Hel Looks, 2011.
Brent: So do you tend to avoid fashion shows, or is it just not part of what you do?

Liisa: No. No. Whenever I get a chance to travel of course I go. But as I’m freelancing, and really I don’t have the time or money, that’s not as often as I would like. Finland is a very small country, and there are only a few fashion magazines, so it’s very hard to get someone to pay my travel expenses. When I get the chance, however, of course I go. I really enjoy following fashion, and it’s also part of my work. I would just never change Hel Looks into that kind of international fashion week blog.

Brent: What do you think sets Hel Looks apart from other street style blogs? What is unique about Hel Looks?

Liisa:   Well, of course, it’s the local thing. We only post pictures from Helsinki. And then there is also the fact that our blog is what we call a “slow blog.” We only update the site once a week, on Sundays. We don’t have time to do it other days, whereas, many bloggers update their site once a day, or more than once even to keep their site current. But for us, it’s only once a week, and that’s something that we don’t want to change. Also, we don’t have any advertisements, and there aren’t many blogs that have the interviews like we have, and for us, it’s very important. I mean, I’m just so curious if I meet someone and I take a picture of someone, of course I want to ask them questions. “Hey, what are you wearing? And why are you wearing those clothes?” I think that’s very very interesting, so it would be stupid not to ask those things.

Image by Hel Looks, 2011. 
Brent:  Do you always ask the same questions?

Liisa: It depends. I normally start with the easy one, you know, “What are you wearing now?” Because that’s something that everyone can answer. But then I continue from there, and sometimes I can talk with someone for half an hour if we both have the time. I also like to know what specific things he or she likes at the moment, if there’s some specific colors or patterns or brands, designers, or outfits, or combinations that they’re into. I also like to know about style icons, people, blogs, or magazines that inspire their style.

Brent: Is there a Helsinki style? You mentioned that Helsinki is quite different from Stockholm where style tends to be quite boring, but is there something specific about Helsinki that you can identify?”

Liisa: I think it’s very free. Here you can wear what you want. You can find the fashionista girls, but also other subcultures, like punk rockers, heavy metal rockers, and goths. And you can see a strong influence from Japan as well. There are still many Lolita girls in Helsinki.

Image by Hel Looks, 2012.
Brent: Yeah I noticed that. That’s interesting. Why do you think that Helsinki is that way?

Liisa: Hmm. That’s a good question. Maybe it’s because we are so far away geographically — and also mentally — from the rest of Europe. Trends used to come very slowly to Finland. And also, it could be that we have strong connections to the East, as we are basically on the border. Like Iceland, Finland’s remoteness may have something to do with its strong sense of style.

Helsinki has also changed during these past few years. When we started there weren’t that many fashion stores in Helsinki, but during the seven years now that we’ve been doing Hel Looks, people have become much more fashionable. People that we photograph know so many fashion designers, and they really follow fashion. So there is this growing fashion consciousness.

Image by Hel Looks, 2011.
Brent: Well, that makes sense. Accent tends to be a bit more pronounced in places that are a bit more removed. It also makes sense that style has its own distinct flavor when it’s removed from other places. So how would you describe your own personal style?

Liisa: Well, I of course must be very relaxed. I like second-hand, or vintage, and I also like to wear comfortable clothes, like most Finns. I really like to wear things that I can easily move in as I’m biking around the city, hunting for styles. You cannot wear many complicated outfits when you do what I do. But I also hope that my style is quite colorful. I love floral prints and neon colors and things like that.  For me clothes make my life more fun. It’s like everyday creativity. And it’s a lot of fun too. I don’t want to take myself too seriously.

Brent: How would you describe your relationship with other bloggers?

Liisa: Finland is a really small country. We are all friends. You need to be friends if you’re going to all work in the same field. And the same goes for international bloggers, like Facehunter, who I’ve met several times. I think we are friends and colleagues.

Image by Hel Looks, 2012.
Brent: Do you stay in regular touch with other street style bloggers internationally?

Liisa: Yeah, whenever I go to a new city, I will check to see if there’s someone like me, because it’s nice to meet them and share experiences. But I don’t go to any international bloggers meetings, because I don’t have time for that, unfortunately.

Brent: So how much of your time do you think Hel Looks takes up?

Liisa: It’s like 2 to 3 hours every Sunday when we update the site. Then maybe one-tenth of my working hours. Something like that.

Brent: Why do you think street style blogs have gotten so popular in the last few years?

Liisa: Well maybe it’s because street style is about real people. It’s a real person who is wearing something, so it’s easier to relate to street style photos than fashion editorials. And of course, I think we are all quite curious about other people. When you are walking in the streets, you cannot just start staring at someone. But if you are reading Hel Looks you can stare at someone forever. And it’s not embarrassing.

Image by Hel Looks, 2012.
Brent: You can really analyze their look without them noticing you noticing.

Liisa: I think it’s quite natural, really, that people are interested in Hel Looks and other sites.

Brent: And as far as you can tell, since you’ve been doing this, what kind of role do street style blogs play within today’s fashion industry?

Liisa: Certainly it’s quite a big role, because fashion professionals are following street style sites. But then again I would never say that fashion magazines and blogs are competing. Both have advantages of their own. They complete each other somehow.

Brent: So what other blogs do you read regularly?

Liisa: Of course, Sartorialist and Facehunter. And also Facehunter’s Yvan Rodic’s blog I really enjoy. But there is a changing list of stuff. Sometimes I follow something more and sometimes less. For example, I’m going to Shanghai, China in October, and now I’m trying to make a list of interesting Chinese blogs that I’d like to start following before my trip to get a better idea of how it looks there, and whom to contact there maybe.

Brent: Seems like there’s a lot going on in China.

Liisa: Yeah I’m so really confused, you know, about how to find the most interesting people. But we’ll see.

Brent: What do you know about the readership of Hel Looks?

Liisa: Like the visitors that we have?

Brent: Yeah, like the visitors that you have, where they come from, that sort of thing?

Liisa: Now I haven’t checked the amount of visitors lately, but I think it’s been about the same for a very long time. It’s around 8000 visitors a day. 1/3 of them are from Finland. The rest come from USA, Germany, China, Poland, Canda, UK etc.

Image by Hel Looks, 2005.
Brent: What kind of social media do you use to promote Hel Looks?

Liisa: Facebook and Twitter, but that’s also quite slow and lazy posting. We only post something when we have new pictures on our site.

Brent: So just the update?

Liisa: Or of course if we have an exhibition or something like that, or something more special then we can also post it, but that’s it. Only very few things.

Brent: And do you think that’s been really useful in terms of driving traffic to the site?

Liisa: Mmm hmm. Especially Facebook. It’s a good one, I think. It’s a very efficient way to get new visitors. But then again we are very happy with the amount of visitors now, so we don’t have to get more and more.

Brent: Promoting is no longer a big aspect of what you do.

Liisa: Yeah. It has never been. We have never promoted it.

Brent: How long do you think it took Hel Looks to sort of take off, and start to attract a lot of visitors?

Liisa: It all started very fast, actually. It took only a couple of days and we had many, like tens of thousands of visitors. It was only because I sent a link — at that point we only had like 20 pictures on our site — and I posted a link to my friend. And he posted the link to another guy who posted it to the guy who runs And that’s how we got strong visitors (here's a link to the original post). And I think that’s why we decided to continue. Because in the beginning we were on summer holiday, and we were thinking, hey, let’s go out and let’s take some pictures, but we never really thought about how long we are going to continue. But then we got so many visitors and so much good feedback that we wanted to continue, and now it feels like we can never stop. We’ll see what happens, if I become like Finland’s Bill Cunningham or something. 

Image by Hel Looks, 2012.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Philly Style Blogger Profile: Fajr Muhammad

Name: Fajr Muhammad
Blog: Stylish Thought
Hometown: Philadelphia
Age: 28
Day Job: Digital Marketer
What She's Listening to These Days: Joy Denalane, Jill Scott, '60s summer soul BBQ music
How She Describes Her Style: Fun, vintage/retro, with a heavy dose of thrift store chic
Style Influences: Her mother, above all, who is a seamstress and a firm believer in being yourself, even if other people don't get it. And, of course, Isabella Blow  

Fajr designs blogs and does social media for a living, in addition to doing her own blog, Stylish Thought,and organizing the Philadelphia group/blogging collective Philly Style Bloggers. Blogging is both her work and her hobby. 

Fajr's dress is a thrift store find. Her shoes are by Kenneth Cole.

Fajr's hat is part of H&M's menswear line. "I get more compliments on it than anything else I wear." 

The bangles are a hodgepodge, and like most collections of bracelets, are probably the most laden with personal meaning of anything she wears. One was given to her by a friend who owns a jewelry store, another she got from the Bahamas. Some are from here, some there. If our clothes are stories about who we are, our accessories are more like free association poems.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Rose, Walnut St

I caught Rose on her way from an opera workshop. She still had her name tag on, which, we decided, for the purposes of her privacy, not to include in this image. She sings mezzo-soprano, in case you were wondering.

This isn't Rose's first time on a style blog. It is, however, the first time she was aware of being shot for one as it was happening. The others she found out about after the fact, generally after coming home from a music festival.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Casual Friday — Aaron, Broad St.

This is what Casual Friday looks like at Skai Blue Media, where Aaron is the Showroom Manager. "You caught me on the wrong day," he told me.

Notice the pocket square, a nod to formality on an ensemble carefully crafted as "casual." And of course the chest tattoo. Tattoos, it seems to me, are to mens wear today what ties used to be. They are the individualized embellishment within an otherwise predefined medium. 

The last Casual Friday I experienced was in the Silicon Valley in 2000, right before the dot com bubble burst. It did not look like this.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Interview with Michelle Oberholzer of Cinder & Skylark

One of my favorite, recent discovery street style blogs is Cinder & Skylark, Cape Town, South Africa's premier urban fashion database. Below are edited excerpts from my Skype conversation with Michelle Oberholzer, the photographer and blogger behind Cinder & Skylark. 

Brent: So, who is Michelle Oberholzer?

Michelle: Well, I would say [that] deep down inside I’m a creative. I’ve been creative since I was a small child, always painting and drawing and knitting and crocheting and making things, and exploring different ways of being creative. And over years of trying different things and enjoying some of them more, some of them less, I never really found something I could actually continue doing without getting bored, until I started [doing] street photography. With street photography, from the very first day I just loved it. The very first day I went out, I was very insecure about it. I didn’t even know how to use a camera or anything. [But] when I got home I [realized], “Whoa! I really really love doing this.” It was quite a surprise to me.

Brent: What do you think it is that you love about it?

Michelle: I really respond to the individuals I meet. And having a great love for style, as opposed to trends, or fashion, or what’s on the catwalk, I love seeing how people interpret their own way of dressing. And [I say that as someone who has] a diploma in fashion design. [Street photography took] my love of fashion and it brought it closer to who I am as a person. I also love interacting with different people on the street. The cultures in South Africa are so diverse, and there are such diverse people that I come across all the time, it’s really really interesting, and I discovered after I started [doing this] how interested I am in people. I never really thought that was a part of me. I love talking to people. And the latest thing on my blog, where I’ve introduced questions about their favorite places and music — music also being one of my great loves — is sort of a way of relating to people in that way.

Image by Michelle Oberholzer.
Brent: While we’re on that subject, do you see an easily defined relationship between the kinds of music people listen to and what they’re wearing these days?

Michelle: No. [And] it’s [been] very surprising. No, I don’t. I mean [that is] obviously not [true] all the time. Obviously if someone is dressed in a very gothic way [for example], they may very well listen to goth music. But most of the time there’s no way of telling, and I love that element of surprise.

Brent: I’ve noticed a similar thing. I think my generation [who came of age in the early 1990s] was much easier to define [in that way than the current generation of young people]. If we liked a certain type of music, there was a certain sort of lifestyle and a certain style of dress that [went] along with that. [Whereas these days] I find it very difficult to predict what it is that people are into [from what they wear].

Michelle: Yes, it just makes people so much more fascinating, because you don’t actually know anything about the person until you start asking some questions.

Brent: So how did you settle on what questions you wanted to ask them?

Michelle: I wanted to keep it quite local, and make it interesting for locals, so that’s how I settled on the question of “What’s your favorite place in Cape Town?,” and in the beginning, when I started out, I was asking people about favorite movies and books. But then I quickly realized that some people don’t like movies and some people don’t like books, whereas 99.9% of people I talked to responded to the music question. So I just thought, you know, that in a way it tells a bit about the person, and it makes it more interesting for people to read the blog as well.

Image by Michelle Oberholzer.
Brent: From an ethnographic perspective, for me, it’s really interesting to see. And it makes me wonder if that’s a question I need to start asking people [as well].

So, is there a Cape Town style that you can point to? Is there something that differentiates Cape Town style, to the extent you’re aware, from street style that you might observe in other places, on other blogs, for instance?

Michelle: The main thing I would say is that it’s quite casual, [at least] in terms of the people [who] actually walk on the street. Cape Town is the kind of place where a lot of people just get in their cars and drive. They’ll leave home, get out at point B, and just get straight back in [their cars] and go home, so I do know that there’s a huge part of the population that I never see on the streets. And I wanted to keep my blog very authentically street, so I don’t really like going to big places like malls, where there’s a different kind of person going out, because to me that’s not true street. Cape Town is definitely not like it is in European cities, and American cities, where there’s a lot of people walking on the street all the time, so the kind of people I meet on the street tend to be quite young. They tend to be using public transport. So what I photograph is usually quite casual.

I think a lot of people have the perspective that that’s [a reflection of] my style. That that’s what I want to photograph. Whereas [in fact], I love diversity, so if there [were] more diversities available on the street, I would be photographing [them].

Brent: So what do you look for in the people you photograph?

Michelle: That’s difficult for me to pinpoint. If I were to [limit it to a single word] it would be “energy,” a certain kind of energy a person projects that makes the way they look interesting to me. No matter what subculture [they subscribe to], if there’s any sense of style there [and they emanate the kind of energy I look for] then I take [their] photograph.

Brent: How long does it usually take you to identify whether someone has that energy that you’re looking for?

Michelle: I find that [it depends] on what kind of mood I’m in.  Some days I tend to be not as quick on the draw as other days. Or some days [by the time I’m finished] scoping someone out they’ll be a block down the road, and I’ll be like “Aw, damn! I should have photographed them! “ But most of the time I would say [it takes] like split seconds.

Brent: When you do identify somebody, do you have a set approach that you use with everyone?

Michelle: Yes, I usually start out with “I do a street style blog, and I love your outfit, would you mind me taking your photograph?” And most of the time people are very keen to have their photos taken. I hardly ever get anyone that objects.

Brent: Yeah. Likewise. That seems to be what more or less everyone tells me. Which in some ways continues to surprise me, because I think were you to do this 10 or 15 years ago, the idea of being photographed on the street to be put online would be kind of horrifying to a lot of people.

Michelle: Yes, it really is fascinating that people are so [willing to be photographed].

Brent: What do you think is behind the global street style blog phenomenon?
Image by Michelle Oberholzer.
Michelle: It’s almost a contradiction to me, because it feels like [on the one hand] there is a sense of people wanting to show their own city, the people in the city, [and] the individuality of [the] style that’s going on in [in that city]. But on the other hand, it’s this growing sense of the global village, you know. The Internet makes everything so accessible that someone in New York would like to see what people in Cape Town are wearing, or people in Cape Town would like to see what people are wearing in Tokyo, and it’s this cross-interpretation of style that makes it so fascinating.

Brent: So how much time do you think that blogging takes up for you?

Michelle: At the moment, a lot of time. It’s getting to the point where I’m beginning to feel like I need a bit of a holiday. Because of [the success of my blog], I have slowly but surely begun to work for other blogs as well. I [work on blogging] at least a few hours every night and quite a lot of hours over the weekend.

Brent: How often do you actually go out shooting?

Michelle: When I started out [I had] the intention of only posting once a week, because I thought it would get [to be] too much if I committed myself to more than that. So I would go out to photograph one or two days per week and post once a week. Now, with all the other [blogging] work that I’m also doing, it’s probably about three to four days of photographing, and then in between editing and posting almost every day.

Image by Michelle Oberholzer.
Brent: I know you’re doing It’s What I’m Into. What are the other blogs that you’re working with?

Michelle: I am working for a Paris-based blog called, which I only send one or two photos to a month, so that’s not really that time-consuming. I would say What I’m Into is taking up most of my time, and then just in the last two weeks, I have started to take some photographs for New York Magazine’s The Cut. They are requiring quite [a lot] of photos from me, so I’ve been quite busy with that. [But its worth it,] because that’s been quite an exciting project for me.

Brent: Of course. How do you find balance between your day job, blogging, and actually having a life besides that? Or is it possible to have a life besides that?

Michelle: Well, I think I am quite balanced. I think my life is quite full. I am single — I don’t have a partner in my life at the moment — so there’s no one really needing a lot of my time. I see my friends when I have the time, which works out. And I’m also quite a spiritual person, so I spend quite a lot of my time meditating. I think that helps to keep me sane.

Brent: Right. Do you have long term goals that you would like to see come out of this blog and the various other projects that you’re a part of?

Image by Michelle Oberholzer.
Michelle: I would say yes. Since I started with the photography, I’ve loved it more and more, and even since I’ve started working for It’s What I’m Into I’ve realized that, even though street style is my first love, I also really love photographing other things, and I really enjoy interviewing artists and other interesting people as well, so that’s really sparked an interest for me in wanting to become a better photographer, and I’m really hoping to spend more time on that in the future.

Brent: So how are you teaching yourself photography?

Michelle: (laughs) That’s been a bit of a problem for me, because I find that it’s almost [as if] the jobs have rolled in faster than I’ve actually wanted to learn. So I find that when I go out to photograph something I’m always in a rush and I don’t really have time to experiment and play around that much. So I’m [looking into doing] a short course, to actually learn from someone, to take some time out and learn. At the rate I’m going at the moment, I feel that I want to better my skills, and I need to actually take the time out to do it.

Brent: Well you have to think so quickly when you’re out taking pictures of people that it is hard to experiment in the moment of doing. You have to have trained yourself in advance if you want to make it that automatic. I know that feeling.
Image by Michelle Oberholzer.
Michelle: And because of the day job to find the time to do that… I haven’t actually. It’s been in the back of my mind for a long time. So lately, realiz[ing] that people are [beginning to] recognize me internationally, I [have been] motivated to become better at what I do.

Brent: Well, it shows in the images. I think you take lovely pictures.

Michelle: Thank you.

Brent: For this project I read quite a lot of street style blogs, and yours caught my attention first because of the aesthetic of the images themselves, but also because I think you capture very interesting people, a range of people that’s actually quite unusual for a street style blogs. What kind of camera do you use?

Michelle: I have a Nikon D5000 with a standard lens that it comes with it.

Brent: So nothing extraordinarily fancy.

Michelle: No. Not at all. When I first started my blog, I had a very very small old silver Canon. I don’t even know what it is, but it was literally a one-button camera. And I took that out with me on the streets when I started out, and when I think about it now, I find it quite embarrassing. But it was where I was at, and I had to learn. A couple of months after I started, I [decided], “OK, I’m actually going to buy the bottom of the range of what is a reasonably better camera and see [what happens]. And I saw such a huge improvement in my photos [that] now I’m really inspired to try different sorts of lenses and learn different techniques.

Brent: Do you think that you have a distinctive photographic style?

Michelle: To me it doesn’t feel that distinctive. It always feels that in a way I was shaped by the city I was in and the camera I was using. I tend to not take very many long range shots, because of the lens that I’m using. I don’t really get blurred backgrounds and things like that. And also I just find that the streets aren’t all that appealing to me, so I like using gates and walls as backdrops.

Image by Michelle Oberholzer.
Brent: I have noticed that about your blog. You tend to do the walls and the gates and the gratings, and these kinds of elements that certainly read as “of the street,” but they have a different perspective to them than the standardized blurred backdrop cityscape that so many street style bloggers use. Is there a story behind the name Cinder & Skylark?

Michelle: (laughs) Yes. It’s actually quite a long story, but to make it short I really wanted to use a name that was completely unique, and it took me about six months to find it. I didn’t want a name that was something like “Cape Town Street Style.” It just didn’t feel like me, or what I wanted. So I literally started reading dictionaries and Googling names, and I chose some[where] around 150 names, and every time I would Google it I would find it on the Internet. And at that time the double barrel kind of name sounded quite cool to me, and I just put the words together, and when I Googled it there was nothing else like that out there. And that’s how it happened.

Brent: That makes as much sense as any other approach that I’ve heard. It’s quite a frustrating experience coming up with an original name. Do you participate at all in fashion events in Cape Town for the blog? I know you have the fashion design background, but has that entered into your practice of blogging at all?

Michelle: It has lately. I’ve been invited to different launches in shops, launches of ranges by designers, [and that sort of thing], which I can’t always attend, but I love doing it [when I can], and I also love attending the local fashion week, which is coming up again now in July.

Brent: What kind of role do you see the street style blogger playing within a larger fashion industry these days?

Michelle: Jeez! That’s quite a difficult question for me. I don’t always know how serious[ly] the industry actually takes us. For me it’s really been such an individual expression thing that I’ve never really thought about it. I mean obviously you see what The Sartorialist is doing and what he’s getting involved in and all that, which is definitely quite influential, but, for general street style bloggers I don’t know. I often get asked the question, “Does street style in South Africa influence designers,” and I don’t think it does yet. And I do think that from my perspective it is actually a good platform, because you do see patterns in what people are wearing and what people like in different cities, and what they respond to.

Image by Michelle Oberholzer.
Brent: It becomes something of a database of styles internationally that designers could potentially be tapping into, but aren’t necessarily. Do you think that street style blogs in South Africa are having any influence on what people are wearing on the streets of South Africa? Like, are people conscious of perhaps ending up on a blog if they walk in a particular district in Cape Town?

Michelle: Yes. They are (laughs). And Cape Town, the way that it’s laid out, there’s [only] a very small part of the city center where all the trendy people hang out. When I started my blog I was trying to keep it diverse and trying to go to many different places, and then I soon realized I’m actually wasting my time. I tend to go back to just the city center where there’s always well-dressed people around.

Brent: Any trends that are striking you as particularly interesting right now?

Michelle: There’s definitely a big trend going on at the moment with women just wearing leggings and oversize jumpers, like knitwear jumpers, and definitely still white Converse sneakers. Lots and lots of white Converse sneakers.

Image by Michelle Oberholzer.
Brent: Those sound like trends that are happening in places beyond Cape Town as well. What are your feelings about advertisements and sponsorships on blogs?

Michelle: I have been feeling like I want to get into that lately. I’m a bit clueless as to how to go about it, though. I haven’t actually done it [yet], but I want to approach people who are knowledgeable about it, so that I can get started.

Brent: What do you know about the readership of your blog?

Michelle: I only use the information that comes on Blogger, so I can see the basic demographics, and it’s very interesting in that about a third of my readers are from the USA. Most of them [of course] are South African, and then, quite a lot from the UK and various European countries, including Russia. Russia featured quite a lot in the last couple months. A lot of people started using links to my blog. So there’s quite a lot of diversity. Also some South American countries. Australia pops up every now and again. So it’s quite diverse.

Brent: What kind of social media do you use to promote the blog?

Michelle: I use Facebook and I use Twitter. I don’t think I use Twitter very effectively, because I’m not a person that tweets a lot. I basically only tweet when I put up posts. So I do think it could be used more effectively. I also feel that that’s something I need to learn more about.

Image by Michelle Oberholzer.
Brent: What other blogs do you regularly read?

Michelle: I’m not a very regular blog reader. I tend to be inspired by certain things and then I will just Google and find random things that I’m looking for. The one blog that I consistently enjoy reading is Hel Looks.  And Hel Looks is definitely the blog that inspired me to go out on the street as well.

Brent: Do you have much interaction with other street style bloggers?

Michelle: No. I don’t actually. Apart from the people I’m now working with on It’s What I’m Into, I don’t have interaction with other street style bloggers.

We talk for a while about my previous research and what led up to this project and I tell her that this is the first fieldwork project I’ve done where I never have a feeling of dread about doing it. There’s something, I say, addictive and compulsive about it. She responds with the following:

Michelle: [For me, what’s compelling about it] really is the element of surprise. I find that you just never know when you’re going to see the most amazing outfit next. Sometimes when I’ve walked down the street for like 20 minutes, and I’m starting to think “Oh my word! I’m not going to find anything today,” suddenly this amazing person appears in front of me, [and] that’s the best feeling ever.

Image by Michelle Oberholzer.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Philly Style Blogger Profile: Sabir M. Peele

This is the inaugural post of a new feature on my blog. "Philly Style Profile" will feature prominent style bloggers and other fashionistas from the Philly area, along with tidbits about their personal style. First up is Sabir Peele, the founder and creative director of the menswear blog Men's Style Pro
Name: Sabir M. Peele
Home Town: North Philadelphia
Age: 26
Day Job: College Admission's Counselor
What He's Listening to These Days: Passion Pit, Carole King, Kanye West
How He Describes His Style: Professional with some fashion twists. A Mix of prep and sporty.
Style Influences: Sammy Davis Jr., old school Bill Cosby, designer Michael Bastian.

Sabir's suit was custom made by Indochino.

Those shoes, worn without socks (as seems more and more common in the world of prep/business casual) are by Johnston and Murphy. Check out Sabir's campaign for them here

In 2010, Sabir was picked by Esquire Magazine  as one of the five, "Best Dressed Real Men in America." It's easy enough to see why. No doubt Sabir is also one of the best dressed college admissions officers in America. As an anthropologist, however, I can't let the term "real men" just fly by. As opposed to what? I'm looking forward to Esquire's list of the top five best dressed fake men. Perhaps they call those "celebrities."

Sabir's shirt is also custom-made by Enzo, Philadelphia bespoke tailors. There's a theme here. Sabir is a man whose stuff fits him exactly right. I have no idea what that feels like. 

It's all about the details. The pocket square is by Fifth & Brannan

I'm beginning to feel like a spokesperson here, all of a sudden. At what point is my academic integrity compromised by all the brand names I've dropped? Let's find out! 

Notice, by the way, all of the personalized elements on Sabir's wrist. It used to be that the tie was a well-dressed man's only option for accessorizing. Not anymore. Still, most individualized elements, like tattoos and piercings, remain coverable by one's sleeves. 

Follow Sabir on Twitter @MensStylePro or check out his pics as style guru for NBC Philadelphia's That Girl, That Guy. And stay tuned for next week's Philly Style Profile, Fajr Muhammad of Stylish Thought.