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October 18, 2017
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Street style at Paris Fashion Week, FW 2011 (Source: vogue.com, Photograph by Phil Oh).

As we approach a new cycle of runway shows for the F/W 2012 season, some of the most anticipated action will be found not on the runways, but off of them. While the runway fashions rightfully garner the bulk of the attention, street style photographers have managed to make the comings-and-goings of industry insiders and fashion dreamers almost as significant.

Street style (Source: the locals.dk).

During the past few years, the street style juggernaut has been ascending steadily and it doesn't seem likely that it will stop any time soon. And for good reason - it has successfully celebrated and elevated the reign of individual style and has injected life into the fashion establishment. Of course, a host of problems arise with the growth of any trend that gains so much momentum so quickly - most prominently, how to maintain momentum and stature over the long-term. Street style's meteoric rise means that it's on the verge of facing some of those serious dilemmas, mostly related to questions of authenticity. As potential street style subjects become more and more aware of the cameras, the very aspects that make street style so appealing - authenticity, creativity, uniqueness, etc. - are in danger of disappearing. What's a street style photographer to do? The answer might just lie, ironically, in a more structured, inorganic, yet layered, approach to capturing street style.

The infiltration of street style is easy to explain. An industry that is supposed to thrive on the "new" is able to draw an unending source of inspiration not only from the tastes of their staff, but, essentially, of the whole world. Through street style photography, the "cool" factor that often accompanies authenticity and individual expression has become a lot more accessible to those shaping the fashion industry. Inasmuch, the photographers that have helped street style skyrocket to the forefront of fashion have the ability to not only provide inspiration for the fashion establishment, but to also shape that inspiration in a very real way through their choice of subject matter. And that choice has strongly tended towards subjects keen on experimentation and boldness rather than traditional notions of "chicness" (though those exist in adequate quantities as well). As such, street style's influence can be seen in the recent popularity of pattern-play and novel uses of colour, which have moved closer to becoming a standard rather than an exception in the fashion world (and beyond). However, as street style subjects become privy to the predilections of street style photographers, the spontaneity, intimacy and creativity involved in documenting true personal style threatens to become increasingly contrived. 

Why not identify the most intriguing of street style subjects through the usual avenues...and then pursue them in a quotidian environment in order to get a real glimpse into their personal style outside of the tents?

The greatest dilemmas that confront street style as a movement are the ones that jeopardise the heart of its appeal - the celebration of individuality. Now that the various participants at fashion shows (an easy and obvious source of inspiration for street style photographers) are very aware of the photographic documentation going on around them, their behavior has understandably changed to accommodate the increased attention. This, in and of itself, need not be an anathema to street style integrity - saving favourite pieces or outfits to wear at Fashion Week is a practice that predates the street style phenomenon. But as the stakes of being a street style starlet increase - it can help launch careers and, at its very basest, make subjects "famous" - preparation has taken on a whole new dimension. It's not uncommon for people to borrow clothes and primp and preen for the shows as if they are the Met Costume Gala. This kind of extreme self-consciousness endangers the authenticity of street style - it's not just the "best" version of personal style that is displayed, it's no personal style at all. The consequence is that all becomes predictable and staid. Everyone looks chic and experimental in exactly the same measure and proportion. While this might not have happened quite yet, it's a hurdle that street style may very well have to confront in the near future. So, where does it go from here?

While the Fashion Week circus is definitely a fun one and no one wants to see it go away (it is truly entertaining and fabulous as a genre of its own), it seems street style will have to simultaneously expand its breadth and return to its roots. The truly random shot on the street will always be a lovely bit of serendipitous inspiration; however, life is not always so giving and to expect purveyors of street style to conveniently appear when content is needed seems unfair to photographers. Instead, alongside the Fashion Week shots and the random star on the street, it might behoove street style to recapture the sense of intimacy by - gasp - proactively arranging the supposedly happenstance moments that are the bread and butter of street style. Some might just call this a traditional "photo shoot." But, it would be more than that. In order to capture intimacy, photographers might ask subjects to pose in real examples of their style in their neighborhood or favourite haunts. It's still "street style" in the sense that the point is to capture what the subject would wear on an average day doing the things he or she might normally do, even perhaps literally "on the street." Of course, pre-arranged photos already occur to a certain extent - even Fashion Week pictures can be considered "staged" to a large degree - but, it's not the norm (and the artifical environment of Fashion Week is more akin to an editorial shoot than to an exhibition of everyday style).

Why not identify the most intriguing of street style subjects through the usual avenues (Fashion Week, etc.) and then pursue them in a quotidian environment in order to get a real glimpse into their personal style outside of the tents? It would give a depth and naturalness to complement the peacocking of Fashion Week. No need for street style to hit a dead end, it's just time for it to evolve and add some layers that might very well include traditional photo shoots.

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