Sunday, 7 September 2008

The Global Scenester - the end of individuality?

"There always used to be a particular city that was the centre of cool at a particular point in time. But now there's no longer a place where it's 'at'; there's no longer any centre of the world's popular cultural universe. For a time it seemed it would be a simple matter of shifting from London to Tokyo. But instead, street style is everywhere and in places you'd never have guessed it would be."

Ted Polhemus, style anthropologist and author of Streetstyle: From Sidewalk to Catwalk.

The Internet is full of interesting articles but sometimes there's just too much to find. Unfortunately I've not got the scan reading ability of Raymond (Dustin Hoffman's character in Rainman) or Susie for that matter but no matter I don't have to do it on my own, I do get the odd interesting article forwarded to me (that's an open invitation for you to do it as well, thank you very much). Our good friend Daniel Jenkins sent us Meet the global scenester which was featured in The Independent, which examines the seemingly decline of individuality or at least the 'spread of cool' as guys from across the globe (from Helsinki to Hull) buy into the same brands and lifestyle.

America Apparel's shades for Autumn will no doubt be worn in a city near you and far from you

So which brand's supply this new global order? Uniqlo is certainly one example. Uniqlo has something close to 800 stores worldwide, including outlets in the UK (a ridiculous number on just Oxford Street), US and France. Kashiwa Sato (the chap who turned the outlet from a perceived chap and nasty brand, into how we see it today) wanted "the ultra-contemporary cool aspect of Japan, its pop culture rather than something traditional and Japanese-y." He'd tapped into the global scene. For some reason I decided to brave the crowds of Oxford Street and ventured inside one of the many stores there, it was packed with men buying all kinds of basics (I left with a purple merino wool sweater and a pair of skinny jeans). Uniqlo is great, however, there is a much better example of a brand supplying this 'global scenster', American Apparel. The further the brand casts it's global net (which is damn far, as I type this they've probably opened at least one more store), the more easily the company can study and copy street style, which it then repackages and sells it back to the originators of that style and the masses alike.

Nathan Barley - a product of Brooker and Morris’ warped and wonderful imagination. It might be old but it's not dated. A hilarious look at the life of a scenester. Rather than being confined to areas like Hoxton has Nathan Barley spread, have you seen him in Helsinki and Hull alike?

A few years back now there was a comedy which highlights a number of the points within the article. Nathan Barley. Nathan Barley is 26. He is a webmaster, guerrilla filmmaker, screenwriter, DJ and in his own words, a "self-facilitating media node". He is convinced he is the epitome of urban cool and therefore secretly terrified he might not be, which is why he reads Sugar Ape Magazine - his bible of cool - which strikes a canny resemblance to Vice. EJ recently forced Thom Wong to watch and now he's a fan; the man, has great and so do we, so if you've not watched it go and do so now.

The rise and rise of the internet has been a key factor in the globalisation of hip. The world is certainly a smaller place with the internet (Nathan Barley himself ran a website – or "urban culture dispatch" – called Through mailouts and blogs, the tropes of eclectic style tribes the world over are quickly integrated into a single street style aesthetic. The widespread "borrowing and referencing" takes place not just in capitals of cool like London but on an international scale, via the Internet, the result is that the same brand of individuality (or something highly similar) is sold, worn and celebrated the world over. As I've followed Facehunter's search for eye candy I've become tired of similar ensembles the world over. Is it just his photography style that is somewhat tiresome or is there an element of truth to the above article? Has the world indeed become a much smaller place? Where previously there was a set look representative of a city, has cultural globalisation evolved this into a look representing a global scene?

As it's the weekend, let's play a game. It's simple, all you have to do is match the Facehunter's street style shots above with their respective city of origin. Go clockwise from the top left and select the city you think is represented in the shot.


a) London
b) New York
c) Copenhagen
d) Stockholm
e) Helsinki
f) Berlin

Please note that there might just be two images from the same city. You decide. No cheating please. Answers on a postcard to PO Box Stylesalvage...alternatively please comment.


Unknown said...

I did a dissertation on this whole subject when i was at Uni, and put it down to the fact that no longer do we have subcultures within our own society.

Back in the day the teddy boys, rockers, punks mods etc were all over the place, but as large brands are now actively seeking out these new subcultures and the styles that they carry, the subcultures arent getting time to grow and develop as they would have done, and this in turn is affecting how people are dressing. Another important effect of this is the lack of creativity that is also not happening within society.

Will the Uk ever produce another Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen etc?? Not in my life time!!

I would be more than happy to send you a copy of it, im sure it would make for a good read!


Style Salvage Steve said...

Martin - It would be great if you could send me a copy. I agree that subcultures aren't really allowed to be sub at all for long, they are featured in the media well before they have fully matured or have become anything significant. That said, I still believe there are opportunities for a creative society, the creatives will just evovle differently from before. Have hope my friend! In the meantime, plese do send me a copy of your dissertation!

Anonymous said...

you might want to visit my blog under:

I harvest the internet for any interesting news.

And you are right,the world became really flat!

Even in places like Beijing people look like their counterparts in any self claimed fashion capital.

and martin,i´d love to obtain a copy of your dissertation :)


Anonymous said...

I don't especially like face hunter simply because of how similar everyone looks (I find your game amusing though!). Admittedly, almost all street style bloggers will gravitate toward their particular aesthetic/what they deem to be "style" so it's not that surprising. But as you say, it does represent the globalisation of one look. Of course, it's only a single snapshot of the world. In reality, it's probably as diverse and individual as you are willing to see it.

Anonymous said...

Loved the blog, but was a little disappointed to find that your discription of Nathan Barley seems to be copied straight off Wikipedia.

Anonymous said...

if you drop me an email then i will forward you on a PDF version of it for you to read!!

Anonymous said...

Facehunter is just one perspective of what streetstyle is happening, it's all down to oppinion. Regardless of the internet, people will always be different from one another, there will always be people dressing creatively. I think it's easy to become negative because thanks to the high street and the internet, fashion is now more accessible to allot more people.Just because two people are wearing the same dress, it doesn't mean they have the same style. Nothing in the world is completely original anyway, everything was inspired by something else, taking something and changing it to suit you is what I consider to be original (Viviene Westwood said herself that "imitation is the work of the imagination") and I see people on the street who do that all the time.

Style Salvage Steve said...

Sebastian - Thanks for the links and I must say your blog is great!
Leah - We are all biased towards our own preferred aesthetic and street style photographers are no different. The truth is you can't please everyone. The Sartorialist is a prime example, if he shoots anyone a little outlandish the number of negative comments is mind blowing, then agan, others find his aesthetic dull.
Eliza - Thanks, wikipedia is a valable resource for all tings but in this instance I took it straight from the source (the channel4 website).

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's hopeless, but I feel like the true innovators have to break free from brand names and labels and just BE their own style.
I think it's immensely funny that, once again, capitalists have tricked people into buying "cool." It's funny because it's sociology and consumerism; it's sad because people think they will be well-liked/accepted solely based on their pricey factory produced threads (only partially more accepted :).

j said...

I think this global hip look is just one form of subculture. When I look around (here in midwest USA) I still see a variety of subculture looks (this Facehunter look, black hip look, American preppy, American campus - as in JCREW - business look etc., etc.

Maybe you are just too provincially hip, Steve.

TheSundayBest said...

There is just too much coverage of everything, and people have become too dogged in their following of trends. Regionalism has been sacrificed to the global economy.

Now give me my Uniqlo.

I notice that no one has attempted your challenge. Guessing completely I'll say NY, Stockholm, London, Copenhagen, Copenhagen, NY, and Berlin.

Style Salvage Steve said...

Kate - There are definite examples the world over of people BEing their own style, outside of any brands. What has happened in recent years is that what had previously been quite narrow and part of a sub culture has now been blown up and adopted the world over. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. It has the potential to be quite interesting, if indiviudals interpret it in their own way. I agree with Ester that there is little in this world which is truely original, but for imitation to be interesting it has to be taken further or in a slightly different way.
J - I'm not sure you can describe it as a subculture when it is replicated the world over but I see your point. This group make only a small percentage of the population. It has however grown. Or maybe I'm just seeing it differently as I live in London.
The Sunday Best - If I could give you Uniqlo I would. They are all conquering here surely it's only a matter of time before they invade your town? Thanks for taking up the chalenge of the matching game. Some are right, others wrong. I will reveal the answers tomorrow.
Will anypone else have a go?

Isabelle said...

I wrote about this on Brandish (, I think the Independent article could have been written a little better, there's a mind busting article on Adbusters about the same thing ( It's a really interesting debate, and one which doesn't have the same resonance anywhere as in the US where Hipster is only ever said with a sneer.

Style Salvage Steve said...

Isabelle - Brandish is normally a daily read but your article slipped by me (it was whilst I was moving house). I agree that the Independent article could have been written better, it only explored the surface really and the examples it gave weren't the strongest. Thanks for the Adbusters link, I will read that this evening.

the fashionable recluse said...

I'm glad to have come across this interesting post! I attempted to study street style websites from an academic perspective for a marketing project to see how they influence consumers but I needed to find a better way to collect data because there are so many street style sites! The paper ended up being more about defining 'original' street style the way it was associated with distinct groups or tribes (like Polhemus discusses in his book) to how the meaning of the word has evolved online to it's more literal definition of street style being whatever any selected individual wears outside, on the street, as photographed by a blogger and shared with the world. As far as retailers, I also noticed American Apparel, et al. and how certain brands are able to capitalize on their "street cred." I wasn't able to find much written about street style since it has emerged online, though. So Martin, I'd love to read your dissertation, too!

_ said...

I'm not sure I entirely agree with the idea that there are no longer active subcultures in our society. Nor can I quite accept that the links posted by Sebastian on images of Beijing street fashion are *actually* representative of Beijing Street Fashion. Many of the photos circulated online as images of "street fashion" from places like Hong Kong, Tokoyo, Beijing, Shanghai, Manila, etc. are from the lens of Western photographers. Namely, The Sartorialist, Facehunter, etc. These photographers have their own distinct vision of what fashion means. The Sartorialist in particular has never quite indulged in capturing images of grimy youth but a more refined and high-end perspective.

In postulating the globalization and homogenization of "hipster" style, we should consider -- who is taking the images to reprsent global culture? And is globalization the same thing as homogenization? Albeit world fashion and style has definitely become more and more accessible but contrary to a numbed, bland, globalization of what it means to dress "cool," I am more inclined to view a global battery of Western tastes percolating and infiltrating certain corners of an Internet-linked society.

Perhaps a study should be done on the more popular fashion blogs on which countries they receive the most traffic from. Additionally, perhaps a Shanghai local would be a better photographer for Shanghai street fashion and sub culture. Do subcultures really no longer exist? I'm not convinced it's possible for subcultures to not exist. I think people naturally arrange themselves that way. But the Internet introduces a new way to define how people are "arranged" -- connected, if you will -- so maybe subcultures can no longer be defined in terms of geographical locations.

David said...

Sorry I'm rather late on the seen here. I just wanted to quickly comment on the pictures.
I wanted to give it a go. Well I come from NYC. Live in CPH and have just been in Berlin. So
b) Helsinki
c)Berlin and a friend
e) CPH ( recognize the building
f) could be NYC
g) is London ( just met him here in CPH)
Funny isn't that the world is so small.

Danielle said...

and I am even more majorly late on the scene!!
just doing some research and reading through your comments... Martin is there any chance that I could read your dissertation on this? I agree with you that it would be an interesting read!


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