I've been loathe to say it for some time now, especially having written several stories on street style photographers and what they do, but fashion is all about change, and let's face it: street style is not what it used to be.
Each Fashion Week an alien-like ecosystem of women (and some men) sporting more color, more flair, more embellishment and razzle-dazzle than an ice skating competition, consumes the city on a seven-day blight. Between the hordes of photographers stationed outside show venues, to the way they all jockey for shots of whichever street style darling really took things to the next level this season, it's obvious that street style has been supplanted by street fashion. And that's what I'm over: the latter masquerading as the former when the line between the two is more distinct than ever. ...
Most simplistically, fashion is about the clothes and their reflection of a particular time, while style embodies something far more personal (with the potential to transcend fashion): it's about how you wear those clothes and make a look your own.
Certainly Fashion Week is something to dress up for. Just like going into the office or to a chic restaurant, you don't show up in your Sunday pjs. No, of course you think about how to dress. But in the end, it's a matter of authenticity. Is that feathered fascinator something you'd actually wear, or is it something you think would get you photographed? Or if you happen to be Julian Schnabel, who was wearing pajamas in public well before the "pajama-chic" had its moment, then by all means.
"There is a genuine difference between the stylish and the showoffs—and that is the current dilemma," wrote Suzy Menkes last February, who goes on to describe the loss of individuality in general even amongst some of stress style's most noted figures.
The streets have become stages for fashion editorials, which does sometimes feel like a fun, urban-set magazine spread come to life, but beneath it all, there's no soul. And those sensational outfits, much like the ones called in for photo shoots, are more increasingly on loan from designers. In finding a way to capitalize on street style by aligning labels with bloggers and other often-photographed darlings, the fashion industry swallowed street style whole.
I want something more real. Lately I've found a new appreciation for the Sartorialist, and his style of photos, which I think have evolved lately to include more unknown—sometimes even faceless—individuals. Scott Schuman has often cited the early- to mid-20th century photographer Lartigue for his candid shots of fashionable women on the streets of Paris, and I've seen that more in recently in his work. He's pulled himself away from the throngs of other photographers to seek out the beauty in the details of the everyday: a gorgeous back, exposed by a halter-top jumpsuit, a short-haired woman with a straw hat hanging behind her neck, captured at the magic hour, or a yellow-haired punk in an ultra-feminine sheath and birkenstocks. Some of these individuals are fashionable, yes, but more than fashion, each and every one has true style.
Bill Cunningham, the OG of New York City "street style" is another photographer I'll always admire. Cunningham captures such an interesting cross-section of the city, from heiresses and socialites to dandies and drag queens, that his weekly feature in the Times' Style section is more an anthropologist's glance at how New Yorkers dress and express themselves, than a visual catalogue of the week's best-dressed.
I wish more notable photographers were preserving street style's authenticity by producing images that actually represent its original meaning, but so few even know what that is anymore, or ever was.