is the internet the new street?

It’s changed the way we dress, the way we look at ourselves, and what we aspire to. From Cara’s Thigh Gap to the cult of the Living Dolls, the internet has swallowed the streets whole.

by Dean Kissick
13 November 2013, 11:05am


Today we're more distracted than ever. On our phones all the time, swept away in the infinite streams of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, Twitter and everything else. Fashion shows feel as much about snapping the models of the moment, and filming the finales, as looking at the clothes. If you're lucky enough to sit front row at the British Fashion Council's big tent, you'll have a brightly coloured bottle of Vitamin Water and a cluster of phone chargers sprouting under your seat; that's all you really need. This is the world of bloggers (and, um, editors) that Suzy Menkes took shots at in her honest appraisal of The Circus of Fashion for T magazine's blog: "Smartphones are so fabulous in so many ways that it seems daft to be nostalgic about the days when an image did not go round the world in a nanosecond… [However] I had no inkling of the role that images would play, pitting fashion's professionals - looking at shows for their own purposes of buying or reporting - against an online judge and jury."

This is about so much more than fashion week though, it's about the way we experience the world. We're trapped between wanting to enjoy a fleeting moment for ourselves, and wanting to capture it inside our phones and share it with the world. If something happens and it's not on Snapchat, has it really even happened? Once, we fled to the bright lights of England's cities and found our fun on the streets, but now we turn to the world's online superhighways for teenage kicks. Even when we're hanging out with our friends - our real friends, the ones we've actually met - most everyone's looking at a black mirror. If there's one compulsion of our times it's staring into your phone as if it was a crystal ball, refreshing it over and over in the hope of ?s and shares. There's no love, there's only likes.

i-D started out as a street style fanzine documenting trends as they happened in our cities. We were there with the punks and the New Romantics, right through to rave, and skinny East London indie, and new rave. The rise of the streets changed fashion forever. What started with straight ups was followed with a revolution in realistic photography - Walter Pfeiffer, then Wolfgang Tillmans and Juergen Teller. It changed the way we took photos and the way we dressed. Our ideas of "chic" melted away around Christmas 92 when, without warning, grunge appeared in the pages of US Vogue in "Grunge & Glory" (a wonderfully unexpected editorial by Steven Meisel and Grace Coddington starring Kristen McMenamy, Nadja Auermann and Naomi Campbell).

"Punk was supposed to change the world, now it's a theme for the Met Ball; an excuse for Miley Cyrus to spike her hair and Kim Kardashian to dress up as a settee."

Now it seems like the streets have lost their edge. Punk was supposed to change the world, now it's a theme for the Met Ball; an excuse for Miley Cyrus to spike her hair and Kim Kardashian to dress up as a settee. Street style turned into style, turned into another trend in the season's reports.

So fashion found inspiration in the street style of punk London, but where was everyone through the rise and fall of seapunk Chicago? A couple of years ago, at the height of the post-internet aesthetic in art, fashion and music - the aesthetic of a generation that "had the internet when they were kids" according to Grimes - an obscure musician called Lil Internet sparked off a (short-lived) worldwide movement, accidentally, after tweeting about a "seapunk leather jacket with barnacles where the studs used to be." Followers invented seapunk for themselves, and soon Tumblr was awash with aquamarine dip dyes, dancing dolphins and tropical psychedelic T-shirts. Unicorn Kid's True Love Fantasy was anointed "hottest record in the world" on Radio 1, if only for a while. The turquoise has since faded away, but the seapunk wave has broken over the mainstream; over the sandy computer shores of Rihanna's Saturday Night Live performance of Diamonds and the shark-filled waters of Azealia Banks' Atlantis video in 2012, as well as the underwater world of Charlotte Free's jellyfish and sea slug-coated Tumblr. What do we say when we're high in the club today? We're "wavy"!

The streets no longer lead to fashion's future; today trends break on the internet. Tumblr girls and Tumblr boys in their bedrooms are at the heart of hyper-colourful youth cultures all over the world. There's Hirari Ikeda in Tokyo, Molly Soda in Chicago and Niki Takesh in LA. The outstanding pop stars of our times are softly spoken Frank Ocean - the fastest rising star from Odd Future's free-mixtape-and-Tumblr revolution - and Grimes, an internet-happy riot grrrl with colour-changing hair. Both of them have tumbled onto our screens, showing us their worlds through revealing, honest blogs as well as self-releasing songs for free online. In her extraordinary self-directed video for Genesis, Grimes appears to be acting out a series of fantasies from teenage blogs: playing with anime swords in the desert; dancing with LA rapper/ stripper Brooke Candy in silver body-con armour; wearing an albino snake around her neck. There's no narrative, only a procession of seductive online imagery - much like Lana Del Rey's breakthrough video for Video Games, with its lo-fi sequences of California skateboarding and Paz de la Huerta falling over.

There's a real crossing swords of cultures on the internet. Artists, fashion designers and musicians are forming their own friendship networks worldwide; they're constantly communicating and influencing each other's aesthetics, just like the golden age of club culture. That's not happening on the streets as much. Youth cultures are everywhere; Tumblr teens talk to like-minded individuals anywhere with wifi, they don't have to hang out on the same streets. And they no longer need their own fanzine, there are thousands of blogs filling that role.

Wherever the youth goes, fashion follows. You only need to look at Nicola Formichetti's #DIESELREBOOT. One of the biggest rebranding exercises in recent fashion history, it all revolves around Diesel's interactive Tumblr, a sort of crowd-sourcing of advertising from a company notorious for its iconic/ controversial campaigns - "Be Stupid!"

Nevertheless, New Yorkers Proenza Schouler are surely the masters of digital marketing. It started with a series of hypnotic YouTube video commissions from Spring Breakers director Harmony Korine; followed by Desert Tide, a fashion film shot in the virtual reality of Second Life; and Pretty, Paid, Proenza, a mash-up movie by artists Jeanette Hayes and Jen Brill, mixing Chicago drill from internet rap phenomenon Katie Got Bandz with lo-fi video footage… More to the point, Proenza's spring/summer 13 collection reflected the internet in a series of colourful photo-prints, and backstage, designers Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez acknowledged that Tumblr was an important inspiration for the show. They even went on to commission a campaign video, by David Sims and glitch artist Eddie Wheel, that took the colour-saturated, many-layered Tumblr aesthetic a long way further.

Cara Delevingne, is not so much a society girl as a social networking superstar, with a rapt audience of millions on Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram. That's without even starting on her fan accounts. Even her illustrious thigh gap has its own imaginary Twitter, @CarasThighGap (with the accompanying bio: "@Caradelevingne works me out everyday so I can stay this perfect… Cara follows!"). Surely the secret of her success isn't only about her looks, it's also her obsession with selfies and self-videos, offering a lot of insider access to her highly aspirational lifestyle. Just as 90s supermodels made the jump from the magazine pages to the gossip columns, today's most popular models are making another jump from the gossip columns to their own social media accounts.

"Just take a picture of yourself - maybe a lot of pictures of yourself - and share it with the world. You might even end up on the catwalk..."

If there's a photographic trope for our times, it's the selfie. While straight ups on the street and the triumph of realistic photography changed the way we took photographs, today the rise of profile pictures, photo-sharing and phone cameras has changed the way we take photographs once again. The high street is no longer the teenage catwalk, and neither is the nightclub - now it's the bedroom mirror. (You can always listen to a club mix on SoundCloud while you dance around your wardrobe.) Just take a picture of yourself - maybe a lot of pictures of yourself - and share it with the world. You might even end up on the catwalk - because as this issue's interviews with model scouts reveal, a lot of "street casting" is actually more like Facebook stalking these days.

That's not all. If you fancy someone you can check out their selfies, or poke them, or sext them even, all from the comfort of your own bedroom. Why not Snapchat someone you love a video of your pants right now? One of the summer's biggest blockbusters, Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring, recounts a true story that says a lot about our times. After using the internet to stalk their favourite celebrities, a posse of Hollywood teens break into their houses - they rob Paris Hilton no less than six times! - and dress up in their glittering designer goods, and mess around, and photograph themselves. They're only arrested after, foolishly, posting these selfies on Facebook. In a telling act of 21st century theatre, they conjure up online personas in which they momentarily inhabit the lifestyle of a celebrity sex tape millionaire… Maybe that's what everyone aspires to! But then, if you're really in love with someone, why not make a sex tape together? That's how a couple of our most notorious stars, Paris and Kim, found their fame after all. And it's only another aspect of selfie culture.

Today we've become like Narcissus, hovering above the pool, enchanted with our own reflections and in love with our watery selves.

Retouching has warped our ideas of what a beautiful photo actually looks like. And while some teens aspire to look like models, others aspire to look like dolls or cartoon characters. It wasn't always this way. Certainly the cult of the Living Dolls is well worth addressing, coming as it does out of a cauldron brew of YouTube self-videos and transmogrification.

Living Dolls appeared in the out-of-the-way city of Odessa, Ukraine, towards the end of 2011, first with Valeria Lukyanova, 27, an ethereal blonde adopting the role of a real-life Barbie, and secondly Anastasiya Shpagina, 20, metamorphosing herself into a forest-dwelling Japanese fairy tale princess. As role models, they're rather unusual propositions. Valeria writes and performs her own spiritual operas, claims she's capable of out-of-body astral projection, and is supposedly under surveillance from the Ukrainian Security Service. (Also she's recently shot an editorial for V.) While Anastasiya's YouTube make-up tutorials are increasingly unsettling, showing her transforming herself into eerie imitations of Lana Del Rey, Johnny Depp and holographic Japanese pop star Hatsune Miku.

As an aside, Hatsune's a strange internet style icon on her own. A singing synthesiser that takes the form of a 3D-projected manga hologram, she's a wildly successful pop star that sells out stadiums in Japan and inspires ferocious fan loyalty. Maybe, in the close future, more of our icons won't exist at all.

In the United Kingdom the best known of the Dolls is Venus Palermo, a Swiss-Hungarian 16-year-old who's reinvented herself as a little Japanese schoolgirl. On a recent appearance on ITV's Daybreak - and this is a rite of passage, as YouTube also shows Anastasiya almost reduced to tears by a Ukrainian talk show host and his jeering audience - Venus appears all sweetness and light. Sat alongside her supportive mum, looking like a sort of cartoon Lindsey Wixson, she reacts with perfect politeness as presenter Helen Fospero wades in: "I would be horrified if my daughter wanted to do this." She doesn't seem to mind.

Really, isn't this what street style and teenage rebellion was always about? Horrifying your parents… or at least the richly tanned presenters of ITV breakfast television?


Text Dean Kissick @deankissick
Photography Takay

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