How many light years ago was it that we first saw clusters of fashion week photographers kneeling to photograph somebody’s shoe? That time now seems distant and quaint.
As the editors of Vogue noted in a barbed round-table posting about Milan Fashion Week, greeted by both cheers and derision (mostly derision), the street-side catwalk is now largely a means of hyping styles, trends and merchandise already in circulation, with scarcely any relation to fresh ideas.
Calling the quick-change artists and freebie-hustlers of the collections sideshow “pathetic,” “embarrassing” and “sad,” the Vogue editors bemoaned the practice of Instagram-baiting as a herald of the death of real style.
The bloggers shot back with their own critique of an industry that benefits richly from cozy relationships with designers and labels. “Bloggers who wear paid-for outfits or borrowed clothes are merely doing the more overt equivalent” of the editorial credit system,” @susiebubble, as the British blogger Susanna Lau is known, wrote to her 277,000 Twitter followers.
Bloggers, too, she added, have bills to pay.
Ultimately it was a fake firestorm lit by careless terminology. The creatures that the Vogue team was talking about are not bloggers — they do not create original content, written or visual — but rather poseurs. Whatever side you came down on, however, this new reality underscores one difficulty faced by those who attend the monthlong round of fashion shows held twice yearly in New York, London, Milan and Paris: For many, attiring oneself in the morning to attract the camera is now part job description and part ruthless competitive sport.
By tradition fashion editors, retailers and stylists, though they tended to dress well, did so with anonymity in mind. It was the job of designers to put on a show. Exceptions remain, mostly among people whose names you don’t know. Tonne Goodman, the Vogue fashion director, dresses in an unvarying monochrome uniform of turtlenecks, trousers and flats. Tiziana Cardini, the fashion director of the Rinascente department store chain in Italy, dresses so quietly and well that she runs no risk of drawing attention from the more astonishing apparitions like Anna Dello Russo, an editor at large for Vogue Japan, who is known to change outfits as many as six times in a day.
If riffling through images from the recent round of European shows makes anything clear, it is that those who attend fashion shows to look and not to be looked at are, in a sense, a dying breed. In a solipsistic era each of us is a one-person brand, and fashion shows have proven a peerless platform for business enhancement.
Consider the images with this article. Selected because they were not (with the exception of Ms. Dello Russo’s) outré expressly to snare eyeballs, the get-ups would be relatively plausible in nonprofessional settings. The point, though, is not that these women look lovely, stylish and better groomed than show ponies. It is that they are dressed for their followers.
Much as it may appear as if they are caught effortlessly darting from one show to the next, they are in fact hard at work pleasing an online audience that, in the case of the socialite Olivia Palermo, numbers 4.1 million on Instagram alone.
Giovanna Engelbert, the W magazine contributor with an assured style notable for unexpected pairings (she is seen here on her way to a Rochas show in Paris clad in a crocheted leather dress of her sister’s design) can boast of more than half a million followers on Instagram.
Pandora Sykes, the fashion features editor at The Sunday Times in London, has 112,000 Instagram fans. Such is the influence of the “Wardrobe Mistress” columnist that you can be certain that when she shows up for a London fashion show wearing an $830 puff-sleeved marigold dress from the London designer Rejina Pyo’s spring 2017 season, virtual registers go ka-ching.
Street-style trends once emerged at fashion shows. And photographers like Bill Cunningham of The New York Times or Scott Schuman of The Sartorialist, with their canny eyes and sharp journalistic instincts, homed in on them.
Eight or nine years ago, when the Japanese photographers would swarm around me at the Milan Fiera, I laughed and thought it was funny,” said J. J. Martin, editor at large of Wallpaper magazine, referring to the setting of many Milan trade shows. “Now the whole mob scene just seems a little absurd.
Conceding that attention garnered by the brightly patterned outfits she wears has probably helped her business (in addition to her journalistic duties, she created the niche clothing line LaDouble J), Ms. Martin still dresses for the shows “the same way I dress for the office,” she said.
She doesn’t borrow clothes for fashion week, she said, or otherwise treat fashion’s version of the wildebeest migration as a cross-platform merchandising opportunity.
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I still dress to enjoy myself,” she said. Imagine th