I absolutely love street style and having been following Scott Schuman’s blog for years. His ability to seek out the fashionable crowd from the uber chic Anna Piaggi to a stylish intern working at the shows is unaparalleled. The subjects of his photos are often caught unawares, giving a glimpse into the fashion of real life- without elaborate poses, proper lighting, and an entourage of hair and make-up stylists. Bill Cunningham’s New York is a New York Times staple and has earned fame for humble photographer and fashion enthusiast Bill Cunningham (on that note, if you haven’t had a chance to watch Richard Press’ documentary Bill Cunningham New York, it is excellent and available on Netflix streaming). Vogue Editor Anna Wintour once said, “We all get dressed for Bill.” The article below published my Metro explores the evolution of Street Style photography and blogging.
(Metro) This month, Scott Schuman, aka Blogger Scott Schuman , arguably the most influential street-style blogger working today, publishes his second book. The Sartorialist: Closer features more of Schuman’s lively, often moving images of people on the streets of Japan, Korea, London, Milan, New York, Paris and beyond.
Street style, the art of taking pictures of real people based on their style, is one of the most dynamic practices of fashion media. Wing your way through most mags and style blogs and there, next to glossy fashion shoots, are ordinary boys and girls wearing outfits they put together themselves.
The thrill of street style lies in its accessibility. You can be dumpy, knock-kneed and poor as a church mouse but, if you know how to mix your togs, you can still be a style star. For the viewer, the pay-off is even greater: unstyled, creative fashion at its best.
It has a prestigious history. From the New Yorker’s Bill Cunningham to Terry Jones, whose 1970s images of punks leaning sulkily against London walls became the foundation of his magazine ID, street style has proved adept at documenting social groups.
Today’s fashion photo bloggers, however, are becoming celebrities in their own right. Schuman, his girlfriend and fellow blogger Garance Doré, Facehunter’s Yvan Rodic and Jak & Jill’s Tommy Ton et al, now sit on front rows, are profiled in international publications and consult and co-design with top brands.
And where street style once reflected trends, it now creates them. Nik Thakkar is a creative brand strategist. ‘Street-style’s influence is unparalleled,’ he says. ‘Leading trend forecasting services such as Stylesight and WGSN now have dedicated sections for street-style fashion on their blogs.
‘They also have in-house photographers who attend major fashion weeks, events and festivals and analyse in detail individual looks and the influences behind those looks. These subsequently shape their projection reports, which are read by designers at major high street and high fashion brands.
‘Essentially, street style is shaping a billion-dollar fashion industry.’
But the genre may be losing its cachet. The number of bloggers, key proponents of street-style imagery, is growing at such a rate that quantity is seriously overtaking quality. And whereas Schuman and his ilk – talented photographers with well-schooled eyes for fashion – may deserve the attention, many do not.
‘Most street-style photographers cannot identify a look,’ says Paul Hartnett, who has documented alternative culture for the past 35 years. ‘They’re not familiar with fashion or social history. Invariably, they go for the sexy, young, pretty things. That is not fashion forecasting, that is not trending.’
Then there is the encroachment of commercial interests. ‘If a brand sponsors a blog, part of the agreement may be to include X number of looks featuring the brand’s products,’ says Thakkar. ‘Often, this is so integrated into the blog’s output that it results in strategic influence by the sponsoring brand on the average reader.’
And it’s not just brands that have cottoned on to street style’s uniquely persuasive power. ‘Street style now has influences far beyond “the street”,’ says Thakkar. ‘On one hand, regularly photographed subjects are, consciously or subconsciously, dressing “for the occasion”.
‘On the other, street-style bloggers are vying for the most influential subjects and intriguing looks, thereby focusing their efforts on personalities with access to fashion from different avenues and making it sometimes unobtainable and unrealistic for the average consumer.’
The result inevitably detracts from everything street-style used to stand for. Look at most street-style blogs today and you’ll notice pictures looking increasingly polished as its participants and its subjects emulate conventional fashion imagery. ‘My pictures don’t glamorise the subject,’ says Hartnett. ‘If anything, it’s bloodshot eyes, gaping pores and the psychology behind the make-up that I want the viewer to probe.
‘If you’re really on the ball with style stalking, you don’t have something in mind. What you’re looking for is the unexpected – an unexpected combination of colours and fabrics that mix of vintage with new. If you’re totally repulsed by something new, invariably that means it’s going to be huge.’
So, who are the rising photo fashion bloggers of today? ‘The stylist Matthew Josephs takes good photos with a keen fashion eye,’ says Hartnett, approvingly. ‘I always recommend him to my students.’ Thakkar adds: ‘I regularly read Jak & Jil and am looking forward to the new dedicated section in New York magazine’s The Cut.’
We like Mike Tinney, for the sheer beauty of his imagery; Anthony Lycett, for his celebration of big characters in studio environments; Jonathan Daniel Pryce’s dedication to facial hair in his 100Beards.tumblr.com project; and the quiet joys of Jill Adams’s streetstylelondon.blogspot.com
Ted Polhemus is author of the influential book Streetstyle, first published in 1994. In the introduction to the 2010 edition, he asks: ‘As bands of voracious “cool hunters” scour the world for inspiration, hasn’t street style become just a tame pet of the fashion industry?
‘Or is it the other way round? Could it be that, in a decade and a half, street-style has eaten fashion for breakfast?’ The jury is still very much out.