Friday, September 28, 2012

Philadelphia Street Style: Taylor, S Juniper St


 



Thursday, September 27, 2012

Philadelphia Street Style: Kelsey, Walnut St





Some of you may remember that I shot Kelsey before, in an alley back in June right next to a phone booth. A different look. A different moment in time. I have, up until now, attempted not to shoot the same person twice. It was a noble ideal, capturing the breadth and variety of Philadelphia style and all. And at least one or two of the bloggers I've interviewed have told me that's important to them. There's only one problem with that. I see the same people all of the time, and if someone stood out in a crowd before, they're likely to do so again the next time I see them. I once asked Big Rube Harley if he ever worried about running out of people to shoot in Philly. He gave me a definitive "no." But I realized today, trolling the area between South St and 3rd and Walnut and 17th, that if I were to stick with the "one person, one shoot" rule, I most likely would. The truth is, I go for a certain kind of person. The looks vary. The mood changes. But there is a certain something that stays the same. I choose people based on some sort of ineffable quality they exert, an attitude they portray. As time goes on I can recognize it from further and further away. Sometimes I can ever hear it in their footsteps before I see them. It's a kind of stance, a kind of way of moving through the world. There aren't that many people that have it — maybe one in three hundred — and the people who do leave a visible mark on the city. They lend it its look. They provide it with an aesthetic. It makes sense to me to focus on those few exceptional people as the subject of my blog. It doesn't feel, in fact, that I have much of a choice. 

So today I realized a couple of things. 1) The one person, one shoot rule is totally arbitrary, and it makes little sense to stick to it. And 2)taking pictures of the same, key individuals over time provides a kind of visual history of a place. Certain people make their visual presence known more than others, and it just makes sense to focus my attention on them for this blog. You don't need to photograph an entire city to watch its aesthetic change. And as for Kelsey's look specifically, I think it's grown in some interesting ways since I last saw it, a bit more refined, a bit more sophisticated, and yet still distinctly recognizable as Kelsey.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Moral Economy of "Liking": Notes from the Philly Style Bloggers Fall Kickoff, Triumph Brewing Company

Mel Edmond of Fashion Goes There 
The battle between art and commerce is older even than fashion itself. But it's always played a particularly pivotal role in fashion. Couturiers have to balance the desires of their clients with their own creative visions. Photographers seek to sneak their artsy sensibilities beneath the radar of their editors. So it's no surprise that the relationship between fashion bloggers and their commercial sponsors was a significant subject at last night's Philly Style Bloggers Fall Kickoff, an event put on by the Philly Style Bloggers Meetup.com group at Triumph Brewing Company in Old City. The theme of the night was "Blogger Be Thy Name," a title meant to capture both the desire of a blogger to develop a consistent brand identity and the status of blogs as a form of self-expression.

Chaucee Stillman of Streets and Stripes
This was my second Philly Style Bloggers meeting. At the first one, I knew no one and sat awkwardly at the table, hoping Fajr, the former organizer, and blogger behind Stylish Thought, would refrain from calling on me. This time, I knew four of the attendees already, including Chaucee above and Jacqui below, both of whom I have featured in the Philly Style Bloggers Profile section of this site, along with Fajr herself. Other bloggers in attendance were Karima of Skinny Minority, the new organizer of the group, Philly PR Girl, Mel of Fashion Goes There (top photo), and "blogger of the month" Quentin from Avenue Swank. Most of our meeting was organized around a Q & A session with Quentin on topics ranging from which blogging platform to use (Blogger, Wordpress, Typepad, Tumblr, etc) to how to make Twitter and Instagram hashtags work for you (by researching what's trending, of course, and making sure "your content's going where the talking is going") and how to negotiate the best, and least exploitative, deal with potential sponsors (answer: make a "media kit" and get your prices locked down in advance).    
Jacqui Davis-Moranti of Burgundy Whispers
Throughout the conversation certain key words and themes stuck out for me: "being true to yourself," "expressing yourself," being "taken seriously," the importance of "writing well" and writing "what you know," "building relationships" with other bloggers and brands, taking the initiative instead of waiting for things to come to you, being "creative" and "expressive," and perhaps most saliently — and repetitiously — of all, sticking to topics, brands, and subjects that you yourself "like." In fact, I would argue that "liking" has become something of a litmus test for bloggers. It is the key form of criteria for determining whether a proposed sponsorship is acceptable and for differentiating that which is a genuine form of self-expression — and hence a reflection of "who one really is" as a blogger — from that which is done out of some sort of cynical motivation, e.g, chasing profit or fame. There's nothing wrong with making a profit or making oneself famous, of course, from a blogger perspective at least, but these can never be the only objectives of one's blog. For a blog to maintain its integrity in the eyes of other bloggers they can't be the primary objectives either. 

Instead, blogs operate in a moral economy of "liking." To like something is to feature it without compunction, ambivalence, or regret. It is to strip oneself of cynical intention and to depict with honesty, immediacy, and integrity. To like is to express from one's heart, to represent one's personal truth. I was struck by how many times this logic was expressed last night. It is utterly pervasive in the blogging world, making or breaking a blogger's status in the eyes of others. When one begins to promote brands one doesn't believe in, when one starts showcasing things one doesn't even like, that's when one's integrity is called into question.

One of the discussions last night involved the "swag hag," the mythical persona of the cynical blogger who writes whatever it takes to get free stuff. Another discussion revolved around "black cat tactics," underhanded branding strategies employed by companies to get their products featured on a blog without any acknowledgment that such content was paid. Promoting a brand itself is not a problem. How could you possibly do fashion blogging without promoting brands? To report or depict is already a form of promotion. The problem comes in when representing a brand in a positive light that one does not oneself "believe in." Promotion of stuff one likes, on the other hand, is an act of sincerity and self-expression. To like is to lend an object a moral weight. It is to invest it with an intrinsic value, a value divorced (to use Marxist terminology) from both its "exchange value" (i.e, how much you can get for it) and its "use value" (i.e, what you can do with it). Liking, in other words, is some crazy metaphysical shit.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Philadelphia Street Style: Max, Rittenhouse Square





Max is the second, bow tie-clad gentleman featured on Urban Fieldnotes in 5 days. Originally from Russia, he now works for a major pharmaceutical company in the Philadelphia area. "I came to the US," he said, "liked it and stayed." I'm liking the bow tie thing, but I've seen so many of them lately, I wonder if the trend is about to reach its saturation point.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Philadelphia Street Style: David in bright pink pants, Walnut St




David is a fashion design student at the Art Institute. This came as no surprise to me, and I told him as much this afternoon. I'm guessing you may have had similar thoughts.

Obviously, the first thing to catch my attention about David, besides his confident stride, was his pants. I've noticed a lot of brightly colored pants on men lately, whether gay or straight. David's might excede the ordinary limit of brightness, but they are no means unusual. This is the first I've seen them paired with cowboy boots, though. Another aspect of this outfit, I might add, that is on trend.



Friday, September 21, 2012

Philadelphia Street Style: Mohamed, Walnut St





Thursday, September 20, 2012

Philadelphia Street Style: Taheira, Walnut St




Minimalism, at long last, seems to be over, and I'm appreciating the way so many Philadelphians are mixing bold prints, often with different ethnic origins. This is international street style pastiche in the best sense. It also seems to mirror a trend I've noticed in interior design, away from solid color walls and towards mixed wallpapers, from Zen austerity towards cultivated clutter. Our fears of discordance are subsiding. Clash of civilizations be damned!


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Street Style Beijing: My Conversation with Nels Frye of Stylites


Nels Frye of Stylites.net and Lifestyle Magazine
Since leaving business consulting in 2008, American Nels Frye has forged himself into a significant figure in the Chinese fashion scene. The Editor-in-Chief of a bilingual fashion and lifestyle magazine, appropriately named Lifestyle, and founder of the Beijing-based street style blog Stylites (www.stylites.net), Frye is uniquely equipped to discuss the state of fashion, and street style blogging, in China today. He is currently finishing a book based on Stylites, and my conversation with him via Skype on August 26 began with that subject.

Brent: So do people in Beijing find it interesting to hear an American perspective on what’s going on in Chinese style?

Nels: Yeah. I guess I would say so. Stylites has been a great publicity vehicle for me, let’s say. It’s part of what its function has been for me.

Brent: Did it start out as that for you?

Nels: No. Not really. It  started out quite accidentally. It was really more of a personal blog, and then, very soon after I started doing it, one of the local English magazines asked that I start contributing street style pictures for them. And that’s really what did it, because I hadn’t necessarily intended to make it into such a big thing, but with the pressure coming from the publication deadline I was sort of forced to generate more content, and that’s how it developed.

One of Nels' early street style photos for Stylites, taken in 2008. Image by Nels Frye. 

Brent: So when was that?

Nels: Oh, God. That was already way back in ’07.

Brent: And when did you go to Beijing in the first place?

Nels: Oh my first trip here was all the way back in ‘96.

Brent: And what brought you back to Beijing on this most recent stay?

Nels: Yeah, well my long-term, permanent life here started with a consulting gig in ’05.

Brent: What kind of consulting work were you doing?

Nels: It was business consulting. Market strategies for foreign corporations, finance groups, etc. It was with the oldest consulting company to have a China focus, Kamsky Associates. It’s been here since 1980.

Brent: And when did you end up leaving that position? At what point was Stylites a viable entity of its own?

Nels: Well it’s never been a viable entity of its own. It still isn’t. Unfortunately. I wish I could find a way. But I’ve never been able to figure out how to make it into a viable entity.

Image by Nels Frye.
Brent: But you’ve parlayed it into a number of opportunities, it sounds like.

Nels: Yeah, it’s certainly been related to quite a lot. No doubt. And that’s why, even though I don’t know how long I would have done this if it didn’t have other benefits. I think you might have noticed it’s been a year since I’ve been a regular photographer for (Stylites). I have someone else who does most of the pictures for it (Suzy). But, yeah, it certainly does connect me to other things. In any case, I quit that job to focus on a book I never finished in 2008. And I started up the job at Lifestyle, this magazine where I’m the Editor-in-Chief, in ’09. And now I’m working on another project, which is a men’s essentials website.

Brent: Are there many other Chinese street style blogs these days?

Nels: Not many. I mean, the blog, as its own address, is sort of a dying form, I think, in China.

Brent: So does that mean that it had its peak already?

Nels: I don’t know that it ever had its peak. Nobody here has ever been in the habit of having their own URL and having a blog. I think there were more blogs associated with larger blogging platforms that were very successful, but everything has really transferred to Weibo (www.weibo.com). My blogging form, of having your own address, and all that kind of thing, it’s not really something that has been quite the same in China. I mean, there are some, it’s just that most blogs are Weibos, basically, which is called China’s Twitter, but that’s really not even all that accurate.

Brent: Does Stylites, then, resonate in China? Or is it more of an international thing?

Nels: It’s both. I wouldn’t say that it’s been more successful internationally, but I think the reason why, in some ways, Stylites has never caught on in a big way is the fact that it’s in a sort of peripheral zone, which is neither/nor. And it’s certainly an object of great curiosity for locals, but the fact that it’s mainly in English —I’ve done it bilingually before, but I started doing it bilingually right as the rise of Weibo. I decided there’s no point in it, because Chinese people don’t go to independent URL blogs. And I think that’s another reason why it hasn’t been that successful locally.

Gia, former lead singer of Hang on the Box. Image by Nels Frye.
Brent: Do you think being a foreigner has been an advantage or disadvantage for promoting the blog and your other ventures?

Nels: I think there is something of an advantage to it, but I think on the whole your ability to operate here is in the end is about the relationships you have and your ability to form relationships. And I think you’re sort of more distinctive as a foreigner automatically, so that’s certainly an advantage. More of a novelty in terms of attracting attention, but in terms of really being able to get into the system and make things work for you, it’s quite tough. Very tough.

Brent: Yeah, I can imagine. Breaking into the sort of old boys clubs and whatnot must be rather impossible.

Nels: Yeah. I don’t know if I would describe them as old boys clubs, but the equivalent.

Brent: You said you don’t do your shooting for the blog regularly anymore, but when you did, how did people tend to respond to you when you would stop them for a picture.

Nels: It was actually interesting to see the evolution of responses. I think it started out as really sort of mild shock, people not understanding why I was doing this. When I said there weren’t any other street style blogs I should have added that there certainly are other street style platforms. They’re just not independent blogs. I would say that the form was taken up by various on and offline media outlets, rather than there being individual figures associated with it as you have in the West. I mean, there’s probably no other individual figure associated with it from here aside from me.

Early image from Stylites. Image by Nels Frye. 
Brent: And by the end of it, were people aware of Stylites specifically as a platform?

Nels: No. Well people within a certain set most definitely. The wider public, no, not at all. Although as it turns out, the people I was photographing often were members of that certain set. So they may very well have been aware of Stylites already. I guess you could say that they were aware of it.

Brent: So that certain set, did you go out combing the streets looking for them, or did you tend to go to events where you knew they would be?

Nels: Yes, the latter. I think when it started out I tried to go out just street combing, but that’s just too time consuming, and maybe I’d get one person after four hours that I wanted to take a picture of. And the thing is, Beijing, you know, is not the Lower East Side. Beijing doesn’t really have a place like the Lower East Side or Kreuzberg in Berlin. You don’t have these walking areas, nearly so much in Beijing, not even compared with Shanghai, which has the French Concession, something of a walking area. Beijing isn’t really a walking city. There are some very touristy areas. And I shouldn’t really make such categorical statements as that, but really, it’s a driving city. People that have money certainly drive.

Brent: So street style in a sense is already a misnomer. It’s not on the street.

Nels: To some extent. I shouldn’t say that it’s a complete misnomer. There are certain very small pockets where it exists. I think street style exists wherever stylish people walk. And, you know, so there are certain pockets. I think in Beijing the place where you’re most likely to see those people is Sanlitun, and that’s become more of a place where you see them, only because a major outdoor mall was constructed there. I don’t even know if I would call that street style. It’s sort of an occasion-based thing in itself, although it’s not only on certain occasions that people are there.

Image by Nels Frye.
Brent: Do people in Beijing, especially stylish people, tend to gather in indoor malls? I mean, I know Beijing has famously bad air quality.

Nels: Yup. Well, yeah, they do. That’s also been an issue. There were pictures early on from indoor malls. (But) I think I haven’t had that many pictures from those places, partly because I’m loathe to hang out in them.

Brent: I can understand. That was always an issue for me trying to shoot kids in Jakarta.

Nels: But maybe given the air quality I should be more inclined to go into those places.

Brent: Well, you know, in a lot of parts of Southeast Asia that I’ve spent time, the tendency is to mimic the outdoor space indoors, so there’s a lot of these sort of fake skies overhead, fake streets and stuff.

Nels: Also the heat.

Brent: Yeah, and that’s true too. It’s not just air. It’s also, as you said, that dense humidity. But it means that street style ends up taking on a very different meaning, and as far as street style blogs are concerned in Indonesia —they tend to be more like personal style blogs, rather than street style — they’re all shot at malls, like in book stores, coffee shops, and things like that. Because you’re not going to find cool people on the streets.

Nels: And the other factor actually is that it is in fact the wealth disparity, beyond just the pollution and the inclemency of the weather, I think even more so the issue is that there are very few areas that are, let’s say, “yuppie,” or “chuppie,” as they’re called in China, Chinese yuppie, public spaces, outdoor spaces. I think that one area that I was mentioning Samlitun, where there is sort of an expanse, mainly because it’s an outdoor mall, or highend outdoor space, is an exception. The point is that the traditional conception of Beijing is as these islands of development — or I should say islands of affluence — separated by streams of undeveloped grunginess. And you would kind of jump from island to island.

Image by Suzy.
Brent: So does stylishness in Beijing then tend to be entirely concentrated among the wealthy. Is it a middle class phenomenon? Is there such a thing as a working class cool?

Nels: That’s a very good question, and I think that’s something I should take up in my book also, but yeah, the class issue and style, I think the people on my blog are not necessarily upper class as such. Now one thing, though, that we have to keep in mind, is that in the mass of the Chinese population, even people that we’re calling middle class are in the upper ten percent. Even to this moment, 80% of people — I would no longer say 80% are farmers — but 80% are less affluent people. Not really quite middle class in the sense of having disposable income and such that they would spend on style. I think what I’ve captured on my blog is a segment that is rather distinctive to Beijing, a sort of bohemian group in a very broad sense. I’m using the word “bohemian” in (way that) encompass(es) hipster and rock musician and even fashion types. There are some of them that might come from a less affluent background, no doubt. I think it’s even more difficult to tell in China what kind of background somebody’s from, in fact, than it is in other places. Sometimes you can judge it based on the way they speak and such. But remember the Cultural Revolution screws everything up. And the fact that wealth is generally off the records, makes it so that if you ask somebody what their parents do it isn’t necessary going to give you a very good notion of whether they’re affluent or not.

Brent: So much has changed between those generations.

Nels: Yeah, but a big part of it there, though, is the grey economy, which is just so dominant. It’s complicated. People both want to downplay and show off their affluence. So I think it’s a tough question to answer, but I would have to say that the amount of people (on my blog) that could genuinely be called working class or even part of that 80% is limited. But at the same time, the number of wealthy is also kind of limited. I think there are some people that are certainly the artsy children of wealthy people, definitely. No doubt there are those people appearing on my blog. But what we don’t have are the more interesting, from the perspective of luxury brands, consumer, who is the sort of wealthy luxury brand buying, brand obsessed person, that has, without a doubt, money.

Brent: Because that’s less appealing to you, or because it’s less prevalent?

Nels: It’s less appealing. I mean, if I were going to those upscale malls that are in the Central Business District, I think I would see a lot more of those people, although there are even more in cars, of course. I think there’s sort of a mainstream affluent person that is not appearing on my blog. And I don’t think they really appear on other street style blogs like this either abroad. There is a Chinese type, that has its own Chinese characteristics, but is also comparable to that type elsewhere. Although they can have a lot more style abroad, as it turns out. I think, let’s say that rich people in Paris look better than rich people in Beijing.

Brent: So you used the term “bohemian” and also “hipster” to describe the kinds of people that end up on Stylites, so I’m just curious, are those concepts that make sense to people locally?

Nels: I think bohemian is probably one that people do a second take when you (use it). Although there is a word in Chinese, translated from English, that just means the same thing. But I don’t think people use the term “bohemian” in the US that much any more compared to, (for example), “hipster.”

Brent: Bohemian comes and goes.

Nels: But it is prevalent in that it’s part of that whole “bobo” (bourgeois bohemian) thing. And I also would use the word bobo, the David Brooks term, to describe the people here, obviously with their own characteristics, quite distinct from the bobos in his book, but that’s clearly also, to some extent relevant, and those are the people who are appearing on my blog. But it’s also a lot of the fashion types. Fashion and magazine types. A lot of these photos can be taken either at fashion parties or art openings. And then I have a ton of photos that are from music festivals. I think it’s almost more helpful to think of my blog in terms of the occasions in which the photos are taken.

Brent: So music festivals, I imagine, would be a big source, and I was wondering, are music festivals a regular occurrence?

Taken at the Strawberry Festival. Image by Nels Frye.
Nels: It’s become this massive thing over the last 3 or 4 years — well it’s been happening for like ten years. I think a lot of things in China, once they realize it’s big, have this tendency to just sort of multiply. Everyone does it. So, yeah. Music festivals, they’re just sort of multiplying. Somehow like regionally their governments got the notion that this was the thing to do, so they have them in all sorts of random places. And around Beijing there always seems to be a new music festival. There are a couple of these longstanding ones. And I go to the ones that are known to be more style conscious.

Brent: Does that correspond with, say, more independent music types too? All the bloggers in the US go to Coachella if they can. Is that sort of the equivalent, or is it its own thing?

Nels: I think it’s certainly similar, but it’s also different. The one that I go to mostly — I’ve been to others — but the one I make a regular thing of going to is the Strawberry Festival. I think in some ways the name tells a lot. It’s kind of an indie sort of event, although the record label that does it, Modern Sky, has become really quite massive. And well it’s often described by Western media, and local media, as a fashion show in a way, although for the masses — college kids and young professionals/young creative types. And I see on the Internet people having discussions about whether they’re going all three days and their outfits and all that. So people take how they’re going to dress for this very seriously.

Brent: Given that the music festivals are sort of a fashion show of their own, is it easy to divide peoples’ styles based on musical preference in Beijing these days?

Nels: To an extent, although I would love to a little research (for the book on that topic). And the one thing I will definitely do is continue to take a lot of pictures at the music festivals, because that’s the one time people can definitely get a lot of them. But I think what I’m going to do at the next one is in fact to ask that very question. I think that would be really entertaining to do a musical preference correlation sort of thing. So I think obviously when it comes to people who are in fact making music — rockers and what have you — there certainly is a correlation, and I think if you were to search for rockers in the category that’s at the bottom, you would see in my blog, the people who are more (in that vein). There’s a Britpop band that I know, and they dress sort of like dandies and mods. And then there’s a rockabilly sort of thing right out the 1950s. So yes, with them there really is, and it’s almost done in like a Japanese-ish, fetishistic kind of manner. But when it comes to the larger public… I think the people that I photograph for my blog are inherently more aware, a little more international, a little more savvy, so I think there probably would be a correlation. However, I think with the wider public it’s often interesting to note the misplaced or sort of entertainingly placed associations, I mean, people wearing very very punk outfits without really being very punk, or even being aware of that kind of genre of music. So I think the more “authentic” types often criticize those types, because there sort of saying, these people are sort of fakers.

Image by Nels Frye.
Brent: That’s a significant category in Beijing these days, the faker vs. the authentic version of whatever?

Nels: I’m sure it’s a spectrum more than anything else. I don’t even think I’d want to call them a faker. They’re almost like an accidental faker. I don’t think it’s a deliberate (or) malevolent faking. It’s often just because they saw such and such piece, and they saw a picture somewhere. In a lot of cases they’re not even trying to be a fake punk rocker. It just happens that that’s the clothing they found and fancied and bought.

Brent: They haven’t necessarily invested a lot of time in investigating what that style is about.

Nels: Yeah. You could say that that’s what Beijing is now, and that the trend is in fact in the direction of people being more aware. Just in general people are much more style conscious. In all of my time here people have been interested in how they dress, but I think when I say “conscious” I think they are more and more conscious of the associations with how they dress.

Brent: So continuing on that theme, have you noticed any significant changes since arriving in 2005 in the way that people do style or do fashion in Beijing?

Nels: Oh definitely. And part of it is just an availability of product. Within sort of the affluent urban set — not the rich, but the middle-class set — the onslaught of the fast fashion brands has made a huge difference. And I hate to give them too much credit, it’s just that I think the H&M, Uniqlo, and Zara has just made quite a bit of style available to the wider public.

Image by Suzy. 
Brent: And those are readily available throughout China these days?

Nels: Well, certainly in the first tier cities, and they’re expanding as fast as they can to the other markets. But the thing is in ’05 none of them were here. I was there for the opening of the first H&M and the first Zara. And that was not until ’09. I think Zara was a year or two before that.

Brent: Do they have local competition as well?

Nels: Yeah. I would love to be able to cite more style-oriented causes, but I do think that their availability has made a huge difference, because I mean everybody, or most people that I take on the street — not necessarily everybody I photograph, because these are somewhat more avant garde or vintagy types, but in the wider public everybody seems to be incorporating some. These are the basics. There was no affordable option for basics before. Before they were available you would have to go through a whole pile of shirts with funny English, with sparkles, with lace before you got to the plain shirt. I don’t know if it’s just their arrival that caused this, but they certainly made an evolution into a less over-adorned, over-decorated style. I would never give H&M or Zara credit for being classic, but they’re at least certainly more simple than was previously available.

Brent: I know exactly that same phenomenon, and I’ve noticed that just since 2005, when the style has gotten just so much more stripped down. The indie fashion scene in Indonesia used to be just like fill the surface as much as you can with design. So that’s interesting that it’s had that push towards simplicity. Is there a big independent fashion scene in Beijing?

Nels: Sure. There are a couple of different generations of designers here. Everybody in China is always trying to do things on a large scale, so it probably wouldn’t have quite the indie scene that you get in other places. But there is. There are a lot of independent designers, and they have their workshops, do fashion shows. One thing I would say about them is sometimes it seems like they’re not selling that much, but they’re certainly well known. Several of these young designers that are under 30, they don’t have stores or anything like that. They’re sometimes available in like two or three multi-brand stores in Beijing and Shanghai. But they’re sort of mini-celebrities. And going beyond some little indie set. I mean someone like Xander Zhou or Zhang Chi, they’re super well-known. But I find it hard to believe, that they’re actually selling huge amounts. But their level of fame is really quite astounding. And the level of the fashion shows they do is also astounding. Zhang Chi does a show, it must be every 6 months or so, I mean these are massive affairs. It would be like a 500,000 dollars kind of thing. I think Martel is his big sponsor. But they always have some sort of auto sponsor. The last Zhang Chi show must have had like a thousand people.  It was bigger certainly in scale that the Jean-Paul Gautier, who came himself recently. This was certainly as big or bigger than the foreign brand shows. Now that said, that isn’t to say that his sales are in any way comparable. But Zhang Chi is probably almost as well known as Jean-Paul Gautier here.

Designer Zhang Chi. Image by Nels Frye.
Brent: So bringing things back to the blog a little bit, are you connected with, or have any kind of relationship with other bloggers in the international street style/street fashion world?

Nels: A lot of people contact me to exchange links, and sometimes I do. But as you can see, it’s sort of one of my projects. I can’t say, though, that I look at other street style blogs. I probably should. And I have in the past. Stylites has never had the popularity that I want, but it is a special thing, just because, of course, China is, Beijing in particular, (a special thing). It’s Beijing. I say that as someone who’s here, but I think people can sort of grasp what I mean. That Helsinki blog (Hel Looks) is really really good, and a lot of people like it, but it’s Helsinki. This is Beijing. It’s the center of the world. It’s too bad there isn’t a better blog than mine here for this

I got my backpack back!

Yesterday I got a message through Urban Fieldnotes' Facebook page from the wife of the cab driver whose trunk I left my backpack in last week. So last night, with a colleague of mine from Drexel in tow, I headed down to South Philly to pick it up. I had visions, of course, of extortion, blackmail, and hostage scenarios playing out in my head. I read the news, after all. I know I'm supposed to be afraid of everything all the time. Of course, none of that happened. What I found was a kind woman wanting to do the right thing. Thank you! And yes, my laptop, old camera, and all my personal items were inside. There are good people in this town. Looking forward to getting out and capturing more of them on "film."

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Philadelphia Street Style: Casey, Rittenhouse Square




I caught Casey, Starbucks coffee in hand, right after an interview she did with Free People. As a regular reader of street style blogs, she was thrilled, and told me it was just the affirmation she needed at that moment. I liked the breezy, end of summer feel of Casey's look. Hope Free People did too. Good luck, Casey!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Philadelphia Street Style: Frank, Walnut St



Urban Fieldnotes is back! In Philly and in action. Sorry, readers, for the long delay. It has been an insane past few days. After three weeks in motion in California, visiting family, friends, and colleagues, I promptly screwed myself once arriving back in Philly by leaving my backpack in the trunk of a cab — and yes, all of the things you might worry would be inside of it were: laptop, old camera, un-backed-up photographs and files, memories, dear cab driver, I would really love to have back (so please, on the off chance that you read my site, have a heart and send my backpack back to me). I've been in emergency mode ever since, calling cab companies and parking authority complaint lines, changing passwords, signing up with an identity theft protection service, the whole bit. I haven't checked my stats in days, let alone thought about updating anything. The experience was crushing. And in some ways kind of liberating, as if my addiction to blogging had been temporarily relieved.

But today, for the first time, I put that all aside and took to the streets. It felt awesome. Philadelphians, you should be proud. It took me a fraction of the time to find interesting people to shoot here than it did in California, and that includes my time in Hollywood.

Frank, up top, has the honor of being my first subject since getting back. I'm digging the fro and the Members Only jacket.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Urban Fieldnotes Featured in Philadelphia Daily News


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

On Shooting Street Style in Sacramento


My first time out shooting street style in Sacramento was a comedy of errors. I had little idea of where to go and even less idea of what I was looking for. I parked on P St, between 14th and 15th and headed into Midtown, a neighborhood that has undergone quite a lot of development (some might say "gentrification") since I last lived here, some 18 years back. It was Labor Day, and a lot of people were out. There was a sidewalk art festival happening in Fremont Park, a live band playing a reggae version of the Spice Girls "Wannabe," and a cluster of food trucks with vaguely Californian specialities — upscale tacos, veggie sandwiches and whatnot — and I perused the people there, before walking up 16th to where a number of trendy bars and restaurants are located. I patrolled the streets between 15th and 21st, S and J, all to no avail. Or rather, I should say, I saw several people I considered taking pictures of but didn't. Something stopped me each time, sometimes for legitimate reasons, sometimes probably not. I saw two cool(ish) looking women standing in front of Faces, Sacramento's longest running gay nightclub, but when I got close I noticed that one of them was crying. I saw a couple of scrawny hipsters, a newly plentiful resource in Midtown Sacramento, lounging on a concrete wall on 20th. Yeah, I thought, they look cool enough. I just couldn't bring myself to care. I texted my wife not long after with the following message: "Does relatively cool for Sacramento count? Or must they genuinely be cool? That's my dilemma." She responded, quite correctly, with "Can't answer that." 


I had a different position on that subject at various points throughout the evening. My long time policy has been that I don't take anyone's picture unless I feel no ambivalence whatsoever about doing so. It must be automatic. It must be instinctual. When I over-think it and talk myself into taking a picture of someone I'm simply not sure about, I tend to regret it later. But after unsuccessfully chasing some girl in a long black dress on a vintage bicycle past two stoplights, I developed a more relaxed stance. Cool is contextual, I decided. I have to take Sacramento on its own terms. Which led, of course, to my first photo disaster of the evening. I saw some dude with a  ZZ Top beard sitting at a table outside a coffee shop with the words "Coffee Shop" emblazoned in neon on the glass above him. He didn't exactly look stylish, but I have a fondness for long beards and literal signs. I thought it could make for an iconic image. So I asked to take his photo. He agreed, and I did. A few distance shots, a few close ups. Showing him the photos afterwards he told me, voice perfectly laconic, poker face in full effect, "I'm ok with you using these ones," meaning the distance shots, "but the close ups didn't turn out too good." "Yeah," I agreed, horrified by the rather amateurish pictures I had taken, "I'm not going to use these." I promptly deleted every image and walked away, glad I never mentioned the name of my website. 

From there, I walked past R St, where several bars have outdoor patios, and a line of teenagers and twenty-somethings in black t-shirts and studded jackets waited to gain entry to the Against Me! show at Ace of Spades. Should I take their pictures? I wondered. They looked so textbook punk rock. In fact, they looked more or less precisely like the people I hung out with in high school, only with more tattoos. I just couldn't do it. It didn't feel fresh. It didn't feel like the mood I've been carefully cultivating for Urban Fieldnotes. It didn't feel like my brand. But it would have been so easy! And then I would have been done for the evening.   



I had more or less given up and started to walk back to my car when I spotted Jessi and Natalie, the subjects of last Tuesday's post. Punk but not textbook. A cool queer edge thrown into the mix. After taking their photos I got that rush of adrenaline that comes from a good interaction and a break in a photo dry spell. I headed back to R St, determined to get more pics. The ones above are a result of that adrenaline rush, a couple "pirate punks" drinking beer on the patio outside Ace of Spades. They weren't super comfortable with the shoot and squirmed a bit, but I think this shot turned out. The rest I screwed up too badly to show you. I was determined, however, not to sink into a post-photographic depression. I had to find someone else to shoot, and shoot right, and that's when I spotted Casey, the subject of last Wednesday's post, sitting at a table on the patio of the bar next door to Ace of Spades. I rudely interrupted her conversation, and got some pictures I'm proud of. Thanks, Casey, for making an off night turn out well after all. 

I have a new faith in Sacramento. There are cool people here. And there are friendly people here. It's not just an act, East Coasters, despite what you've been brought up to think. Being rude is not the same as being authentic. I will shoot here again. 

In the meantime, tomorrow I head back to Philadelphia. Look out for fresh Philly street style pics in a few days.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Weighing the American Apparel Connection

Sorry for the lag between posts. I've been visiting family, and that tends to slow things down. The blog will be back to its regular 4-5 posts per week soon. In the meantime, I have some news to report and advice to solicit.

For the last three weeks or so, since being contacted by a "market research" firm that connects brands to bloggers, I've received a number of solicitations, mostly press releases and mass emailings, asking me if I'd like to feature such and such a beauty product or shoe line on my blog. Mostly, these are not very interesting. I skim them, take note, and move on. They are blog-specific spam. 

The other day, however, I received a more compelling request. American Apparel wants to run an ad on my blog, the kind of flashy side banner on display on street style blogs from Stil in Berlin to Vanessa Jackman. I like American Apparel, I have to admit, despite, or perhaps because of, the acrimony and outrage their ads often elicit among my fellow lefty academics. I like their '70s smut-inspired image, their disdain for retouching. I like their minimalist, but well-fitted products. I like their treatment of garment workers. And I think their brand is strangely compatible with my own — if I can, in fact, refer to my academic persona as a brand (I think I probably can). Plus, they pay $10 every time someone clicks through and buys a product on their website. The ads change regularly, and a blogger can choose to take them down(or put them back up again) at any time. American Apparel won't disclose numbers, but they state that that their "partners," which include such big name blogs as Fashion Toast, Chicmuse, and Karla's Closet, range in average compensation from a couple of hundred dollars to a few thousand per month. 

The money, of course, is not the issue here. My blog is not likely to produce that large a number of click throughs, at least not at this point, and I'm not after extra income. But I haven't decided yet whether running the ad is an interesting research opportunity, i.e., a chance to see what happens to a blog when fashion brands get involved, or a liability, opening me up to charges of conflict of interest, or worse, compromising my academic integrity. Obviously, if I did run the ad, I would only do so if American Apparel agreed to let me fully disclose my experience with doing so and gave me absolute freedom to say whatever I wanted about American Apparel and its sponsorship of blogs on this blog and in all my future publications on the subject. That, of course, is the appeal of accepting the offer. I could see what happens when I advertise. Do I alienate readers? Draw more in? Do I elevate the visibility of the Urban Fieldnotes brand? Or run it through the mud. And does running an ad for a high profile but still relatively hip brand make the website more appealing to other advertisers?

The whole point of this project is to do an auto-ethnography of street style blogging. I do what bloggers do, face the issues they face, make the decisions they make,etc. And what aspect of blogging captures the conflicts and contradictions of bloggers' ambiguous position in the fashion industry better than that of advertising? This could potentially provide me an insider vantage point or at a least possible doorway into a world seldom visible to other scholars. 

What do you all think? I'd love to hear your thoughts before making my decision.