How Do You Shoot Street Style During Digital Fashion Week?

Most of New York Fashion Week went digital this year, but not everyone stayed home. On Sunday, Jason Wu began the shows, the first in the city since the coronavirus pandemic, by holding an in-person, socially distanced runway presentation that was also available to stream. A few other similar setups took place over the next few days, creating a miniature of the old Fashion Week: shows to go to, people getting dressed to go to them, and street-style photographers there to capture them.

In previous seasons, the catwalk outside the catwalk—the sidewalk space near the venues—has been the basis for a stand-alone genre of Fashion Week photography. This week a small crowd of influencers and photographers continued to review shots together outside of Spring Studios, a staple NYFW venue in recent years.

Just before Rebecca Minkoff’s show on Tuesday, Robert Williams, one of the photographers on hand, said, “this block is usually cut off” during Fashion Week. This year, on the other hand, “it’s free flowing,” he said. “Everything is scarce.”

While some of the rhythms of lower Manhattan have resumed in the last few months—crowded subways, clanging construction—the loudest scene before the show was a fender bender at the corner of Varick and Beach streets. The line at Century 21’s closeout sale in the financial district, about a mile further downtown, was considerably more frenzied.

As Vanity Fair’s rundown of this NYFW noted, the celebrity and influencer aspect has been “noticeably absent this season.” “No one really knows what to expect,” a photographer named Denis said outside Spring Studios on Wednesday, “but I guess that’s been a theme since March.”

Williams was among those photographing the handful of influencers who were on their way to Minkoff’s show, including Alina Frolova. “I just had the fitting up there and they asked me to come down and go through the entrance again,” she said—presumably for the benefit of the photographers outside.

Perhaps inevitably, the photos tended to revolve around either wearing a mask or removing it. “There are some people that I’ve seen that incorporate their mask into their outfit, which I think is pretty cool,” Denis said, or “at a safe distance they remove the mask and still showcase themselves.”

Pat Sheils, who’s traveled with a photographer friend shooting the international fashion circuit, said, “They’ll take them off for photos if you ask. It still feels a little weird.”

Sheils said that the circumstances of this particular week were part of the intrigue. “Exposing the reality of COVID versus the circus showiness of fashion week,” he said, “that contrast is super interesting, so that’s what I’m looking for.”

The photographer Tyler Joe, who’s shot Fashion Week street style for Elle, took that contrast as a reason to avoid the whole thing. “I’m glad I’m not part of it right now,” he said over the phone on Thursday. “I think it’s stupid, irresponsible, and we shouldn’t be doing it.”

“More than my safety,” he continued, “we shouldn’t be promoting being outside and doing this super vain, commercialized job when (a) there’s a pandemic and (b) there’s so many bigger things happening right now.” Joe said that the full-time photographers he knows have made the same choice.

Vogue didn’t do its usual Phil Oh street-style gallery either, opting instead for a greatest hits collection along with a street-style-from-home challenge on social media. (Vogue and V.F. are both published by Condé Nast.) Oh said in an email that he hasn’t been shooting this season.