Where Authenticity In Street Style Dies, Shameless Corporate Promotion Lives

When the term “street style” was first coined, it was the domain of the unstudied, the unstaged, the stylist or editor or blogger wearing an outfit that she had purchased and put together herself. Candid street style at its heart and in its purpose was refreshingly free of the business element that defines much, if not all, of the fashion world — nobody was being paid, sponsored, or otherwise compensated for wearing a certain article by a certain designer or brand. It was natural, honest, and not ruled by celebrity, and it wasn’t about who was wearing what; it was about how they were wearing it, and with what. It was new and inspiring, the idea that any girl could go swanning about a major city in a top from H&M and thrifted pants by Gucci and a vintage hat via her grandmother’s closet and be photographed (provided she be thin and attractive enough to draw the eye, which is of course the vulgar truth of fashion) with a flashy expensive camera by a well-dressed perfect stranger with a business card and a .com web address and find herself immortalized on the web the very next day.

This was the beauty of street style, the anonymity and the unexpectedness of it all: clothes that were her own, that she had purchased or inherited or been given by a friend or family member. There were no stylists involved, nobody orchestrating the outfits or the pose or the “look.” These girls weren’t standing around on convenient street corners waiting to be photographed, they just happened to be. The concept of street style as a viable form of fashion celebrity and inspiration was inaugurated only a few years ago, and yet it has already metamorphosed wildly into something far greater than the sum of its parts. Individualistic style and the freedom of wearing what you wear because you want to wear it, and looking exceptionally good while doing so, has given way to the same influences that make a mockery of celebrity style — marketing, branding, and public relations.

What once occurred naturally, if not entirely without thought, is now being bought and sold. Branding consultants estimate that well-recognized bloggers and other such “influencers” can be paid anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 by a designer or store for a single photographed appearance in their wares. “We all know that there are celebrity endorsement deals. On some level, this is a piece of the same thing,” said Karen Robinovitz, founder and creative head of Digital Brand Architects, an agency that represents fashion bloggers. Daniel Saynt, a partner in a year-old agency that negotiates deals between brands and “tastemakers,” agrees that “seeding” labels into street style culture is “a new way of doing PR.” He goes on to say that “few people realize that certain bloggers and seemingly random posers are modeling for a fee,” but even those who are familiar with the underlying factors “don’t always understand the degree to which we orchestrate these placements.”

It’s all but disillusioning to realize that the sole organic factor of Fashion Week, or most any week when it comes to fashion-forward meccas like New York City (and certainly some neighborhoods, like the Meatpacking District, suffer an exponentially worse fate than others), has died, only to be replaced by more of the same. Even Vogue Japan editor and street style stalwart Anna Dello Russo, instantly recognizable for her ostentatious headpieces and decidedly tacky (yet unconscionably expensive) ensembles feels the aftershocks of the changing tide — her first design venture with retailer H&M, out next month, marks the first time the mega-brand has collaborated with an editor or blogger. Dello Russo rationalizes their sponsorship of her, and others after her, as “a new approach to communication, and part of the culture of our time.” [NY Times]