Last week, I broke my no-north-of-36th street rule (I work on 36th and rarely have occasion to venture north) to attend The Sartorialist book signing at Barneys. I completely enjoy these occasional visits uptown, if only because it makes me feel like a tourist in my own city. This, of course, belies what is actually my relative prejudice for those parts of New York that lie at a remove from my routines. But hey, a chance to meet Scott, get the new book, and get it signed? Done!
Garance Doré (of the eponymous blog) and Scott Schuman at Barneys New York
But as I was waiting in line, enjoying champagne, hors d’oeuvres, and seriously world class people watching, I couldn’t help but ruminate on Scott Schuman’s project. Ironically, it was during this event that I really began to rethink my position on The Sartorialist.
To be sure, I love street fashion blogs.* I think their ability to wed the tension between anonymity and visibility is amazing. More so, they perfectly inform the narrative of the metropolis, that we are all flaneurs enacting our own image of the self and the city. The idea that the person in the photo could be you or me fulfills the condition of participant, but the format of a blog also gives us the ability to hold that moment (and ceaselessly comment on it), bringing the added dimension of critique and self-awareness, but also detachment – as though looking in from the outside.
This sense of a street life where the presence of people and their character, style, wit, and humor are on parade is probably one of the things I love most about living here (or any other city). There is such vitality in the manifold points of potentiality embedded in the city. This is the life of the street. This is why I walk. I am here reminded of a section in the narration of one of my favorite Rohmer films, Love in the Afternoon. In it, the main character speaks about women and street life in Paris. I feel a total affinity to the main character’s musings:
What makes the streets of Paris so fascinating is the constant yet fleeting presence of women whom I’m almost certain never to see again. It’s enough that they’re there, indifferent, conscious of their charm, happy to test its effect on me as I test mine on them.
So for me, in many ways my interest in fashion is really more about a means to present street life, people, and the city – it is not tied up in fashion as exclusivity or opulence, but rather fashion as the material on which one presents the body as an instrument and as communication. As such, blogging presents a wonderful problematic: how to bring forward the moods, qualities, gestures, and movements of people in the public sphere without the crass elitism and jealous contestations of cultural capital. For me, the blog can be powerful to the extent that it is the electronic mediation of public space. Indeed, might street fashion blogs locate those in resistance to a fashion of pure consumption?
No? Well, okay, whatever. But it’s no secret that The Sartorialist gleefully steps to the industry shuffle. I suppose this is just another art v. commerce argument and in this case The Sartorialist openly hazards the distinctions between the two. Of course, it’s not the only blog guilty of this, many other fashion blogs are run by industry stalwarts conversant with and eager to play accomplice to the fashion biz. But what’s interesting is that the conditions of their medium (immaterial, semiotic, post-industrial) have not yet been reified. Blogging about fashion, then, becomes a new kind of labor, tilling the informatic terrain so that it might be imagined and ultimately produced as a space of capital exchange rather than, perhaps, an electronic extension of the life of the street.
I don’t blame industry folks for trying to forward their particular role in enacting the usual practices of commerce. We know that’s going to happen. But what I want is for bloggers like Scott Schuman to be more honest about their work. If dude wants to build his credibility using a blog to coral magazines and designers into his portfolio, by all means do! But if he in fact started the blog out of frustration with the gap between the runway and “real life,” as described on the blog, he couldn’t have fucked up more! This is precisely the prevaricating function of capital as it enters the matrices of the Internet. His project obfuscates the highly networked world of fashion, parading instead under the dubious herald of blog culture as authentic: photos of people like you and me. (Well, you and me don’t look like this tool!)
(from Sartorialist, Sep 19)
Or this, thank god! (Sorry, Hamish.)
(from Sartorialist, Sep 18)
I was particularly disgusted with a recent post featuring a homeless man, titled Not Giving Up (complete with a haltingly conservative, patronizing justification of “style”), which I read as another empty bid to ennoble the project as something other than gratuitous. Why didn’t you just call him a good looking monkey and be done with it, Scott? It is specifically this need to pay lip service to a notion of enlightened, guilt-free culture that irritates me. The Sartorialist all but derails the possibility of populist fashion yet asserts as its mandate these very conceits. Why can’t we be earnest here? I don’t care if this blog is gratuitous. Why can’t we sincerely indulge in something vapid rather than pretend all is defensible, just, and haute couture?
(from Sartorialist, Aug 31)
Lastly, I’ll leave you with this, something Refinery29 posted on how to get shot by the Sart himself. Note gleeful cynicism!!! Yay guy with camera!!!
*Right now, I’m following a handful on a daily basis, found under the street fashion section of my blogroll.