Lisa Aiken

LONDON — Street style is fast evolving into retail’s new favorite-selling tool, with customers now shopping directly from the imagery, but as influencers’ reach begins to wane, it’s the buyers and retail fashion directors who are driving sales.

Traditionally influencers have been the leaders of street style images, but retailers are increasingly keen to put their own staff in the spotlight too with buyers and fashion directors acting as unofficial brand ambassadors and promoting their current-season edits on the streets while en route to write next season’s buy.

Moda Operandi was quick to work out a successful formula for incorporating its own take on street style into the way it speaks to its fashion-savvy, high-spending clientele.

A typical Moda newsletter kicking off fashion month will often feature Lisa Aiken, the retailer’s fashion and buying director, posing in pieces that illustrate her favorite trends or up-and-coming designers for the season.

Known as Moda Insiders, they share street style pictures in their new-season gear as well as styling tips. Everything is shoppable, as are the street style images shared on the Moda Instagram.

“Fashion month is a key shopping period for our clients. The buzz around the shows make a difference and we find that our client is very clued in to what’s going on,” said Aiken. “Street style is incredibly important and the images have gained traction owning to their relatability — clients want to see themselves in the image.

Moda Operandi's Lisa Aiken with influencers Belen Hostalet and Jeanette Madsen

Moda Operandi’s Lisa Aiken with influencers Belén Hostalet and Jeanette Madsen.  Courtesy Photo

“Moda is one of the few retailers with a face, a personality attached to the brand. Having a personality, in turn, adds authenticity which clients respond to. Moreover, on my social media it’s not just about me, it’s about the Moda team and the emerging and established brands we are passionate about,” said Aiken, who has become one of the favorite faces on the street style scene. She has long leveraged the power of social media in her day job in retail.

At Net-a-porter, street style is also among the top-performing content on Instagram and according to the company, there was a spike in engagement levels when its global buying director Elizabeth von der Goltz started making more frequent appearances in the street style content posted on its channels.

Net-a-porter’s global buying director, Elizabeth von der Goltz.  Courtesy Photo

Munich-based has carved a similar strategy. Its fashion buying director Tiffany Hsu is another street style mainstay with a visible social presence of her own. Both Hsu and Mytheresa’s regular group of influencers post street style pictures wearing pieces from the site’s current-season edits throughout fashion month.

“We use street style images in all our image-driven touchpoints. We find that our customers are very interested in this type of content as it puts the pieces they are interested in into real-life context and offers additional styling inspiration,” said Hsu, pointing to one of the retailer’s most successful fashion week campaigns dubbed Mytheresa Shoe Club.

“Our closest pool of influencers receive numerous pairs of shoes representing the best seasonal trends and feature them on their Instagram profiles and in their Instagram stories, including a ‘swipe up to shop.’ We then re-gram these posts on our own channel and to date this activation has performed extraordinarily well.”

Street style images have proven to be particularly strong in driving accessories sales and elevating certain items into cult status, be it Bottega Veneta’s square-toe sandals or Staud bucket bags.

“The impact of street style is certainly strong in the non-apparel world. The success of a new bag launch from a big house can be made through social media,” said Aiken.

As successful selling tools as these images might be for some businesses at the moment, the industry is already starting to re-consider the longevity of this strategy given the over-saturation of this type of visuals online.

Tiffany HsuStreet Style, Spring Summer 2020, New York Fashion Week, USA - 08 Sep 2019’s fashion buying director, Tiffany Hsu.  Shutterstock

“Today, as there is so much out there, the next phase is cutting out the noise. As the search tools are getting more clever, customization is key and the way brands position their products on these names needs to feel authentic. Customers are much more savvy than they used to be,” said Ida Petersson, men’s and women’s wear buying director at Browns.

Petersson added that Browns takes a much more laid-back approach to the way it uses street style and puts a bigger focus on more bespoke or behind-the-scenes content. “We sometimes use imagery of the team’s outfits as they are out and about, but we mainly inspire our customers with behind-the-scenes access to show coverage and carefully selected ambassadors who are not necessarily attending shows but we feel represent our brand.”

Ditto for, which has always favored a niche, artistic approach and is more interested in maintaining a “unique point of view.”

“It can be tricky [to maintain a point of view] with street style as often the same people feature time and time again. Because of this, we focus on unique partnerships and content created exclusively for us. We work with specific photographers on backstage imagery shot exclusively for our channels and we partner with people of interest to give their insight into fashion week rather than focusing on the street style,” said Hannah Fillis, head of social and digital campaigns.

Brand strategists, who have been successful at using influencer dressing and street style to launch highly engaging brand campaigns, are also noticing that the street style bubble could soon burst, as consumers are becoming more aware of paid placements.

“In the past year, a lot has changed in terms of influencer marketing. It remains relevant, but people are seeing through it more, so brands are wanting to take things offline, off of Instagram and slow down on the gifting,” said Sophie Elliott, founder of the branding and communications agency Sophie Elliott Communications, which has acted as the springboard for the launches of many buzzy new names like footwear label Paris Texas and contemporary ready-to-wear brand Olivia Rubin.

“Having the likes of Emily Ratajkowski, Aimee Song or Eva Chen in Paris Texas last Paris Fashion Week really catapulted the brand or in the case of Olivia Rubin, which started as a direct-to-consumer business, sales soared. It’s definitely more interesting to dress a big name for the street rather than the red carpet and stylists now work with them for street style, too,” said Elliott, adding that the most effective way of pushing a brand is to offer a group of influencers the same selection of products, in order to maximize photo ops throughout fashion month. “It helps when retailers see the product worn during fashion month and during buying meetings you’ll always get asked ‘Who is wearing the brand?'”

However, the tide is already shifting: Influencers are often only wearing items by brands that have forged paid partnerships with them and the oversaturation of images means it’s harder to see a return. “We are going toward dressing real women who are in the right circles, like buyers who are in and out of showrooms or in the case of New York Fashion Week, local editors are great to dress as they are more fashion forward and have an interesting group of women following them. You can’t rely on influencers alone who often have a very young following; you need to be talking to a lot of different types of women who have trusted voices in their peer groups,” added Elliott.

This has given a new level of attention or, at times, added a new kind of pressure for fashion professionals who attend the shows with a task at hand and not just to be seen and photographed.

But then again, “the pressure to dress up for shows has always been there” according to Browns’ Petersson, with social media just increasing the visibility one can get.

Showroom owner and fashion entrepreneur Maria Kastani seconds her thoughts: She remembers been photographed outside shows since the Nineties and early 2000s but when Instagram came into the picture, she was able to see more tangible returns for the brands she represents.

“This has always been happening but when you put Instagram in the picture the attention amplifies and you can get commercial results. When I’m photographed in something, I see that the item might sell out online or buyers and stylists get in touch to express interest,” said Kastani, who often sports colorful statement earrings by accessories label Katerina Makriyianni and chic shirt dresses by the brand Evi Grintela, both of which she works with.

“When I work with a brand, I want people to see that I believe it, that I’m behind it. It’s a sign that you believe in the designer 100 percent and you can visualize the future of the brand. It really works when you are genuine about your support in the brand and you stick to your style — that way you can even set trends through street style,” added Kastani, who was one of the instigators of the maxi earring trend.

Maria Kastani

Maria Kastani  Courtesy Photo

As the street style phenomenon continues to evolve, it’s about all participating parties finding a formula that works for them.

“There was a moment of huge excitement when street style started 10 or 12 years ago and grew alongside Instagram as part of this new online economy, but it then reached a plateau. Now, even though it’s still not on the rise or gaining any more momentum, it’s become a stable, established genre of fashion photography in the market,” said Kuba Dabrowski, a photographer who also shoots street style for WWD.

“There are women who are super stylish and are photographed because they happen to be there and others who are there to be photographed, in most cases as part of a paid-for placement. The real street style stars are the ones who don’t even want to have their picture taken, they don’t stop to pose because they are in a different business,”

He believes that the business of street style will become more niche and fragmented. “Photographers can now be divided into many different categories and everyone occupies a world of their own. What works for a retailer or an agency might not work for a publication looking to publish candid shots of Patrick Demarchelier walking into a show while in conversation with Suzy Menkes, or groups of students outside small experimental shows in Paris.”

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