It’s strange to think about how recent an invention the Internet is. The emails, notifications, feeds, coverage and images that take up much of the day are all comparatively recent developments. Looking back to snapshots of my mum’s teenage years is to peer through the window and witness a different view. Not necessarily a better or a worse one, but certainly distinct from this screen-filled modern life.
The Internet changes patterns - of product consumption, access to information, ways of communication, on and on it goes. Pick a topic, any topic, and we could probably discuss the impact of the Internet on it. Fashion is a readily available example. Style blogging is still young. So is the concept of online shopping. It wasn’t that long ago that Net-a-Porter was merely a tissue-wrapped whisper in Natalie Massenet’s ear. Growth has not just been rapid, but rocket-like. One of the most visible examples of fashion’s constant expansion and alteration is street style. The streets are a longstanding location. Both Norman Parkinson and Rico Puhlman enjoyed using them in fashion shoots, while Henri Cartier-Bresson netted and preserved the human variety he found there on rolls of film. But although Bill Cunningham has been snatching shots of the well dressed from the seventies onwards, it has only been in the last five years or so (and perhaps the last three for serious coverage) that street style has taken flight.
The bird analogy is fitting, for Suzy Menkes wrote an opinion piece during the recent fashion month that placed what she perceived to be respectable ‘crows’ in opposition to brash ‘peacocks.’ Her similes condensed down to editors versus exhibitionists. I have a variety of conflicting views on the issue, as I will readily admit the literal over-saturation of the streets with people outside each venue, whilst also acknowledging that I choose my outfits carefully to attend fashion week, aware of the cameras that will be there. To pretend otherwise would be disingenuous. However, I find it interesting that where ‘high-fashion’ fans of the dressing up box such as Daphne Guinness, Zandra Rhodes or the late Isabella Blow are celebrated for their innovation, those who do not have the name to match their outrageous ensembles are often criticized.
Furthermore, although it may be said that there are now too many photographers for what is essentially a finite job – there are only so many photos that can be taken of the same person – this does not detract from the craft of the professionals. These are the ones who are out on the pavements all day, searching and working. Some survive on little sleep, busy as they are uploading, editing and sending off batches of photos to websites or magazines. Others may have the pleasure of working for themselves, meaning less pressure but no less commitment to the quality of their photography.
One of my longstanding favourites of these photographers is my friend Dvora. Her ‘Street Chic’ selections for Vogue.co.uk are always an intriguing delight. She also shoots for GQ and runs a superb blog called Fashionistable.
“I wanted to start shooting fashionable people on the streets as a means of taking pictures on a more regular basis,” she says. “I just needed to shoot more and more often. To start with I contemplated having a portable background, lights, camera. But the idea of carrying the equipment all the time put paid to that idea quite quickly. It was while chatting about it with my friend Alyson from That’s Not my Age that I first heard of blogging and suddenly I had a platform for my work, a voice, a purpose. It was very exciting, still is.”
Dvora’s photos have a distinct sense of clarity and colour. They radiate vivacity. Although the outfits, layers, shapes and shades are all sensitively composed, there is also a sense of personality – of characters framed by and manifested in their clothes. These are not snaps, but portraits. The graft that goes into each image is something that I can personally confirm. Alongside watching her in action, I have also had the pleasure of being photographed by her many times. Her focus is sharp. She notices stray hairs and fabric creases, carefully arranging everything in the viewfinder until the stance, light and location are perfectly aligned.
I spent a day at the last London Fashion Week tailing Dvora. I had no camera as I followed though, merely a Welsh Wool covered notebook in which to dash off illegible notes. The brown pages filled with quick glimpses: the PRs’ resemblance to guardsmen protecting the inner sanctum of the show-space, or Anna Wintour’s face lit by a flash. The observations quickly coupled up, moments expressed in hendiadys. Phones and cars; sunglasses and fur; pencil skirts and tall shoes; blazers and skinny legs. As I watched passively, Dvora wove in and out of show-goers and other photographers. Like many of them she was engaged in a continual process of approaching individuals, quickly setting them up for a photo and then letting them continue.
Behind, beyond, around every finished image you see online or in print there are the crowds and chaos. That seemingly deserted road is probably several metres away from the queue fanning themselves with invites and gently flexing their ankles one at a time to relieve the pressure of heels. The candid, smiling shot is possibly the best of seven or eight clicks in the hope that one will capture the desired moment. A model caught just after a show will have a finite window of time before her car arrives to ferry her to the next. There in that beautiful instant we do not see the stress over transport between shows or the irritation at another photographer or twenty crowding in behind to steal the same shot. The resulting image is often a semblance of calm in the bustle of the street.
The ideal moment for these photographers is when a show finishes, and press, buyers and known names emerge. It is an incredible visual experience. A tide of style spills out of doors or down steps. It splits into smaller waves travelling in several directions. Some are fast – using bags as shields as they stride past the cameras. Others loop and linger, happy to chat and be photographed. Finally the surge ebbs. It is time for the next location, and another expedition in search of style.
The streets shown here are not from fashion week, but a previous visit to London. Dvora and I met in the East end for some wandering around Spitalfields, enjoyment of Columbia Road flower market and, of course, a shoot. The setting echoed my outfit (composed of a vintage dress from Beyond Retro, a £3 coat from a a charity shop and second hand Kangol beret) almost uncannily. These four shots really are a testament to Dvora's unerring skill. She and I have timed our posts so that the same images have been posted on her blog this morning, so do head over to hear her side of events.
As a side note, I'm extremely happy to say that you can see another article of mine in the May issue of British Vogue which examines perfume as a rite of passage. It starts on page 237. If you have particularly keen eyes you'll also notice me making a small cameo in a 70s cape and vintage Chanel dress in Emma Elwick-Bates' roundup of LFW.