"Be Yourself; Everyone Else Is Already Taken" and Other Adventures in Street Style Marketing

Curator's Note

Despite ideas to the contrary, being different is a desirable attribute. Society rarely celebrates discernable difference beyond a pleasant liberal utopian ideal found in self-help books and rustic recitations of the Founding Fathers. Yet, difference has been converted ever so slickly into the stalwart of today’s marketing.  Once, Madison Avenue usurped the power of cool from the late 1960’s revolutions and transformed the spirit of transgression into promises of the good life; today the industry is so reliant upon quotidian operations that the efficacy of their output depends on stealth capitalization: making difference "original."

> How better to recognize this than the onslaught of advertisement campaigns professing staying cool is staying true to thyself. The transparent message becomes trite when Diet Coke asserts that to "stay extraordinary" only requires imbibing faux-sugar water or when Mozilla asserts their web browser has “even more awesomeness” because "one size doesn’t fit all". But, a keen eye can readily distinguish between a compelling campaign and a frustratingly laughable one and so, staying savvy means dipping into the honey pot of reality.  Ah, the street.  "Where originality lives."

Here, find ethereal and gawky model Agyness Deyn on the set of an Adidas Originals shoot. "Celebrate originality" could only be complete with the reigning queen of street style giving a kick of authenticity to the sneaker brand. In a most inauthentic way, the power point presentation, oh wait, no, the backstage interview asks the stunned model awkward questions as if she were in a test group.  It is not enough that she appears in the ads prancing in couture shoulder pads over a studded jersey; the brand needs Agy both to represent them and feed their account executives inspirational one-liners that will have them barking at their design teams "GO AMISH this season!" There’s absolutely nothing wrong with such a practice; if anything, these are the stakes of keeping a $300 billion industry afloat.

Is 'afloat' really where Adidas wants to be? Their tactics are recursive:  they take from the street to produce a mimesis of street, which then goes back into the street.  Sure, street fashion changes per season and individual; but once Adidas and countless other brands infuse the street market with street extractions, the street will be all of the same street.  It’s not "where originality lives" rather banality. And conformity. And being "comfortable".  Well, really that’s only when being different is desired.


What I love about your piece, Julie, is the notion of a saleable self. The thing about street fashion seems to be the unavoidable cycle of things. If it starts on the streets, it ends up back in the marketplace. So which came first, the hipness or the street? I'm wondering if there's anyway to avoid this, is there any street culture, fashion, street art, or otherwise, that has not or cannot be commoditized? Wasn't the birth of "streetness" meant to avoid commodization period?

I think it's pretty unavoidable, this which-can-first question.  It reminds of Thomas Frank's "The Conquest of Cool," where he talks about the co-optation of a countercultural ethos by admen in the sixties to attract the young counterculture crowd.  What ends up happening is a symbiotic  relationship between the underground and the corporate.  In Frank's case, hip rebellious advertisements informed the youth culture just as much as the youth culture did to the admen.  So, maybe we should think of street culture and it's commodification in terms of a circular connection, which is why finding the true "streetness" of something - or its authenticity - is always so complexing. 

D'accord, Alex, doesn't it all come down to "authenticity?" What i lack about your piece, Julie, has to do with how its content relates to its rather pithy title. Your power point reference pinpricks a problem, illustrated through the deployment of a stilted video presentation, complete with webcast titles matched to the brand's own color . If Agy appears stunned to you, could it, perhaps, have more to do with the relative size of the fee she got for her straight from the (padded) shoulder odd jots of "street savvy," than for any regal "Rollerina says yes-"ing with which she could possibly endow a sneaker brand? As for recursiveness; how many "streets" can paragraphs cross before they intersect an a(d-re)venue? I miss the role of the model here, in both projecting and projected aspects, which i trust you'll clue us in on, flashing your own inimitable style, during your 20 minutes of flame today. I live to see that, honey pot, as well as y. o. i. s. on the street/rumway tonight.

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