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.

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On the trail of Keith Jarrett's melodies

Lose focus for a second and you can quickly drop the thread of Jarrett's complex improvisational techniques.

“So, this is a piano,” said Keith Jarrett, sitting down at the one that had been placed centre stage for him in the Royal Festival Hall on 20 November. Blowing on his hands to warm them, he acted as if he had never encountered such an instrument before, raising a chuckle from the hundreds of fans who had turned out to see the man in the flesh. For 40 years, Jarrett has been giving concerts like this – alone with the piano, playing his improvised music to a room full of rapt devotees. Notoriously grumpy – and now as well known for his tirades against cameras and coughing audience members as for his early days playing with Miles Davis – he has an almost eerie focus onstage, relieving the tension only very occasionally with his barbed observations about the excellence of the instrument, or the shuffling in the auditorium.

Jarrett gave us a series of short pieces, each rendering separate and distinctive musical ideas. He began with an intricately woven flash of notes in both hands, criss-crossing the melodies that were by turns dark and haunting, or light and dancing. At particularly complex moments, when his arms were crossed over and the notes were flowing from his fingers faster than anyone could imagine them into existence, he leaned his ear down towards the keys, as if physical closeness could help his ideas more swiftly become sound.

A couple of folk-inflected ballads followed; heart-achingly sweet melodies picked out above rumbling, sour arpeggios. Like Glenn Gould, the Canadian pianist best known for his recordings of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Jarrett can’t help adding vocalisations as he plays, which are all the more evident in his quieter compositions. He rose and fell from his stool; we heard his guiding hum along with the melody, as well as the odd strangled shout, yelp and grunt. He might insist on absolute silence from the audience but his own noises seem completely uninhibited as the music spins around him.

Although notorious for his curmudgeonly attitude to his fans, Jarrett was mostly restrained in this outing, allowing himself just one short, sweary outburst about killing a “f***ing camera”. At the age of 70 and with the power to sell out his concerts in just a few hours, you do wonder how much of the persona is genuine and how much of it is just giving the audience what it expects. A case in point came near the end, when he yielded to clamouring and gave a surprisingly simple and straightforward rendition of “Danny Boy”, an encore that long-time fans know well.

Given that this recital was under the auspices of the London Jazz Festival, there was surprisingly little in Jarrett’s programme that could easily be identified as jazz. One piece, full of brisk rhythms and chunky chords, gradually revealed itself to be based on a modified 12-bar blues structure and another had haunting overtones surely pulled from the classic American songs of the first half of the 20th century. Indeed, this musical ghosting becomes a major preoccupation when you see Jarrett live. It is too easy to distract yourself in trying to follow the auditory trail he has laid for you – was that a bit of Debussy, or Bach, or Glass just then? – and lose the thread of what he plays next. The improvisational technique might have more in common with jazz but now, 40 years on from his bestselling live recording The Köln Concert, it’s difficult to characterise Jarrett’s output as anything other than contemporary classical music.

If it needs a classification, that is. At one point, I became convinced that a particular piece was a Jarrett riff on Beethoven’s Bagatelle No 25 in A Minor – or Für Elise, as it is more commonly known. I was sure it was all there: the extended opening trill, the rising arpeggios in the left hand, the melody cascading from treble to bass and back again. Except, by the time I surfaced from my musing, there was no trace of Beethoven to be heard. A clashing, almost violent melody was dangling over a long drone in the bass. If you try too hard to pin down Jarrett’s music, it moves on without you.

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Terror vs the State