The pavement outside Brewer Street car park is lined with an array of brightly coloured outfits. Peacock feathers, outlandish headwear and even an astronaut’s space suit makes an appearance. Photographers flock like an excited hoard of vultures, ready to snap at their prey. The cameras flash and the street style stars pose, with their hands on their hips, pouting and hair flicking, all vying for the same attention. Yes, this is London Fashion Week.
Acclaimed fashion critic, Suzy Menkes, once described this interesting display as a ‘circus’ and it is really not hard to see why. These elaborately dressed crowds have all but taken over Fashion Week, acting like clowns, in the hope of catching the eye of an all too willing photographer. Molly Fedick, a regular attendee of Fashion Week shows, says: “Every single year the outfits get more and more out of control. They’re not outfits anymore, they are literally costumes. It’s like a contest of who can come up with the most outlandish get-up and the girls take it so seriously.” Rather than street style acting as a form of self-expression it’s more about being self-aware. The pavements act as a stage and bemused bystanders are the audience.
That’s not to say that street style should be mundane, but surely there must be an element of subliminal and subtle personality to these outfits? Molly adds: “I don’t think it’s about personal style. I think it’s more about people trying to get noticed, get famous and get attention.” Molly cites Instagram and the rise of social media as the driving force behind people with a lack of tangible talent becoming internet celebrities with next to no effort.--
The immediacy of the internet has allowed anyone to share the things they covet; the way they choose to dress, as well as their thoughts and opinions. The ruse in fashion blogging has been a particularly prominent way for the general public to express their opinions on the fashion industry. Christie Shakar is in the process of launching a ‘boutique’ blog, focusing on street style and fashion, named Eamii. Christie aims to utilise the internet to share her personal aesthetic taste via the form of photographer driven content. She says: “Over the past ten year street style has evolved at such a break neck speed. I used to check the newspaper every Sunday to check out what people were wearing on the social pages. Since then the internet has exploded and there is an endless array of visuals and articles.” A huge amount of scepticism surrounds the world of fashion blogging, commonly known as the blogosphere, with many critiques airing the opinion that bloggers act as free advertising for brands, parading the streets in the latest gifted designer gear. Controversy is heightened by issues such as bloggers getting paid to write a review on a specific item.
Despite the cynicism that surrounds fashion blogging it is also important to acknowledge that fashion bloggers are primarily responsible for the modern day hype surrounding street style. Previously those interested in how style is represented on a day to day basis on the streets would turn to well-known street style connoisseurs, such as Bill Cunningham. Photographing candid shots of people in Manhattan, Bill focuses on clothing and how it is used to highlight the wearer’s personality. Nowadays fashion blogs have become the place for the young female population to source their style inspiration and are now being seen as a highly acknowledged and respectable place to obtain the most up to date information on fashion trends. Christie adds: “Street style, in the sense of what the general population of fashion bloggers are posting, is an adaptation of what they see other people wearing, be it influential fashion bloggers, icons, celebrities or socialites.” Fashion bloggers are starting to become front row regulars at Fashion Week giving a first-hand experience and allowing others to feel a part of an industry that previously was kept tightly under wraps. The way fashion bloggers present street style acts as a gateway for ‘regular’ people to be involved in the fashion industry, diminishing the notions that it is purely for the elite, such as magazine editors and celebrities. In turn a community of likeminded people is created, rather than the fashion industry operating as a system that harbours unnecessary completion.
Fashion bloggers allow readers to gain an insight into their personal taste, and can have great influence over consumers, even possessing the ability to change the way companies conduct business. Christie points out: “ [Street style] is a form of self-expression, self-love, art and also inspiration for others, whether that is a reader sitting at home, trend analysis or forecasting for retail companies. It is very helpful for the fashion industry as it gives designers the opportunity to pin point what may be successful when considering the direction of their seasons.”
This is a view that is commonly echoed by clothing brands. Fashion blogging and street style have become synonymous with one another, acting as a joint force that brands and designers are finding increasingly harder to ignore. Neo-thread is a company that is inspired by the beautiful thoughts, designs and dreams of brands like Free People, Urban Outfitters and Brandy Melville. Founder, Sarah Holley, utilises the internet in a similar way to fashion bloggers, promoting and connecting with consumers via Instagram. She says: “I am constantly researching and inspired by street style. It’s what I turn to more than runway fashion. Street fashion is the by-product of young people seeing the value in being original; and pushing the boundaries of fashion to best express themselves and their lives.” It is also significant to notice the difference between what constitutes as fashion and what constitutes as style. Brands and designers have always seemingly paid more attention to fashion, creating trends that are relevant to the current season. Style is different. Style refers to how fashion is adapted to an individual’s personality and how individuals interpret clothing, Brands are starting to take notice of the juxtaposition of the two and the noticeable benefits of dressings with style, turning to bloggers and street style icons as a point of reference to create designs that are not only trend driven by also indicative of the wearer’s eclectic identity. Take the sport-wear trend for example. The trend evolved on the streets, developing the idea that fashion can be stylish as well as comfortable. Now, designers like Michael Kors and Karl Lagerfeld are incorporating sneakers into their collections for the first time ever.
Whilst it’s perfectly clear that street style and fashion blogging are influential powers, the question still remains as to whether it does actually highlight personal style, individuality and most importantly true authenticity. Sarah adds: “Street style is influenced mostly by the free spirits who dare to do things we wish to. It represents a lifestyle which is laid back, filled with friends and adventure.”
Regardless of this a great deal of cynicism still remains around photos that are produced for the internet and magazine editorials. The practice of gifting items for bloggers to review has become the latest craze, with brands and designers being able to showcase their clothing without the cost of using PR or advertising, to a real consumer audience, rather than purely online or produced in print. This provides an even greater sense of immediacy, allowing consumers to feel connected and on the pulse of the latest trends. Although this may seem like an innocent way to get noticed, this can also be viewed as blogger exploitation. Images taken of bloggers can be seen as contrived, much like a traditional magazine editorial, which often struggles to capture the personality of the person, and instead adopts a commercialised stance with heavily manipulated and posed photos. Aleesha Harris, who runs a fashion and beauty blog named Covet and Acquire, says: “Brands have so eagerly embraced bloggers as a way to get their designs and merchandise noticed” Fashion Week is a prime example of this. Bloggers are regularly spotted milling around before and after shows, wearing items gifted by designers, facilitating a mutually beneficial relationship. Both bloggers and designers are able to build a reputation, with chosen bloggers subtly posing in front of Fashion Week photographers in gifted items, acting as a discreet launch party before items are made available to the general public.
Aleesha believes that there needs to be a line drawn between bloggers who simply wear clothes as they are directed to by brands and bloggers who represent a clear editorial vision or aesthetic. Aleesha’s blog clearly showcases her own personal style and she makes a strong point of buying clothes on a budget, differentiating herself from other bloggers who readily accept freebies. She says: “The market is so saturated with bloggers; many are carbon copies of one another.” It is evident that there is a divide between those who wish to convey their individuality through their clothing choices by spontaneously creating blog posts, and those of meticulously plan their material who simply want to become internet famous, diminishing the cutting edge feel that street style initially set out to project. Fashion bloggers appear to be increasingly thriving on generating acceptance. Consumers willingly follow the crowd, seeking to emulate others, rather than thinking for themselves in their thirst for validation and approval.
Defining street style has always been a controversial topic within the fashion industry. A quick search of the dictionary definition says it is any ‘offbeat of avant-garde fashion inspired by contemporary culture of urban street people’. It may be offbeat but surely modern day street style hasn’t purely been inspired by urban street people? Brent Luvaas, a photographer who runs the blog Urban Fieldnotes, says: “To me street style is the style of ‘the street’- that vague urban locale where regular people live, work and dwell.” Brent’s blog documents fashion, style and dress as well as exploring the new politics of fashion. Brent’s photos may not appear candid at a first glance but the descriptions he uses to describe the person and the clothing picture administers a sense of personality, rather than a façade. ‘Edgy’ ‘futuristic’ and ‘quirky’ are just some of the terms used to label the people he photographs.
A professional anthropologist, he also believes that our education needs, our class background, personal experiences and our exposure to the media influence what we wear on the urban catwalk. He says: “We are uniquely configured structurations of cultural practice.” Looking back in history iy is clear to see that clothing choices have been initiated by social climate, creating a distinctive subculture of style tribes that rebel against cultural norms and values. The 1980’s saw the prominence of the punk trend. T-shirts emblazoned with band logos and trademark Dr Marten boots symbolised the youth of the time. It could even be argued that street style portrays more than just personality; it conveys thoughts and feelings at any given moment, acting as a provocative cultural force. Youth culture is the epicentre of street style and epitomises the attitude of those who choose not to follow trends. Attitude and confidence in your own skin are the most crucial ingredients.
Maybe then, the focus shouldn’t be on whether represents personality. Perhaps street style is about a lifestyle. Fashion can be an exceedingly commanding cultural tool that has the power to impact on how we walk, talk and present ourselves. Personal style on the other hand acts as the story that a person wants to tell about them self. Almost like a narrative or second skin, the street is the most public place a person can be, and many dress to convey a true sense of the desired persona they wish to project to others. Street style is a snapshot of what is being worn by real people captured at a specific point in history. In the present day it provides an overview of trends that are commonly seen in magazines and on fashion websites. In the future it is likely to be of great social and historical importance. Raydene Salinas, a freelance fashion photographer and Deputy Photo Editor at Time Out in New York, says: “I love people. Meeting them, observing them, learning about them and listening to their stories. Street style photography allows me to capture the fashion and beauty of our current society, while telling stories of the humans who wear the components in a way that fits their personality.” Raydene’s latest project, ‘Lady Guns’, recognises talented women that work all over the world, by uniting their individual style with their remarkable achievements to tell their particular story. Raydene says: “I’m making sure the future tells us more about what they’re wearing but also who they are and how they are changing the world. I want the future of street style to be about people.” Raydene has managed to expand the world of fashion and style, giving it a unique voice, prompting fashion lovers to explore it in greater depth looking into the intellectual and artistic properties of what people wear, rather than merely viewing it on a superficial surface level. Raydene characterises what street style is really about. Instead of conforming to the broad sense of high end fashion, which is often interpreted as frivolous and pompous, she illustrates how style is not simply skin deep.
Ethnicity, socio-economic grouping and even political stances merge together to help us to fully understand what street style portrays. It acts as interaction of a social level. Of course the internet has catapulted this interaction into the spotlight, but the true meaning of style lies exactly in the name- on the street. Elise Walker, designer of the brand Dirty Rotten Rags, draws her inspiration directly from the streets and produced clothing for people who wear exactly what they want. She says: “I don’t follow rules. I am a clothing chameleon. I want my customers to have the same freedom and look at my pieces and think ‘that’s cool’. I want a battalion of street freaks. A sub-division.” Elise has the vision that street style is an art form; it is challenging, fun, subversive and abstract. Elise adds: “The mishmash of buildings in the city, the people, the rubbish, animals, billboards, shops and cars provide an ever changing visual.” Her thought process characterises the true esscence of street style in its purest form. It shows how street style is not only fed by lifestyle, but how street style feeds lifestyle itself. It has the powerful ability to alter perceptions and provoke responses. It allows people from all walks of life to communicate with one another and share their take on what makes a stand out outfit, as well as sharing views on music, books, art and politics. Although style tribes like punks, goths, mods and hippies may be less explicitly followed in today’s contemporary society their influences are still delicately entwined in our own individual ethos. Old concepts and thrifted items from charity shops are mixed with new modern ideologies to establish the way a person chooses to project them self. This acts almost like a microcosm of wider society. Greater cultural diversity has led to breaking down barriers between different social groups, and in the process spawning an amalgamation of contrasting styles. Elise’s philosophy that street style is free form depicts the way that clothing supports the idea that style is a form of self-expression that everyone is able to embrace regardless of ethnicity, gender, age or class.
Perhaps the whole debate on whether or not street style represents personality is void in today’s modern generation? There’s no denying that Western civilisation prides itself on its material status, but with that comes the constant conflict of whether to yield to trends or reject consumerism in order to stand out. Fritria Adiyanti is a fashion and portrait photographer based in London. Born and raised in Indonesia, her love fashion came from the colour and characteristics of artwork. Rather than being subjected to advertising campaigns and marketing ploys Fritria has been free to discover the meaning of style from an objective viewpoint. Her take on style rejects the cynical narcissistic interpretations of fashion and rather draws on her own experiences. She says: “I personally think what we see on catwalks is really fashion. They are individual items. However street style is when you mix different elements and combine them together to represent you.
“To me street style is a personality. It is the way people present themselves to others; it is something they carry wherever they go. Confidence is part of street style too. You wouldn’t be confident to wear clothes that are not really you.” Fritria takes street style photos in Oxford Circus, Shoreditch and Knightsbridge in London, preferring to take candid shots to capture each person’s distinct style in a setting that is un-staged and natural. So what is the future of street style? “Street style never dies. It will only get more creative as time goes on. Street style has personal meaning to every individual. It doesn’t matter whether you fit into a style tribe, reject conformity and dress for yourself, or if you dress to gain attention. Style is reflective of a person, and more significantly, their lifestyle. It’s dynamic, unique and showcases the style of a subject in a blink of an eye. The concrete catwalk is firmly cemented in our constantly evolving society.