Internet famous and famous for being famous are two common terms of derision used in reference to online celebrities like bloggers and street style stars. This photo essay, shot on the sidewalks outside runway events at New York Fashion Week between 2013 and 2015, documents the intimate negotiations and messy entanglements between photographers and their subjects that lead one person to become a street style star over another. There is no such thing as Internet famous, the essay concludes. There is only being famous, a tenuous status forged largely in-person through bodies interacting in physical space.
About the Author
Brent Luvaas is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Drexel University and the author, most recently, of Street Style: An Ethnography of Fashion Blogging (2016). He is also the street style blogger behind Urban Fieldnotes.
From its inception in 2012, the Photo Essays section of the Cultural Anthropology website has used a hybrid peer-review process that is closed when a submission is sent out for review (i.e., double-blind) and then opened when the author begins his or her revisions. The goal of this process is to put author(s) and reviewers in direct discussion, beyond the usual limitations of double-blind review. Once the essay is published, the discussions between author(s), reviewers, and editors can be opened still further to the reader/viewer, through the Comments section of the essay or via social media.
Our reviewers for this photo essay were Stephanie Sadre-Orafai, an assistant professor of anthropology and codirector of the Critical Visions certificate program at the University of Cincinnati (Reviewer A), and Christina Moon, an assistant professor of fashion studies in the School of Art and Design History and Theory at Parsons School of Design (Reviewer B).
Based on Sadre-Orafai and Moon’s reviews, Photo Essay editors Vivian Choi and Michelle Stewart gave the following comments to Luvaas:
Your essay points to the ways in which new modes of image production and self-made fashion fame still rely on the ways in which normal celebrities are. Can you more pointedly address issues surrounding the contemporary media-saturated, late–capital/industrial/neoliberal moment toward which your photo essay gestures? You briefly mention the precarity of fame and the labor of self-made celebrities as the “ultimate personification of neoliberal agency,” and we wonder if you could elaborate a bit more in your discussion of the images. Reviewer A’s comments might be helpful in this regard:
“While [the author] is right to emphasize the agency of the street style star, s/he could make more of the street style circuit’s excesses (I’m thinking of David Novak’s Japanoise: Music at the Edge of Circulation). That is, some of the author’s explanations seem too neat. This could be due to the necessarily brief space allotted and/or because several different kinds of street style star are collapsed in this analysis. Gesturing towards this messiness and/or the multiple circuits and trajectories would help.”
Reviewer B offers this helpful information regarding the proliferation of fashion media:
“This is a historically informed phenomenon, by the way. The images we see in the essay are also the evidence of the deregulation of media industries throughout the 1990s, which brought fashion billboards, building-sized fashion advertisements, and fashion ad campaigns flashing LED screens to the most commercial neighborhoods of New York City where they had never been before. This deregularization of the media industries is also what has significantly propelled fashion’s globalization around the world.”
In response, Luvaas . . .
“Added more discussion on neoliberalism, affective, venture, and glamour labor on page 2: ‘Chiara Ferragni, for instance, as a personal-style blogger turned street style star turned brand ambassador and model; or Nickelson Wooster as a style consultant turned menswear icon turned Creative Director of Men’s Clothing at JCPenney, turned, at last, free-agent entrepreneur, the ultimate personification of neoliberal agency (see Gershon 2012). Street style stars perform the affective (Hesmondhalgh and Baker 2011), “venture” (Neff 2015), and “glamour labor” (Wissinger 2015, 2) so characteristic of the cultural industries today. They have not only adapted to this hypermediated moment of unprecedented brand intrusion and suffusion, they have embraced and embodied it, using their own self-consciously branded personae to stand out in a cluttered field of visual noise (cf. Novak 2013).’”
Reviewer A also wrote:
“Still, the photographs in the essay are strong. I like the juxtaposition of the traditional street style portraits with the wider ethnographic scenes from multiple perspectives of the context in which they are shot. Of the opening four shots, image 4 is the weakest—it is a little too tight at the top compared to the other three images. If the author has a more suitable shot of Michelle Harper, s/he might consider replacing this one.”
In response, Luvaas . . .
“Replaced image 4 with a better‐composed image of Michelle Harper.”
Regarding images 14 and 16, Reviewer A wrote:
The photographs of Karlie Kloss (image 14) and Shaun Ross (image 16) seem somewhat out of place and may work against the author’s investigation of the phenomenon of being Internet famous. Unlike Irene Kim, who is repped by Elite World’s The Society as a special booking, Kloss and Ross are primarily runway and editorial models, not personalities in the same way that many of the street style stars the author is discussing are. Kloss and Ross are not famous for being famous, but for their modeling careers. . . . Perhaps what this calls for is more explicit engagement with the different routes into the street style circuit and its different trajectories (e.g., “personal-style blogger turned street style star turned brand ambassador and model” vs. model turned street style star).”
Luvaas made the following changes:
“In the text accompanying image 10, I explained how editors, models, and other figures in the fashion industry become entangled in the street style game as well. This is, in part, intended to justify the inclusion of images 14 and 16.”
We close with Christina Moon’s comments on Luvaas’ work and our current digital and technological milieu:
“This essay makes me want to draw parallels and ask, what is this new moment of public viewing? What ideas of glamor and fashion and modernity have coincided with technology and digital platforms, coming together in these pictures and these phenomena occurring in this twenty-first century? And what kind of labor is this . . . this curating art of self-management, where one’s private life and inner thoughts and public life and public performances seem to be entirely blurred? How is the capturing of this kind of ephemeral happening as ephemeral as the images themselves?”
Banet-Weiser, Sarah. 2012. AuthenticTM: The Politics of Ambivalence in a Brand Culture. New York: New York University Press.
Bourdieu, Pierrre. 1984. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste. Translated by Richard Nice. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Cartier-Bresson, Henri. 2015. The Decisive Moment. Göttingen: Steidl. Originally published in 1952.
Dean, Jodi. 2010. Blog Theory: Feedback and Capture in the Circuits of Drive. Cambridge: Polity.
Gershon, Ilana. 2011. “Neoliberal Agency.” Current Anthropology 52, no. 4: 537–55.
Hesmondhalgh, David. 2007. The Cultural Industries. London: Sage.
______, and Sarah Baker. 2011. Creative Labour: Media Work in Three Cultural Industries. New York: Routledge.
Larkin, Brian. 2008. Signal and Noise: Media, Infrastructure, and Urban Culture in Nigeria. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.
Lippman, Elizabeth. 2013. “The DNA of Cool.” New York Times, March 7.
Luvaas, Brent. 2016. Street Style: An Ethnography of Fashion Blogging. New York: Bloomsbury.
Marwick, Alice E. 2013. Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity, and Branding in the Social Media Age. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.
Mears, Ashley. 2011. Pricing Beauty: The Making of a Fashion Model. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Neff, Gina. 2015. Venture Labor: Work and the Burden of Risk in Innovative Industries. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Rocamora, Agnès, and Alistair O'Neill. 2008. “Fashioning the Street: Images of the Street in the Fashion Media.” In Fashion as Photograph: Viewing and Reviewing Images of Fashion, edited by Eugenie Schinkle, 185–99. London: I. B. Tauris.
Turkle, Sherry. 2011. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. New York: Basic Books.
Wissinger, Elizabeth A. 2015. This Year's Model: Fashion, Media, and the Making of Glamour. New York: New York University Press.