AFF meets The Sartorialist
Recently at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Africa a select group of fashion insiders had the opportunity to sit down with Scott Schuman, The Sartorialist, to discuss South African streetstyle and he's views on the blogosphere. Here are just a few of the insightful topics discussed on the day.
Q: You've been in Jo’burg for a little while now, and with regards to energy, how does the energy in South Africa compare to energies in the rest of the world, are there any similarities?
A: The energies are very contradicting, I was recently in Barcelona and Madrid, and there they are very conservative, the way they dress, but then they go down to the beach and they are all topless and crazy, the contradictions within a city are very odd. South Africa, and in Johannesburg, I think it's unique because it's isolated, unlike even somewhere like Poland, which is just one city away from Paris, there people don't feel so isolated. They have a unique Polish style but it's still heavily influenced by the other cities in Europe, where in Johannesburg I think it's isolated but it is also far away from other places so you end up with something more unique here. I was talking to a lot of young kids here and they say ' aaahh I really love fashion, I'm really into fashion' then I ask them who's their favourite designers and they say ' uuuhhmmm'. They don't really know. And that's fine, if anything I think that maybe pushes them to create their own based on what they can get and what they have. I don't think they are as influenced by the outside world. It's actually very charming, it's very endearing I think when people are just trying to express themselves. I think for the most part they want to create this big aura, but they do it not embarrassed to be able to do it with second hand pieces or clothes they have made themselves.
Q: Within South Africa the youth has been very much influenced by what was happening in America for many years, we tried to find our own niche by identifying with the American market, and just recently has it become more European, what have you seen that is significantly unique to South Africa in the youth?
A: I have only met a few people that makes me want to take pictures of them. Johannesburg reminds me of a lot of cities like Moscow, especially places that have in the past had some political or economic difficulty. I think you have a certain element of people who want to wrap themselves in this feel of designer clothing and almost cover themselves in this film of perfection, this kind of false perfection, or their idea of what perfection is. A lot of the woman here are very beautiful, very perfect in every way, but I think it lacks a certain amount of charm here, it is also aggressive, but the kids that I have been seeing are young adults, just cool woman and guys, they just have more charm about them, they are just more approachable. It's everything; it's the way they stand, it's the way they look at you, it’s the way they do their makeup; it's not so aggressive. The way they dress, they look beautiful, but it's not this hard package. A lot of these woman that I see, they have this hard package, this aggressive veneer, and what you don't really see anymore is the beautiful young Grace Kelly kind of girl, who is just beautiful and gentle.
The first girl I shot is a great example of this type of girl, she's not involved in fashion at all, she's a great ideal, she worked in her office; she was a strong woman, she was able to stand in a strong way and she really had a great aura about her, but it wasn't aggressive. It's fine to have that strong aggressive type of girl but unless you have those two things it would make it a lot less interesting.
Q: We are always told by buyers that South Africans are very conservative, that we are very hesitant to try trends; they don't bring in anything over a certain price bracket. They say we are a very tame market, according to what you've seen, is that true compared to the rest of the world?
A:That's the perfect reason why blogs are so important now because what I think blogs are really able to do is make fashion global, now there are people who live in the area who loves fashion and can communicate it to people. It's tough because you can say you want this but unless you’re buying it… They look at the things and see if all your buying is a grey jacket then that’s what they are going to buy, but on the other hand what are you going to do when all they have are grey jackets? I think something that the blogs can do is actually show people how people are actually dressing and how they wear the clothes, capturing it; so then stores go hey that looks great, where did they get that, am I losing business because I am not dressing to the height and extent of what they are able to? If you want great stuff show them what you are willing to do.
Q: I think here are a lot of blogs, but they are struggling to reach the point where they are influential blogs, so how do you do it, how do you take it to the next level where you start inspiring people to think that way?
A: I hate to be hard but I do not have any gentleness for kids who don’t go on style.com and look at every single look and have an opinion about the designers. I grew up in Indiana and we didn't even have a large mall, there was a little bit of money there but there was no internet, there was one place you could maybe get a foreign magazine. In fact I think it's too easy for some of these kids these days, if you want to upgrade your game, just study! You study, you figure out and you form an opinion. People don't have to agree with you, you have to say your opinion and then people will either agree or disagree, but that actually makes it interesting for people to hear. You just need to get good, and anyone could do that anywhere. You need to have an opinion on Armani, Miu Miu, Prada and all of those designers. Look and know what is happening. All magazines are online now, so you can have an opinion on Paris Vogue compared to Italian vogue. There is not a person or a young kid here who should not be able to have a very high level of fashion knowledge if they say they are into it. I think it's just too easy, it's not expensive to make a blog, the level of ease and the lack of money makes them less worried about it and then it waters down, if it had cost money like a magazine, I think they would think twice. I better think about this, I better have something to say; so if they want to take their blog to the next level, they better have something to say.
Q: How did you transition from being solely a street style photographer to shooting international brands such as Burberry and DKNY?
A: The very first one I did was for DKNY, and they told me where I was supposed to be and I got there and I thought oh crap there is another photo-shoot here, look at all these trucks and they said, all these trucks are for you.
All these people and all this stuff, I just got to point where I told them, you guys just go stand down there around the corner, I don’t want to see you, I want it to be just me and the model. You know I am not a young kid anymore, I have enough confidence in myself to say alright I know you guys are here, I know you want to be doing this and that, but if you want me to shoot right here you need to go stand over there. That was the first way of how I did it. Next I did Burberry, you know I am just a different type of fashion photographer, so with Burberry they just sent me the coats and then I shot it, styled, cast and locationed the whole thing, which is really unusual not to have anybody from Burberry looking over my shoulder. The only time they would say something is if they wanted a certain type of person, they really wanted the diversity that I am good at. When you get to that point it's basically just tell me when you need it, send me the stuff, and let me take care of it.
Words// Lara vd Merwe