This article first appeared on Mashable
The streets of New York City can frequently be considered a runway in their own right, a veritable feast of people-watching — but never more so than when fashion week rolls around. Twice a year, the world’s leading editors are pitted against an ever-increasing crowd of style bloggers, each surveyed by a mob of photographers outside Lincoln Center and at various other venues along the city’s west side.
Last season fashion critic Suzy Menkes, writing for T Magazine, referred to the scene outside fashion week venues as a “circus,” a “cattle market of showoff people waiting to be chosen or rejected by the photographer.” She called out offending peacocks, including Filipino blogger Bryanboy and Vogue Japan’s Anna Dello Russo (pictured above). The piece elicited swift rebukes from the likes of Leandra Medine of Man Repeller and Susanna Lau of Style Bubble, both frequently photographed themselves for their outfits in such settings.
Menkes’ message last season was not forgotten. Leading into this fashion week, Oscar de la Renta announced in WWD that he would be cutting his invite list in half in order to better facilitate those attending his show with a legitimate professional purpose. He’s trying to help his guests avoid the dozens of people who attend a show to photograph or be photographed, those without any connection to the collection shown.
Amid all of this pushback, there has been little mention of the value of street style imagery for the industry itself. Notions that trends “trickle down” from the runway or “bubble up” from the street are certainly not new. But the explosion of digital and social media has truly helped magnify the latter.
Now, a shot of someone on the street wearing Alexander Wang is just as likely to gain online traction as his runway image might — if not, more so. Smart brands, particularly in the mainstream market, are taking note. Look at the current obsession with baseball tees or football jerseys in retail outlets like Forever21 and Asos — those started, of course, on the street.
Identifying tastemakers and trends
Tracking such movements plays a more integral role to designers, product developers and buyers in their business process than ever. So says Jami Krampel, who researches what’s happening on the street for the Vince Camuto design team.
“We use it as inspiration,” Krampel said. “Whether it’s details or silhouettes, even color trends, it helps us have a view on what seems to be the new hot items.”
Rachel Zeilic, owner and designer of directional juniors’ line, Style Stalker, agreed.
“For us, street style is really important; it just shows how people adopt the trends into real life,” she said. “You can’t draw inspiration from runway; it’s not how you’d actually wear it. So it’s interesting to see how girls appropriate it and make it work in real life, it gives you a lot of ideas. As a designer you get so caught up in colors, fabrics, trims, the little details, but at the end of the day it’s a look you want to create. It goes out on the street and gets worn by real girls.”
By providing a global view into both the here and now and the future of trends, street style can serve designers with both inspiration and confirmation. Trend services like WGSN (full disclosure: my employer) accordingly forecast two years ahead so brands can plan their products and assortments well in advance. But those same trend services also report on what people are wearing now for the same reason. That means shots not only from New York Fashion Week, but also key events like Coachella or SXSW, as well as major sporting events, fashion schools and daily life in urban centers like London, Tokyo, Rio and Melbourne.
Street style chroniclers can’t just supply an endless amount of images to be useful to designers and retailers — they must also identify key trends. Stephanie Solomon, former fashion director of Bloomingdale’s, says
the best street style photographers don’t just shoot anything, but have their finger on the pulse of what’s new.
“It’s not about what’s out there and making that the trend, it’s about analyzing what’s new, and that’s where it’s important an authoritative voice comes in,” Solomon said. “The cool girls for instance aren’t wearing denim anymore, they’re wearing sportswear. They’re not seen in torn and ripped denim jeans or shorts, but in Alexander Wang’s knit drawstring track pants. That’s the bottom, that’s the new jean. It’s a strong diversion from what people expect.”
Krampel says that even if a street style look might seem incredibly wacky, it can still have an impact on design teams. “We’ll also compare it back to what we’re seeing elsewhere, in store reports for instance. By doing so, even if it’s totally crazy we’ll be able to work out the aspects of it that will trickle down to the mass market,” she said.
Yes, fashion influencers and early adopters might be “peacocking” this week (to use Menkes’ phrase) — but so too are they providing creative inspiration for teams around the world planning their next collections. Interpreting which of those peacocks are true tastemakers is the real skill.