Paris Couture Week and the future of ‘street style’

Culture Fashion

As a Brit in Paris, I often find myself resorting to meteorological metaphor as a means of expression. And fashion is no exception. Was I not blessed, then, when Tuesday’s flurry of snow, a rendez-vous of British atmospheric disturbance and cold Scandi air, left Paris a veritable melting pot of cool, in more senses than one?

Yes, this week hails the start of Paris Couture Week; a week in which fashion’s biggest powerhouses proudly exhibit their masterful creations. And yet, despite the droves of mannequins majestically pounding the catwalks of the Grand Palais and the Musée Rodin, why is it that our attention is inextricably and (perhaps) inexplicably drawn to the laid-back chic of its attendees?

Garnering a reputation for its effortless ease; its inherent individuality; its je ne sais quoi, street style has, in recent years, known such a phenomenal success that it risks eclipsing the very fashion its wearers have come to admire. Perhaps it is its accessibility that inevitably draws us in, clasping us in its easy-breezy cool, and inspiring us with the brazen confidence to envisage ourselves in those shoes. You know the ones; the kind that ten years ago we would have disgustedly balked at. So ugly that somehow they’re not. And so, post fashion week, we vow to only wear neutrals; to live in polo necks; to invest in a frankly bizarre hallucinogenic puffa-jacket-meets-sleeping-bag (if only we could find one that wasn’t a safety hazard getting off public transport).

“We are confronted with sartorial get-ups so studiously crafted, so striking in their originality that I have my doubts as to the sincerity of these outfits.”

Street style has a lot going for it. Armed with a smartphone, a savvy insta-handle, and insider knowledge of the quirkiest charity shops, the tool-kit for success is minimal. And everyone is taking part. In Paris’ 3rd arrondissement exists one of the city’s tiniest coffee shops. With its peeling pale-blue exterior, it is the perfect setting for the international micro-influencer. Indeed I can count on more than one hand the number of artfully curated shots I have ruined, wrestling with my brown paper Franprix bags, bottles of plonk threatening to burst through.

But at what point does the label of street style no longer apply? In a world in which half of our social media feeds are dominated by strangers flaunting their frocks, does it not seem as if street style has lost its ‘street’, the main thing from which it derived its identity? No longer is it merely a source of inspiration; it has become a full-time career. In short, to what extent is it still genuine? And on the subject of name, might we not also call into question the notion of ‘style’? Gone are the days when a well-put-together outfit sufficed to garner a like. Instead, we are confronted with sartorial get-ups so studiously crafted, so striking in their originality that I have my doubts as to the sincerity of these outfits. Don’t get me wrong, you would be hard pressed to find a greater advocate for true street style. However, in an art form that derives its value above all from its sincerity and its relatability, if its models are not even wearing the clothes, where does this leave us? Is this merely fashion for fashion’s sake? To put it bluntly, might it be the case that we are all trying just a bit too hard?

“Just imagine what a liability you’d be navigating the aisles of Tesco sporting one of Plywood’s $234 ‘oversized’ backpacks.”

Flash-forward to this miserable January, brightened only by a Dior attendee sporting a scarf so technicoloured even Joseph would have been jealous. The appeal of street style is clear. *Insert hackneyed cliché about fashion as a means of expression.* And in an environment like fashion week, the epitome of the impossible yet inspirational dream, it is easy to see why we are seduced. Yet its execution has muddied the waters somewhat. Have we not just come back full circle, implementing a world of fashion equally as unattainable as that paraded before us by the likes of Karl Lagerfeld?  

This is not some call for sheep-like homogeneity; a dictatorially imposed war on personal taste. Rather, I am left wondering in which direction street style can and will turn next. The future of street style seems unthreatened, but I worry at what cost. In its ever-expansive quest for content and engagement, I fear it may risk alienating its audience. I mean, just imagine what a liability you’d be navigating the aisles of Tesco sporting one of Plywood’s $234 ‘oversized’ backpacks. At least we’ll all finally get some use out of our decaying Duke of Edinburgh kit bags.

Image credit: Aveda Corporation