London. Sunny. There are hundreds of people at the entrance to the Store Studios at 180 Strand, where some of the London Fashion Week collection presentations are held. The street is swarmed with photographers who are trying to capture the famous and not very well-known fashionistas. Those are posing with undisguised pleasure. Here they are, their cherished fifteen minutes of fame. Who knows, perhaps some of them will be appear on the pages of Vogue.com. When the show is about to begin a small part of the public – the lucky holders of invitations – go inside the building. Those who have not been awarded with such an honor, remain outside. Their faces change immediately: ‘I was just passing by’ they say.
It is believed that street style was popularised by a photographer Bill Cunningham. In fact, he was not the only one who gave a start to the phenomenon long before it became mainstream. In September last year famous street style photographer Tommy Ton published a picture on his Instagram with the following caption:
So I have a bone to pick. I'm not going to name an any names or point the finger at anyone but you'll know if I'm referring to you. You see these women taking notes of what Giovanna is wearing? These women precede all of what you see has become outside the fashion shows. They have been doing this for decades and helped turned street style at fashion week from a cult fascination to a global phenomenon. They are one of the main reasons why I was inspired to start taking photos and still to this day, I am inspired by their passion and tireless work ethic. Before social media and blogs came into the picture, asian fashion magazines were the only source where you could find endless pages of street style and all the credited details. Alongside Bill Cunningham, they helped put a spotlight on what people wore to fashion month. There used to be a huge group of asian photographers that worked peacefully together but nowadays, they are a dying breed taken over by an army of photographers. So my reasoning for this post is because I've noticed time and time again how other photographers moan and groan about these women and sometimes yell at them questioning the purpose of their note taking. So here's what I have to say to all of you who take issue with them and feel like you can bully them: show some respect, learn some manners and get over yourself. You have a problem with them asking what the editors, influencers, stylists and models are wearing? Guess what this is a billion dollar industry that cares about clothes and what these photographed men and women are wearing drives sales, not just your supposed perfectly composed photo. I am so fed up seeing these women get scoffed and yelled at. If you have a problem with them, then you can come talk to me and I will school you and put you into check. And you know who else will come to their defense? All the men and women you like to take photos of who have no issue with these women. Do you know who they all have issues with? All of you who have aggressively flooded the shows and just run into everyone and block traffic. I take responsibility for my part in this circus, but there's no need to be disrespectful to each other.
It would be naive to think that these interestingly dressed characters outside the shows appeared only with the arrival of Tommy Ton and Scott Schuman. Not at all, it’s just they, along with several enthusiastic photographers, were the first to realise that the ‘fashionable crowd’ is interesting. It was at the beginning of the century when photographers got a bit bored of the celebrities and renown editors. They wanted something refreshing. And it didn’t have to be someone famous.
Fashion bloggers came to the scene at approximately the same time. Thus, quite naturally, the merchant found its goods. At first, it was very interesting to follow the street style chronicles and everyone was curious. It was mostly fashion journalists, bloggers and buyers who dressed in vintage, hits of the mass market, with a hint of ‘heavy luxury’. Images of the early street style heroes did not seem deliberately thought through: in each of them, with a few exceptions, was individuality.
As soon as street style gained its popularity everything changed. Glossy and not so glossy publications realised that publishing images like these is a great way to grow traffic. Everyone was curious to see what ‘normal’ people wear to fashion shows, not celebrities, whose outfits are thought through by teams of professional stylists. The increased popularity of street style photography led to an increase in salaries masters of street style photography were demanding.
Almost overnight everyone started to shoot the same characters dressed in similar combinations of clothing. Photographers have stopped to search for new faces, new faces would find them themselves. The world of street style developed its own stars, whose popularity was measured by the number of blog reads or subscribers on Instagram. It became clear who should be photographed to gain views or followers. It was turned into a massive snowball: the popularity of ‘street style divas’ converted to popularity of photographers and vice versa.
Street style mafia was then joined by the third branch – fashion brands, which stars of the movement were wearing. It was all about democratizing fashion: actors and musicians stood behind while the new ‘real’ women and men went forward. A great example of it is how the famous fashion blogger Kristina Bazan (Kayture) and Lucky Blue Smith joined the L’Oreal family and became brand ambassadors alongside professional models Karlie Kloss, Doutzen Kroes and Bianca Balti, an actress Blake Lively and singer Jennifer Lopez.
Fashion houses have realized that these ‘real people’ had more credibility to the public than the inhabitants of Hollywood and, therefore, ads with them could potentially be more efficient. And since the best advertising is hidden advertising, brands have found a way to push their products. They started sending the members of the fashion community their products for free or for time being to wear and present during the fashion weeks. Today it is easy to trace who is at the helm: simply count how many times the items appear in street style chronicles.
Immediacy, which was so attractive at first, vanished. It is hard not to notice how much thinking went into the creation of these looks. This ‘I do not care what I’m wearing’ attitude is now only pretentious. Visibility has become more important than the content: the main goal is to get great pictures, and what stands behind them does not matter. In fact, fashion has become this massive subculture, bringing together all kinds of people. Yes, fashion has become global and democratic, however, with a big focus on ‘lookism’ and consumerism. We are all encouraged to look conventionally attractive (applications like Tinder, where the main selection criteria is somebody’s appearance, contribute to this as well), to dress fashionably and to be successful. That is the only way you can supposedly feel ‘happy’.
It is fair to say that among all of this there are still some characters who dress for themselves, not for street photographers. For example, its an Italian journalist Angelo Flaccavento, who adores fisherman hats and vintage, and is almost impossible to persuade to pose for a picture. Or stylist Ursina Gysi, the author of the latest Y-Project campaign, who wore bulky jackets, caps and heels long before photographers outside the Balenciaga spotted her shows. Or designer Gaia Repossi, who has not changed her style for many years.
Street style has lost its reputation as an independent messenger, which a few years ago was considered a much more important source of inspiration than the shows themselves. However, there are still some people for whom a fashion week is a business event, not a vanity fair. But what could we do if the business model has changed?
Text: Irina Gorskaia
Images: Gill Case