Street Style: The people's fashion or a billboard for brands?

Style bloggers at New York Fashion week reportedly paid “$10,000 for a single appearance".

Street style has long been a matter of public fascination. Its spontaneous, quirky, un-laquered aura feels refreshingly removed from the inscrutable perfection of magazine campaigns or the tightly-wound peacocking of the catwalk. Street style is a lawless state where the only rule is: make it work. Anything goes; you’re entering a model-free zone.

Or are you?

In a revealing feature in Wednesday’s New York Times, Ruth la Ferla turned the spotlight on a trend that - while not new - has become a near ubiquitous marketing scheme at large-scale events like this month’s New York Fashion Week. We can call it “street-style for hire”, or even “blogger-modelling”. In essence it’s a clever little trick that involves paying “ordinary” women to casually turn up to an event wearing your label in the hopes that they’ll be photographed by an influential style blogger who will then promote the look to their thousands of followers. In some cases, said “ordinary woman” is already an influential style blogger, and will post photographs of herself in the garment, hence promoting the look to their thousands of followers.

What was once a “quasi-covert” operation now seems to take place unabashed and in broad daylight. La Ferla recounts scenes outside Milk Studios in Manhattan, a popular site for posing before heading in to the fashion week shows:

...scores of fashion hopefuls, mostly female, mostly young, preened for the cameras, apparently vying for their 15 seconds of fame on Instagram, Tumblr or one of the dozens of fashion blogs proliferating on the Web.

Today many of them are Web icons, trotting out their finery for scores of fans. But what they are parading as street style — once fashion’s last stronghold of true indie spirit — has lately been breached, infiltrated by tides of marketers, branding consultants and public relations gurus, all intent on persuading those women to step out in their wares.”

Such "branding consultants" often work with bloggers to style, direct, and oversee these "on-the-street", "spur of the moment" shoots. She continues:

Seeding new or long-established designer labels into the street style mix “is a new way of doing PR,” said Daniel Saynt, a partner in a year-old agency that negotiates deals between brands and tastemakers. “We watch for the people most likely to be photographed outside the shows,” Mr. Saynt said. “Our job is to make sure they have on the right products at the right time...Few people realize that certain bloggers and seemingly random posers are modeling for a fee…But even those who are aware don’t always understand the degree to which we orchestrate these placements.


At times even the most casual-looking snaps boast the production values of a full-scale magazine shoot. “We use stylists, we do color correction and Photoshopping, we scout locations every day,” Ms. Robinovitz [founder and creative head of Digital Brand Architects] said. “It often takes hours just to find the perfect street corner.”


La Ferla goes on to raise the extortionate pay-out price heaped on the internet darlings, often thousands of dollars per event:

Branding consultants estimate that popular bloggers and other so-called influencers can earn $2,000 to $10,000 for a single appearance in their wares. More typically, though, “If you give them a gift card of $1,000 and you pay their expenses, that’s a good quid pro quo,” Tom Julian [a fashion branding specialist in New York City] said.

“These girls are definitely billboards for the brands,” said Mr. Julian, one of a handful engaged in a particularly stealthy new form of product placement. “People still think street style is a voice of purity,” Mr. Julian said. “But I don’t think purity exists any more.”

Tapping into our collective yearning for fashion with a more attainable edge, it’s certainly not news that fashion blogs have ridden the social networking boom to glorious heights. Where once sat an exclusive cluster of editors, models and industry big-wigs, home-grown fashionistas now readily join the ranks in the catwalk front row – and cashing in while they’re at it (Bryan Boy once famously bragged he earned $100,000 in 2010 alone).

And why not? Power to them. Blogging is by nature a self-starter industry, busting open rigid, outmoded structures within the fashion industry. It’s a medium that’s put ordinary consumers and amateur enthusiasts in a powerful position.

Many of these “personality” style-bloggers religiously document their daily wares, offering a vision of what “real” women wear. There’s thousands out there to choose from, but it’s worth noting how the most successful (Style Bubble, Tavi Gevinson, Atlantic-Pacific and Karla’s Closet to name a few) tend to retain a sense of authenticity, no matter how slick the outfits get. There’s a sense of an accessible personality, something sorely lacking in the world of high fashion. Ironically, it’s exactly the air of “naturalism” which popularized blogging in the first place that brands are itching to co-opt.

But just how much integrity should bloggers themselves feel obligated to retain? Once you’ve made it “big” in the fashion world, is it fair to say you’ve inherently left your readers behind? Is street style destined to be smothered by self interest? 


Street style snaps: a tassled Versace skirt at New York Fashion Week (PHOTO: Jenna Marie Wakani)

Charlotte Simmonds is a writer and blogger living in London. She was formerly an editorial assistant at the New Statesman. You can follow her on Twitter @thesmallgalleon.

Almeida Theatre
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Rupert Goold: “A director always has to be more of a listener”

The artistic director of the Almeida Theatre on working with Patrick Stewart, the inaccessibility of the arts, and directing his wife in Medea.

Eight years ago Rupert Goold’s Macbeth made his name. The critics were unanimous in their praise, with one calling it the “Macbeth of a lifetime”. Goold’s first Olivier Award soon followed (Enron won him a second in 2009, King Charles III nearly won him a third last year). It was a family triumph; Lady Macbeth was played by Goold’s wife, Kate Fleetwood.

Now the pair has finally reunited and Fleetwood is his undisputed lead. She is playing Medea in the Almeida’s latest and final play of its Greek season. Directing your wife is one thing. Directing her in a play about a woman who murders her children because her husband abandons her is another. And it’s been harder than Goold expected.

“You live with someone every day, and they don’t age because the change is so incremental, and then you do something together and you realise how much you’ve changed. It’s like playing tennis with someone after eight years: you’re completely different players.”

As it is, Goold thinks the director-actor relationship is inevitably fraught. “There is an essential slave-master, sadomasochistic, relationship,” he says. “The incredibly complicated thing about being an actor is you’re constantly being told what to do. And one of the most damaging things about being a director – and why most of them are complete arseholes – is because they get off at telling people what to do.”

Goold doesn’t. He’s as amicable in person as the pictures – bountiful hair, loose jacket, wide grin – suggest. And when we meet in the Almedia’s crowded rehearsal rooms, tucked away on Upper Street, 100 yards from the theatre, he’s surprisingly serene given his play is about to open.

He once said that directing a play is like running towards a wall and hoping it becomes a door just before the curtain goes up. Has the door appeared? “It’s always a funny moment [at the end of rehearsal]. Sometimes you do a show and it’s a bit dead and the costumes and set transform it. Then sometimes it’s perfect and the design kills it.”

We meet shortly before last Thursday’s press night, and he can’t tell how good it is. But it “certainly feels quite private. The idea that loads of people are going to come and watch it now feels a bit weird. You bring a lot of your sense of relationships and parenting into it.”

Goold has always argued that the classics wither without intervention. So in this revival of Euripides’ 2,446-year-old play, Medea is a writer and her husband, Jason (of Argonauts fame), is an actor. “But it’s not really about that… it’s more about divorce, about what it means to separate.”

“It’s about the impact of a long-term relationship when it collapses. I don’t know whether there is a rich tradition of drama like that, and yet for most people, those kind of separations are far more profound and complicated and have greater ramifications than first love; and we have millions of plays about first love!”

Every generation discovers their own time in the Greek plays. Goold thinks he and playwright Rachel Cusk were shaped by the aftermath of the 1970s in interpreting Medea; “That’s the period when the idea of the family began to get tainted.” And when critics praised Oresteia, the Almeida’s first Greek play and a surprise West End transfer, they compared it to the Sopranos.

Yet there is something eternal about these plays. Goold says it’s the way they “stare at these problems that are totally perennial, like death,” and then offer answers that aren’t easy. Medea kills the kids and a mother rips her son to shreds in the Bakkhai (the Almeida’s predecessor to Medea). Where’s the moral compass in that?

Except there is a twist in Goold’s Medea, and it’s not one every critic has taken kindly to. It was enough to stop the Telegraph’s Dominic Cavendish, otherwise lavish in his praise, from calling it “a Medea for our times”. Nevertheless, the reviews have been kind, as they often are for Goold; although The Times’ Ann Treneman was vitriolic in her dislike (“Everyone is ghastly. The men are beyond irritating. The women even worse.”).

In theory, Goold welcomes the criticism. “I’d rather our audience hated something and talked about it than was passively pleased,” he tells me ahead of reviews.

Controversial and bracing theatre is what Goold wants to keep directing and producing; as the Almeida’s artistic director he is in charge of more than just his own shows. But how does he do it? I put a question to him: if I had to direct Medea instead of him, what advice would he have given me?

He pauses. “You’ve got to love words,” he begins. “There’s no point doing it unless you have a real delight in language. And you have to have vision. But probably the most important thing is, you’ve got to know how to manage a room.”

“It’s people management. So often I have assistants, or directors I produce, and I think ‘God, they’re just not listening to what that person is trying to say, what they’re trying to give.’ They’re either shutting them down or forcing them into a box.”

“Most people in a creative process have to focus on what they want to say, but a director always has to be more of a listener. People do it different ways. Some people spin one plate incredibly fast and vibrantly in the middle of the room, and hope all the others get sucked in. It’s about thriving off of one person – the director, the lead performer, whomever.”

“I’m more about the lowest common denominator: the person you’re most aware of is the least engaged. You have to keep lifting them up, then you get more creativity coming in.”

It’s not always simple. When actors and directors disagree, the director can only demand so much, especially if the actor is far more famous than them. When Goold directed Macbeth, Patrick Stewart was his lead. Stewart was a movie star and twice his age.

“Patrick’s take on Macbeth… I didn’t think it should be played that way. I’d played him as a student and I had an idea of what he was.”

“But then you think, ‘Ok, you’re never going to be what I want you to be, but actually let me get rid of that, and just focus on what’s good about what you want to be, and get rid of some of the crap.’”

Goold doesn’t think he’s ever really struggled to win an actor’s respect (“touch wood”). The key thing, he says, is that “they just feel you’re trying to make legible their intention”.

And then you must work around your lead. In Macbeth, Stewart was “a big deep river of energy… when normally you get two people frenetically going ‘Uhgh! Is this a dagger I see before me! Uhgh!’ and there’s lots of hysteria.”

“So we threw all sorts of other shit at the production to compensate, to provide all the adrenalin which Patrick was taking away to provide clarity and humanity.”

Many people want to be theatre directors, and yet so few are successful. The writers, actors and playwrights who sell shows can be counted on a few hands. Depressingly, Goold thinks it’s becoming harder to break in. It’s difficult to be discovered. “God, I don’t know, what I worry – wonder – most is: ‘Are there just loads of great directors who don’t make it?’”

 The assisting route is just not a good way to find great new directors. “The kind of people who make good assistants don’t make good directors, it’s almost diametrically opposite.” As for regional directors, newspaper budgets have collapsed, so they can no longer rely on a visit from a handful of national critics, as Goold did when he was based in Salisbury and Northampton. And audiences for touring shows have, by some measures, halved in the past twenty years.

Theatre has also evolved. When Goold was coming through, “There were not a lot of directors who felt they were outside the library, so for me to whack on some techno was radical! Now it’d be more commonplace.” New directors have to find new ways to capture our attention – or at least the critics’.

But the critics have changed too. A nod from a critic can still be vital in the right circles, but the days when critics “made” directors is long over. “I remember Nick de Jongh saying, ‘Oh Rupert Goold, I made him.’ Because he’d put Macbeth on the front page of the Standard. I owed my career to him, and in some ways I did! But it's an absurd idea, that would not happen now.”

“It’s all changed so much in literally the past three years. There was a time, for better or worse, when you had a big group of establishment critics: de Jongh, Michael Billington, Michael Coveney, Charlie Spencer – they were mostly men – Susannah Clapp. And if they all liked your show, you were a hit.” (“They could be horrible,” he adds.)

“Now I get more of a sense of a show by being on Twitter than reading the reviews.” It’s “probably a good thing”, Goold thinks, and it certainly beats New York, where a single review – the New York Times' – makes or breaks plays. But it’s another problem for aspiring directors, who can no longer be so easily plucked from the crowd.

It’s no longer a problem Goold needs to overcome. His star could wane, but he seems likely to be among the leading voices in British theatre for a while yet.

Harry Lambert is a staff writer and editor of May2015, the New Statesman's election website.