London: February 2015. If you looked around Somerset House on Friday morning, the scene was the same as it ever was. A pit of humans dressed mostly in black swarmed about like ants at the opening of London Fashion Week.
They were the photographers.
They watch and wait for an apparent second of pure fashion week magic to catch on camera and sell on to a national paper or publish on their own blog. Perched on every corner of each pavement is a girl dressed far too inappropriately for a bitter February morning. They would pace back and forth between the arches, teeter in Sophia Webster heels on the cobbles, and swish their hair about with such ferocity you could have mistaken them for auditioning for a L’Oreal shampoo advert. But as they would peer up slyly from their bedazzled iPhone 6s, they noticed that this time nobody is taking their photograph.
The circle of fashion works like this: we find something new, we get addicted, it gets over-exposed, and we get bored. We move on. Critics have been calling for the death of street style for years, and judging by this fashion week, maybe this time the end really is nigh?
It’s easy to see why and how street style became so popular. In its infancy, it was heralded for democratising the fashion world by taking the power of the fashion houses and giving it to the people of the street. People began to care less about what high-end fashion dictated and more about what real people were wearing. It stemmed from the organic authenticity in real human beings and their sartorial choices rather than a perfectly glossy and photoshopped image of perfection. It was raw, and it was the truth.
Bill Cunningham was one of the founding father of street style photography. For half a century, Cunningham has been detailing the style of New Yorkers in the street – what the real people wear, rich or poor, fashion or anti-fashion. It didn’t take long before The Sartorialist, Tommy Ton and Bryan Boy followed suit, snapping the streets chicest individuals and putting the pictures on their blogs. The phenomenon exploded throughout the world, and soon enough it became the most shareable, instant, and addictive form of fashion photography that exists right now. You can’t scroll through your Instagram feed without seeing a photograph of a fashionista snapped in motion down a city street.
But as street style photography was popularised, we witnessed it morph into a similar aesthetic of a high-fashion magazine editorial, blurring the lines between real and fantasy fashion. What started as a movement with candid shots of everyday people wearing their everyday clothing now has all of the conventions of regular fashion photography: stick-thin models, vacant stares, and perfectly styled ensembles. This soon became the formula needed to maximise social media circulation and page hits. Pretty girls in nice clothes is big business but then again, it always has been. Soon enough, the people being shot were the ones that looked most like models that walked the wrong way off a catwalk.
Remember, there are no fat people on the streets, so should you not live up to the body requirements required to garner optimum ‘likes’ on social media, you may still be featured, but only as an accessories shot. What was meant to be a spontaneous, immediate and authentic, has now become as stylised and unrealistic as anything you might see in the pages from Elle to Vogue. Democratising fashion? It couldn’t be closer to reinforcing the standardised image of “what fashion is.”
Yvan Rodic, aka FaceHunter, was one of movement. The veteran of street style has been photographing people since 2006, has produced a website run by Condé Nast and published two books. Once a regular on the London Fashion Week scene, he was nowhere to be seen last season. He admits that he has begun to turn his back on the glitzy world of fashion after witnessing the change in attitudes. “I try to not focus on the fashion world anymore. It has become a bubble that is less and less genuine,” he says.
It’s not just the over-saturation of inauthentic fashion folk overcrowding the fashion week courtyards that is diminishing the reputation of this photography movement, but also the photographers themselves. Speaking to a few photographers crowded at Somerset House I realised that most are simply freelancing, hoping to sell the images on to publications afterwards. Many more were there to take photographs for University and A-level projects using digital cameras borrowed from their parents.
Rodic argues that the number of nonprofessional street style photographers overloading the market are undercutting the value of the pictures and that it’s declining popularity is because of over-saturation and fashion shows very few people were taking street style photographs, and then, a lot of people started to do the same thing. Then it became kind of a turn off, because then it became kind of a red carpet situation,” he says.
The people who are supposed to document the popular wardrobes of the times are really nothing but behind-the-scenes photographers in the grand backstage area of the ridiculous fashion week circus. So there’s an ever-increasing army of photographers loaded with cameras poised to snap up the hottest thing at fashion week, but why aren’t they taking any photographs?
After talking to just a few, the general gist is that they no longer want to get photographs of ‘just anybody’. Over the past few seasons we’ve began to see a shift to photographers taking pictures of a select few: from celebrities, to editors, and to bloggers that have surpassed their online status to make a real credible splash in the fashion industry. No longer can you just be a pretty face in the latest could-be Celine coat. An article in FMM recently described how people want a fulfilling experience both offline and online. People no longer want a picture of some random girl who just looks pretty; they want a person who they know and recognise, someone with a personality and a presence.
“It’s no longer marketable to just post pictures of anyone. You need background information, the impression of depth,” says Yvan. Street style can open a gateway into someone’s life, providing that they have a relatively known life to open up.
So is street style finally dying out? There was no cacophony of camera clicks at this year’s London Fashion Week, but not because they weren’t taking a photograph. Many photographers were taking videos. In 2014 we saw a shift in popularity from written online media to video media: this was evident in the explosion of fame in YouTuber’s and Vloggers. So maybe it isn’t dying out, it’s simply evolving with technological popularity. Plus, when you turn an image into a video, the person in the picture comes alive. And it adds a new level of depth to the subject by making the girls real.
Suddenly, street style seems a little more alive again.