It is New York Fashion Week, and camera shutters are fluttering like cicadas in July.
“Merci, mademoiselle! Beautiful! Thank you!” shouts Kamel Lahmadi from behind his lens. “It was all about your natural grace,” he says to the woman with the dark blue one-piece dress.
This is not, however, a runway. This is a sidewalk.
Outside of any show during fashion week, photographers coalesce to take shots of fashion celebrities or chic high-profile fashion editors as they come down the street and approach the entrance. But at certain shows, there are collections of people milling or pacing about looking “natural.” Roving packs of photographers search them out and snap a few hundred photos within seconds.
Some of these people, who just happen to be perfectly coiffed and in flawlessly forward outfits, are in fact models, paid by labels to pass through the street in front of or near a fashion show. They will casually be “on their phone” or they will briskly — but casually — walk past the pool of photographers, or do some other casual, natural thing like flick back their radiant golden hair … casually.
Others are fashion bloggers, or people who want attention in some way. Outside the Tome show in west Soho, a pair of women with no pants, pajama tops, and a purse shaped like a stuffed animal walk by. Another woman dressed in something reminiscent of Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz is on the corner.
This bizarre but entertaining pageant can trace some of its roots to the phenomenon known as street style.
Pioneered by people like famed New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham, street style is (some would say was) the idea of finding style in real people — people who, by virtue of a keen eye and innate sense of poise and design, create something beautiful just by being who they are.
People who can spot inspiring styles shoot photos and post them on blogs or Instagram accounts, and people who have good style themselves will post their own photos. The aesthetic of street style is based on authenticity, and it has spread like wildfire. Magazines such as People StyleWatch have begun to increasingly focus on it.
“There are so many people who feel fashion is just one thing and just one look, and I think a lot of people feel excluded,” says Editor-in-Chief Lisa Arbetter. “They start creating blogs and Instagram accounts because they feel excluded, and they want to show themselves and they want to be seen. There are so many different ways to be stylish, to express yourself, and I want to make sure all those people are being seen. I think it will make every woman who looks at the magazine feel better if she sees herself included in the pages of the magazine.”
The rise of street style in recent years owes much to social media, particularly Instagram. Style-savvy posters have attracted followers in the millions.
This has not escaped the attention of labels, advertisers and designers. Just as labels will send models to mimic authenticity on the sidewalks, they will sponsor posts or send free outfits to high-profile Instagrammers.
A single post can earn $3,000 if you have tens of thousands of followers, and $100,000 if you have millions of followers, according to Arbetter.
Joanna Wilkinson is a fashion blogger, Instagrammer and has opened up her own online boutique called Once Bitten. “One of the biggest changes is just Instagram. It used to be a lot of real time, ‘Here, let me snap this photo and let me show you what I’m doing with my life’ and now it’s become this whole other world of, ‘Let me stage a scene and create this beautiful image of me wearing these outfits.’ You don’t even need a blog or website you can just have an Instagram (account) to be a big influencer.”
Wilkinson has both received products from brands, and offered her own to fellow Instagrammers.
For purists like Lahmadi, who has a streetstyle blog himself, receiving free products or receiving money for posting is abhorrent. He is firm, as purists are, that streetstyle is supposed to be organic, not sponsored. He won’t shoot bloggers on the sidewalk hoping to get their photo in a magazine or their profile raised.
“Bloggers putting links, brands send them outfits, they say, ‘Oh look my outfit, buy it!’ and it’s fake,” he says.
Many young consumers of fashion don’t care about a little marketing creeping under the guise of street style.
“We are very very picky on who we align ourselves with or what to promote on our end,” says Cipriana. “If we’re going to wear a designer’s brand, it’s definitely coming from the heart…. Fashion has to speak to you, and if it doesn’t speak to you and it comes off as false, then it defeats the whole purpose of fashion.”
“I really think people are used to that,” says Arbetter. To be in a position where brands vie for your attention, an Instagrammer needs to have proven good taste and fashion sense.
“There’s been studies about millennials who they’re very savvy about the fact they’re being advertised and marketed to, and they’re OK with it as long as the marketing is interesting.”
Street style was the democratization of style, an embrace of authenticity. But like everything else, authenticity has been monetized, and from the digital generation, “Get over it,” seems to be the retort.
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