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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Moving on up: why Ira Sachs is king of the "Rightmovie"

Little Men reminds us that Sachs is the the cinematic poet laureate of the gentrification drama.

There’s a nauseating moment at the end of the 1986 film Stand By Me when the narrator reflects on his childhood. “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12,” he sighs. “Jesus, does anyone?” That sort of retroactive idealism is a temptation for any coming-of-age movie, but the writer-director Ira Sachs resists it in Little Men. His film charts the blossoming friendship between two 13-year-old boys, Jake (Theo Taplitz) and Tony (Michael Barbieri), without stooping to suggest that what they have is somehow purer than anything in the adult world. It isn’t – it’s just subject to different forces. Sachs captures the concentrated joy of youthful larks and loyalty but he is as wise as Fassbinder ever was to the impact of economic and social pressures on our emotional choices.

It’s clear that the film will be discreet from the way the cinematographer, Óscar Durán, shoots Jake and Tony from behind during their first meeting, as though permitting the boys a modicum of privacy away from our prying eyes. Sachs has a knack for finding those pockets of quiet in the hubbub. The opening shot puts the reserved, feminine-faced Jake at his school desk; he’s the still point in the midst of chaos. He takes whatever life – or, in this case, his classmates – can throw at him.

Then Jake gets a bombshell: his grand­father has died. His father, Brian (Greg Kinnear), and mother, Kathy (Jennifer Ehle), move with him into the old man’s building in Brooklyn. Downstairs is a cluttered dress shop that was being leased to Tony’s mother, Leonor (Paulina García), at a cut-price rate that failed to take into account the property boom. Jake’s father considers himself a sensitive man – he is an actor – ­preparing for a production of The Seagull but his life has just become The Cherry Orchard. Family members advise him to jack up the rent or boot out Leonor.

Kinnear conveys the honest terror of a kind man staring into the depths of his conscience and not liking what he finds. García, the star of the superb Gloria, is brave enough to make her character actively disagreeable at times. In her most complex scene, she sacrifices the moral high ground and overplays her hand with a single rash remark.

Yet Little Men belongs to the little men. Sensing the tremors of discord between their families, Jake and Tony stick together. They skate through the streets in a blur as the camera struggles to keep sight of them behind trees and parked cars while the propulsive score by Dickon Hinchliffe of Tindersticks urges them on.

As Tony, Barbieri is the find of the film. He’s twitchy and gangly, his voice a scratchy drawl that belongs to a bourbon-soaked barfly. No one has swaggered through Brooklyn with such aplomb since John Travolta at the beginning of Saturday Night Fever. Then he’ll do something impulsive, such as hugging his sobbing mother by wrapping his long arms all the way around her and clutching her head to his chest, and suddenly he’s a baby again.

With this and Love Is Strange – about a middle-aged gay couple forced to live separately due to financial difficulties – Sachs has appointed himself the cinematic poet laureate of gentrification-based drama. (Call it the dawn of the Rightmovie.) But he isn’t a tub-thumper. He and his co-writer, Mauricio Zacharias, show simply and plainly how money alters everything. Durán shoots the Brooklyn locations in a crisp, summery light that mirrors this straightforwardness. Any poetry springs from the everyday, such as the night-time shot in which blurred blobs of colour from streetlights and headlamps suggest dabs of paint on a palette.

Even the editing (by Mollie Goldstein) speaks volumes. The sudden cut from the gaudy clamour of a disco, where Tony wears a glow band around his neck like a fallen halo, to the chill calm of the subway platform evokes acutely that plunging feeling when the fun is over. As the boys wait for the train, their faces are framed in unsmiling repose in a shot that calls to mind Simon and Garfunkel on the cover of Bookends. And we all know what happened to them. 

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times