Street style has come a long way since Bill Cunningham’s first forays into capturing the wardrobes of New Yorkers in the late 70s. Internet, being the perfect vessel for spontaneous and informal imagery, has rocketed street style imagery beyond the realms of niche bloggers fanatical about fashion. These days, the style sections of newspapers and magazines pay homage to the traditional method of capturing the zeitgeist.
Of course, the fashion industry will always need continually renewed direction, but it’s not just professionals who now trawl street style for creative guidance. With the boom in online conversation, fashion’s enthusiasts are a large and vocal army; ready to spread imagery they deem interesting and using it to shape their tastes.
Adapted to these more guerrilla forms of imagery, consumers have become wary of advertising and product placement in glossy fashion magazines, finding it easier to identify with the ‘genuine’ street pictures. But with such a furore around street photography, has street style lost its value?
Brands and retailers were swift to seduce fashion’s newest icons: the street style stars. They’re appealing to marketing teams, being (in the most part) cheaper than an actress or top model fronting a campaign. Street style bloggers also encourage unprecedented access into their lives, lowering their privacy more than most A-listers would dare; perfect for showing how well a product fits into a life that looks like yours, just a bit cooler. And that too is part of the appeal – consumers know that street style bloggers are ‘normal’, (though they perhaps spend a higher percentage of their income on fashion than most) striking the kind of attainable-aspirational balance that is an advertiser’s dream.
But the flipside of these collaborations is that the street style imagery we believe to be the great styling of a ‘normal’ person’s wardrobe may often be brand marketing and product placement – just as manipulated as any glossy magazine shoot. What is genuine and what is controlled?
Unsuspected product placement aside, the breadth of skill shown by street style photographers may also have adjusted the value and reliability of the format. Anyone can set up a blog and high quality cameras are accessibly priced – but does this mean they have a discerning eye? And in a democratised fashion industry, where ‘discerning’ is out, and mass-involvement is in, does that negate the worth of this chanced imagery? Is a fashion enthusiast’s street snap on Instagram any less important or relevant than a professional’s shot in Paris’s Jardin des Tuilèries?
Street will always hold a key role in revealing and supporting emerging trends. But what professionals in the fashion industry are really looking for are common themes or stories, not lone images that may be admired by many but purchased by one.
The best way to detect those themes and undercurrents is surely to aggregate all those varied types of imagery, from a wide net of global locations and different skills levels, to find the real, genuine trends regardless of brand marketing or any one person’s taste level. Only once that wealth of ‘evidence’ has been compiled and processed can the industry act upon it with conviction.