The Tuileries Garden, for centuries a hotbed of Parisian peacocking, looks more like a petting zoo during fashion week.
From its gated entrance at the Place de la Concorde to an enormous tent erected behind the Musée de l'Orangerie, the picturesque park is overrun with exotically plumed specimens who migrate here twice yearly. They preen and pout and pose, street-style stars with their legs crossed coquettishly at the ankles. A mustering of fabulous storks. An outlandish ostrich. The occasional dodo who gets trampled by a pack of feral photographers in search of the not-so-elusive quaintrelle, singing their sweet birdcalls of "Anya," "Chiara" (pictured above: Chiara Ferragni) and "Hanneli."
It gets worse every season.
Or better, if you happen to be in the business of street style, which it seems that just about everyone is these days. The field has become so overpopulated that, earlier this year, a number of popular fashion blogs (Racked, Styleite, and The Coveteur, for three) collectively rolled their eyes and declared the whole scene over, exasperated by how quickly corporate opportunism and a culture of rampant narcissism appear to have corrupted the once honorable craft of fashionable people dressing fashionably.
But it's far too late to turn back. Social-media stars—street, reality, and otherwise—are having a profound influence on fashion today and, increasingly, are the very people for whom clothes are being designed. If anything, the phenomenon of the Me has only grown stronger, as best evidenced by the winner of this year's Council of Fashion Designers of America Fashion Award for media: Instagram. (Kim Kardashian presented, saying, "Of course, my personal favorite use is the selfie.") As Diane von Furstenberg, the president of the fashion council, told me, it was the perfect representation of our time.
Often, I feel like I'm the dodo.
As someone who has followed the runways since the pre-digital age, I find street-style stars (pictured above, from left: Miroslava Duma of Buro 24/7, Hanneli Mustaparta of Hanneli, Julia Sarr-Jamois, and Aimee Song of Song of Style) both fascinating, as a source of inspiration for millions of people, and disheartening, because of how shallow and mercenary it is that a person's significance is equated with her number of followers. But it turns out they also might be good for fashion in ways no one could have predicted—besides being conduits to communicate trends and sell clothes, that is.
Now that the runways are broadcast to the world in real time, designs that are shown today are forgotten by the time they reach stores six months later. So these women become ambassadors, in a way, for trends you can buy right now. The risk, though, is that as designers court them with clothes and handbags, the outfits begin to feel calculated.
"There's so much fake content out there," says model turned photographer Hanneli Mustaparta, speaking at a recent Fashion Tech Forum in New York. Although she works with labels like Calvin Klein, Dior, and Louis Vuitton, she often refuses to represent brands on social media when the match is inauthentic. "It bothers me a little bit when I scroll down on Instagram and I don't stop at anything."
Also absurd: The market is so flooded with street-style images that their value has lessened—most are consumed quickly on social media, with only the cream of the crop appearing in magazines—even as their subjects have become big stars. Chiara Ferragni's blog, The Blonde Salad, has over 600,000 unique visitors monthly and was the subject of a Harvard Business School case study. For Amy Smilovic, the founder of Tibi, bloggers have become like adjectives. "When I'm looking at something with my designers, I'll ask, 'Is it clean enough for Elin Kling to wear? Is it creative enough for Leandra Medine? Is it as sophisticated as something Miroslava Duma would wear?'" she says. "They get it immediately." Those are the women behind the sites The Wall (now closed), Man Repeller, and Buro 24/7, respectively.
Now, what happens off the runways is as impactful as the main event, and designers are responding. Jeremy Scott's reinvention of Moschino has been irreverent on the runway but also incredibly clever in terms of marketing. He makes many of his designs available at the same moment in stores so customers watching online can buy them. And his latest resort wear features a sketch that wittily captures the frenzy around his shows.
For his resort presentation, Alber Elbaz, the artistic director of Lanvin, designed clothes with the idea that every piece must look good in a selfie. He created a fake world, a tableau vivant of paper sculptures by the French artist Cyril Hatt. Photos of things were stapled together into their appropriate shapes, such as stacks of money, shoes, a giraffe, and an entire car. Several of the models played with their phones while editors photographed them for social media.
Elbaz's idea came from watching many guests do those very things during his shows. "We are no longer listening, we are taping," he says. "We are not talking, we are posting. And we are not looking, just filming." Perhaps he was being a bit cynical, I told him, but he did have a point.
"Sometimes it's OK to be negative," he says. "You have to be in order to see the truth of things."