Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York begins tomorrow, thereby kicking off “fashion month”. This is when fashion’s travelling circus of editors, critics, buyers, models and assorted hangers-on dress their way through the four “first-tier” fashion cities (NYC, London, Milan and Paris, for those playing at home) to view the new collections.
And, of course, what would a contemporary fashion week be without the attendant scrum of streetstyle photographers and their subjects, posing in a way that will make them look like they’re not posing? Cue women on six-inch stilettos striding hurriedly past the camera, or talking distractedly (but very importantly!) on their phones, or texting furiously (either that or playing Flappy Bird. Probably the latter, let’s be real.)
Fashion week streetstyle images differs from pedestrian streetstyle photography. Rather than seeking to capture the quotidian bustle and flow of a city street or district, fashion streetstyle photographers capture a style zeitgeist: their images document the ways that people on the street style themselves, often seeking out those who they think dress interestingly (such as The Sartorialist) or finding patterns in trends that circulate through what everyone else is wearing (the iconic Bill Cunningham).
Of course, over the past few years, the streetstyle photography taken outside fashion shows has exploded into a frenzied genre of its own. The surrounding city streets are rendered obsolete in the face of certain patches of fashion turf: the Tuileries in Paris, the streets directly outside the show venues in New York that the models (often still in their dramatic show make-up) hasten over to get to their next job.
It’s an open secret that most people want to have their photograph taken as they pass through the phalanx of photographers outside the shows. To appear on Style.com or on a widely-read and well-regarded streetstyle blog is a mark of affirmation, an acknowledgement of one’s fashion knowledge and skill in “pulling it off”.
It used to be that spotting a flash of scarlet sole (Louboutin!) or recognising a catwalk piece was fun and occasional, kind of like the sartorial equivalent of bird-watching. But now, as show-goers (and the non-invitees who dress up to hover outside ‘the tents’ in the hopes of being photographed) dress in their fashionable best for the cameras, I – an erstwhile-avid reader of streetstyle blogs – have grown weary.
Instead of creating outfits that actually demonstrate an original point of view or personal aesthetic, most streetstyle stars seem to dress to display their access and prestige- they can wear a Rochas coat straight off the runway because of their relationship with the house, or they can afford to sling the newest trompe d'oeil handbag over their arm because what’s a A$9500 price tag anyway? Spare change! This is the performance of a different prestige- not of individuality, but of wealth, of privilege. These are all facets of what fashion does and communicates, but the latter is so less interesting!
Max Berlinger agrees with me – writing in his op-ed for The Business of Fashion, he noted that “while street style used to represent the frontier of self-expression and do-it-yourself spirit. Now it looks as constructed as the runway.”
It’s just not as exciting when the people in the images are all dressed the same. The ubiquitous looks of recent seasons include beanies, Letterman jackets, anything by Ostwald Helgason (worn head to toe, please), 90s sportswear (specifically, Nike or Adidas pool slides, baseball jerseys, and mock football jerseys) and, of course, anything by Prada, Céline or Chanel. These are all interesting or beautifully crafted (or nostalgic, at the very least) on their own, but when appearing in image after image… kind of snoozy.
I’m not going to go all Suzy Menkes on you and decry the “peacocks” – it’s fun to observe other people and see what they’re wearing, after all. Looking at streetstyle images is another way to engage with the fashion industry, to gather inspiration for your own outfits or simply satisfy your curiosity at how the other half dress.
But I do wish more people would step away from top-to-toe off the runway looks and predictable trends and try something original: those who do stand out a mile. So show-goers, please, do us observers a favour, OK? Revive the amazing pieces you bought six or more seasons ago- those museum-quality pieces that are dying for another run-around. Or rise to the challenge thrown down by the polar vortex and get creative whilst rugging up.
Or rise to the Ultimate Fashion Challenge and see if Crocs can be made covetable – I mean, if Birkenstocks can achieve cult fashion status, anything is possible, right?