Street Fashion to High Fashion: Bridging the Gap?

By Shoshana Bachrach
On March 6, 2012

The fashion industry has always fostered an element of ambiguity. On the one hand, it's an artistic hobby of the elite, a pastime for those with the ability and connections to procure the most coveted items. On the other hand, it's an art of self-expression, accessible to all who feel they have something to communicate through what they wear. And, at the end of the day, it's an industry: a chance for the rich to sell the poor what they don't need and make it seem like it was their idea. 

In a scene from the 2006 film, The Devil Wears Prada, fashion editor-in-chief, played seamlessly by Meryl Streep, suavely informs viewers of one fundamental fashion rule: trends from the catwalk end up in stores. For example, both Stella McCartney's wildly successful polka dot dresses from her Fall 2011 Ready-To-Wear show and Mary Katrantzou's entire aesthetic can be attributed for the rise of prints we see featured in stores like H&M. It's not always clear how trends will translate, or if they will – it's unlikely that the padded hips featured on the runways of more than one designer last week will end up in stores, at least in the present incarnation.

However, the recent rise of street fashion blogs has started a new trend: fashion from the bottom up. This new fashion movement has inspired a sort of mini-renaissance. In 2008-2009, the hipster movement was picking up speed and, suddenly, it became very, irreverently cool to bike around the city on a casually-retro bike, snapping pictures of all the fabulous people wandering by. The neighborhood became Vogue; the bedroom and tripod became the red carpet and paparazzi. It's unlikely that the Internet will ever replace magazines – there's nothing like holding a volume in your hand, the way a fashion spread can tell a story with nothing but pictures. But blogs filled a niche the fashion industry, interestingly, didn't seem to realize they were missing: ordinary people exploring and experimenting with the nuances of personal style.

The discoveries ‘average' people were making began to influence the industry. the Sartorialist is pointed to as the blog that started it all. Scott Schuman, an already recognized industry photographer, filled the blog with beautifully shot, candid photos of everyday people starting trends. Other blogs picked up on the trend. These bloggers may have lacked money or prestigious positions, but they had the passion and humor to simultaneously take fashion seriously, and disregard it. They had a voice that the industry had not heard for a long time – or never, as some would argue. The Mulleavy sisters, the designers for Rodarte, were so taken with the 13-year-old author of the StyleRookie, Tavi Gevinson that they invited her to collaborate with them on their Rodarte-for-Target line in 2011. The movement not only showed the industry a new, cool face, but gave fashion a fresh new voice.

However, this relationship has changed over the past few years, unraveling a solution to the fashion industry's ambiguous nature. Eventually, it became clear that many street bloggers weren't really capturing "the street." For example, it became possible to recognize faces that Scott Schuman, the Sartorialist himself, was shooting. Impossible. The photo blogger lives in New York City; surely he can't be running into the same people every day. Yet, several people began to be featured again and again. Shala Monroque, a statuesque woman with a big bright smile to match her funky and brightly colored clothes. Monroque is also an editor-at-large at magazines like Pop and Garage and one of Miuccia Prada's personal muses. Marina Larroudé, a pleasant-looking woman with a shy smile that doesn't match her daring fashion choices; Larroudé is the senior marketing editor of Style.com, the leading website in fashion news. 

It turned out that photos on blogs like the Sartorialist were not, actually, of random women who just so happened to possess great personal style and a lot of what looked suspiciously like Prada. These women – and men – are, undoubtedly, fabulous. They have amazing, inspiring, beautiful style, and are just as fun to look at as a young student knitting with her bangs in her face and her shoes off (a favorite shot featured on the Sartorialist). However, they do not display, as Schuman claims to present, "a two-way dialogue about the world of fashion and its relationship to daily life." As editors of magazines, models, stylists, and designers, these people do not bridges the gap between high fashion and the street. They bring personal perspectives, but not the one that ‘ordinary' girls – and guys – want to see on their street blogs.

It's a phenomenon seen time and time again, not just with the Sartorialist. Blogs were once the megaphone for people who wanted to share their voice and their vision, even if they didn't have access to the funds or pieces that are available to editors-at-large. Yet, every time a blog becomes successful, they seem to sell out, suddenly finding three editors holding the same Celine bag more visually stimulating than the ‘ordinary' people they had previously shot.

One example: Tommy Ton. Once a young street blogger from Toronto, Tommy Ton now shoots the street fashion of fashion week – as in, those invited to fashion week. Not those who wish they were.

Even non-photo bloggers have been influenced. Jane Aldridge, author of Sea Of Shoes, used to be admired for her keen eye for vintage and creative, whimsical style, mixing Chanel boots with a tulle skirt she scavenged from a yard sale. Ms. Aldridge has always been very wealthy; she's always featured high-end things. But her voice and photos have been dulled as her tendency to mix high and low declines: it's simply not as exciting to hear how she covets – and will probably buy – this season's it-shoe, just like everyone else. 

Now more than ever, it's frustrating that the fashion industry can't seem to make up its mind, since the channels were open for a time. Like any industry, it's always searching for a new voice, a new idea. That idea was once found that in street fashion. Yet, the decline in blogs proudly featuring the ‘everyman' indicates a heightened focus on couture and high fashion.

Readers have not been completely let down. Now, for example, Tommy Ton prefers to take pictures of the same couple of editors. It's still art, it's still fascinating, and the readership is still enthralled (proof being Style incorporating his candids from the sidewalk's before and after fashion shows into their regular Fashion Week lineup). Just because his subjects come from the elite industry doesn't mean they're slaves to trends. Examples abound – fan favorite is the flamboyant Anna Dello Russo, the fashion director of Japanese Vogue. Labeled the great ADR, she's what Lady Gaga's older, savvier, and slightly saner sister would wear. But even while the average girl can surely find inspiration in ADR's interpretation of the pinafore (thanks to Versace), she's certainly not getting any inspiration on how to throw together a similar look from Forever21. The change in the blog-industry relationship is evident with the elite as well – since the decline of true-voice blogs, editors and the like seem to all be wearing the same thing, straight off the runway, with barely an ounce of individualism.

Ironically, it was Anna Wintour, American Vogueeditor-in-chief, who is credited with the controversial move of mixing high-low, pairing a $10,000 Christian Lacroix sweater with a pair of $50 jeans on the Voguecover. One could argue that she opened the channels for street-high end discussion back in 1988 – it was, after all, her first cover as editor-in-chief and, therefore, clearly a statement. Ms. Wintour and her ostentatious peers have a challenge: either be interested in the fashion contributions of a 13-year-old from Chicago, rich or not, or only be interested in someone only if they're wearing Proenza Schouler's latest genius. Blogging is one of the most innovative, game-changing trends to hit fashion in a long time. Either the industry is ready to heed the influence of the street, or it is not.

In a 2007 documentary following Valentino's lavish retirement party, his boyfriend, Giancarlo Giammetti unabashedly tells the party planners he wants the insane, seven-day affair to resemble Versailles, because Valentino is an emperor. Is fashion an expression of the people, by the people, and for the people, or a set of unattainable standards set by those residing in ivory towers? If the latter is the reality, it is worthwhile to keep in mind: subjects don't stay satisfied for long with the response, "let them eat cake."


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