Going to fashion week nowadays feels like coming in and out of the same hotel where Justin Bieber is said to be having a drunken orgy — photographers are just everywhere, ready to pounce on anyone entering or exiting a building. The craziness of fashion week street-style photography and peacocking is the subject of Garage magazine’s new internet documentary short, in which the fashion establishment finally says what they’ve been thinking for at least the past year: enough with this street-style nonsense already.
Fashion critic Suzy Menkes already caused a kerfuffle several weeks ago with her “Circus of Fashion” essay in T magazine that lamented this very phenomenon. This shift in the conversation about street style feels akin to the ongoing one about what the internet means for fashion. Obviously you don’t have to be at a fashion show to see what’s going on there, or to form an opinion about the collection. You can look at the shows online, and then post your thoughts about them to Twitter or Tumblr or Facebook. Some fashion bloggers even become famous by doing this well enough to develop a huge following. And so the internet has democratized the historically elite business of fashion — inviting the uninvited to, if not the dinner table, at least cocktail hour. Some who have been in the business for several decades long for the pre-digital age, when bloggers didn’t sit front row, you had to claw your way to the top and toil in fashion closets to get there, and fashion week was much more exclusive.
Karl Lagerfeld in the ’90s.
Fashion week street style has its own history of elitism. The phenomenon began with photographers focusing on certain people, like Vogue Italia’s Anna Dello Russo or blogger Susie Bubble, who went on to become famous for their personal style. If you weren’t in the same rarified street-style strata as those folks, you might get noticed by wearing recognizable designer things (anyone who walks up to a fashion show wearing a full Prabal Gurung runway look is going to get attention, no matter who they are). But most people don’t have access to those kinds of clothes. And now that street style has exploded to the degree that it has, those that do and don’t are so anxious for attention that they’ll just show up wearing their mop and the kitchen sink, whether it’s Chanel or not. Street-style photographers need a lot of material and, surely finding it difficult to pick out the good style from the purely ridiculous style at fashion week now, take the bait.
“Now that the number of photographers has outstripped the [showgoers]… you see the most banal people getting photographed,” says fashion journalist Tim Blanks in the Garage film as the camera pans to a man wearing baggy pants covered in stuffed animals. Blanks says he’s heard of people doing all kinds of crazy things (he doesn’t get into specifics) to get the attention of famous street-style photographer Tommy Ton: “I just get so embarrassed for them,” he says, his head in his hand. Phil Oh, one of the most famous street-style photographers, said it used to be easy to take photographs of editors at shows and make friends with them along the way, but now, there are so many photographers around that he can’t do that: “It’s become like trench warfare.”
Toward the end of the film, the filmmakers wonder if fashion “has bred its own generation of reality TV stars.” After all, both are trying to get press for the sake of press and become varying degrees of famous for doing something as simple as wearing clothing in public view. Blanks said he used to think the street-style explosion was great for fashion because it got a lot of people enthusiastic about the industry. But this past season, “Oh, enough,” he thought. “It makes monsters. It doesn’t make gods, it makes monsters.”
The industry’s main problem with street style might not be that people who are dressing really ridiculously used to dress, well, normally. It’s that it’s become too democratic — the more people who peacock for photographers, the more bizarre they’ll have to look to stand out. Anyone with a stuffed animal, a stapler, and a pair of JNCOs can show up to a show and get photographed standing outside it. But that doesn’t make the business very elite. And elitism is the fabric of fashion.