That Kanye Photo And How Street Style Photography Changed The Fashion Industry

Kanye. Paris Fashion Week. 2009.

Plenty of folks dunk on this photo, but few realize how this shot shaped the early influencer movement and its correlation to modern fashion.

Street style fashion photography went "mainstream" in the 2010s. Here’s a history lesson on what led to that.

Street style photography changed how we interact with fashion, forever. No question.

And you can't talk about street style photography without acknowledging its Godfather, Bill Cunningham.

He laid the framework for what would later crowd the feeds on Tumblr and Instagram.

Bill was a college dropout. He moved to NYC so he could build a career.

Instead he fought in a war. Moved back. Made hats for women. Wrote about clothing. And channeled his love for fashion by photographing people he saw in the city.

And he got noticed.

The New York Times offered him a job in 1978 to capture trends on the street. He accepted.

Bill held that role until 2016, when he passed away. Here are some iconic shots he snapped for The Times.

I had the honor of bumping into Bill in 2015 before he passed. Absolute legend.

Fast forward. 2005. You get Scott Schuman. Fashion director turned freelancer?

He followed in Bill's footsteps, carrying a camera around the city, shooting people's style whom he admired.

He'd then share these photos on a blog (what?!) called The Sartorialist. It worked.

The Sartorialist blew up. Scott published his photos and made a book out of it.

He traveled to London, Paris, and Milan for years, well known under his alias.

For the first time ever, international style was being synthesized in one place.

Scott's work was fuego.

As a kid from small town USA, I remember drooling over the effortlessly cool style in his work. I'd never seen anything like it. It made me dream about making my own life.

Scott captured the feeling. Something I couldn't unlearn.

Annnd finally, we meet Tommy Ton. The heir to the throne.

Tommy was obsessed with clothing growing up, and launched a blog to post about products and people in style, from Toronto.

Quickly climbing the ranks, GQ and http://Style.com poached him to cover fashion weeks.

Tommy had a different flavor. He focused more on candid moments in landscape, rather than portraits.

He wanted the details. Movement, color, texture.

Full circle. Remember this photo of Kanye in 2009? Yeah, Tommy snapped that one.

It signaled a turning point in fashion.

Kanye had just inked his first design deal with Louis Vuitton in Jan 2009. It was early, but few predicted where that fashion week would take him.

Bonus:

Recognize the guy on the far right? That's 28/yo Virgil Abloh. He was unknown at the time, but after fashion week in Paris he and Kanye scored internships in Rome working at Fendi that year.

The rest is history.

Instagram launches in 2010.

Before IG, being photographed on the street was about serendipity, it was unplanned.

The distribution channels for finding those photos were predictable (NYT, GQ, etc) too.

After IG, it changed the way we consumed fashion. all of a sudden...

  • we could find random talent / models from a photo

  • new designers were emerging because influencers who their clothes

  • dropouts could go from 0 - 100,000 followers just by posting photos of their style

Revolutionary.

1. Photography turned into a commodity.

The term *influencer* also started circulating in 2012-2013, and people would create IG accounts just to post about their own style.

People started hiring photographers to follow them around during fashion week and shoot their outfits.

2. Photography became a strategy game.

You would pick what outfits you should wear *in case* someone photographed you and it wound up on the front page of GQ.

This is Danielle Bernstein (@weworewhat). 2.5M IG followers.

She made the most of the early influencer gold rush.

It landed her consulting contracts, design deals, modeling gigs.

Blake Scott (he's the homie). Blake used to work at a morgue. Started a little blog posting daily style.

He's got 609k followers and was one of the first style accounts on IG. He's traveled the world as a style influencer, consulted, modeled, and more.

And Nick Wooster. The GOAT of all street style. 804k followers.

Nick is central to what made street style pop in the early Tumblr and Instagram days. An ex Buyer for Barneys + Bergdorf, Nick would stand outside between shows and smoke.

It became his signature. The tattoos also helped.

So yeah. People've made millions by taking the serendipity of street style photography and commercializing it.

It's a lesson for the history books.

PS-

I skipped class in college because I got invited to my first fashion show last minute.

Tommy saw me on the street and shot me. It went front page that day on GQ.

My little style blog took off from there and it gave me my first job after graduating.

Pretty surreal.