The Making of the Sartorialist
After launching the now famous "Sartorialist" blog in 2005, Scott Schuman has emerged as an influential force in the world of fashion. A self-taught photographer, Schuman shoots for publications including French Vogue, American GQ, Fantastic Man and Elle, and a growing list of advertising clients. He has also shown his work at the New York photo gallery The Danziger Projects and appeared in the GAP Style Icon campaign in the fall of 2008. He has been named the number one fashion photography trend by American Photo magazine, as well as one of Time magazine’s top 100 design influencers. Penguin published an anthology of his favorite photographs in 2009. The hardcover collection is aptly entitled, "The Sartorialist."
Question: What drew you to fashion?
Scott Schuman: What made me want to work in fashion? When I was growing up I played sports like all the regular kids in the Midwest, boys in the Midwest and would read Sports Illustrated and you know read all about all the athletes that I liked and kept reading that what they were spending their money on, you know cars and music and fashion and you know, so I’d start picking up those magazines and I think I ended up becoming more interested in fashion than I did sports and the better I dressed the more attention I seemed to get from women, which was more attention than what I was getting on the football field.
Question: How did you get into blogging?
Scott Schuman: The blogging part was pretty easy. I had an idea for “The Sartorialist”, this idea of mixing photographs of guys that I knew were stylish with guys that I knew were fashionable, which are two different things, but I only really knew about websites at that time and I knew that a website would take too much time, too many other people would have to be involved and when I happened to be going through the internet I found a blog, just happened to click onto a blog and I’m the kind of person that once I see something interesting I just start hitting all the buttons trying to figure out how they’re doing it and it was an interior design blog actually and I thought it was pretty cool. She had like 30 comments. She had some good visuals up and once I saw that I was able to look at it in an abstract enough way to be able to say I could do this with my photographs. Once I figured out how she was doing it and how simple it was to do I thought that’s the format I want to do. There weren’t really any kind of… definitely I don’t think any street style blogs. Maybe “Face Hunter” was right about that time, but I didn’t really know it in the beginning, but I saw the potential of using a blog as a visual format as opposed to a just text driven. At least I think most of the blogs at that time were very text driven and if they had a little bit of visual it wasn’t very important where for me I thought this would be a great way to put photographs up and then put a little bit of text to create a conversation, but the simplicity is what made the blogging part so… The simplicity and the interaction with the audience were the two things I think make it most attractive.
Question: What is the difference between street fashion and what designers create?
Scott Schuman: The difference between what designers create are you know they’re creating a little world every season, you know head to toe, a full look, shoes bags, dresses, the whole thing whereas street fashion is what people are really wearing. There is an element of new. There is an element of previous seasons. There is your own history, you know your sweatshirt from high school and vintage pieces and it’s that kind of combination that I find so much more interesting than just the runway, but you know and I love fashion. I love going to the runway shows. It’s not so much for me a shopping trip as it is the appreciation of the craft of these design geniuses who come up with beautiful color combinations and beautiful proportion suggestions and these kind of ideas, so I look at the runway shows in very different ways, just kind of a romantic artistic interpretation of how they would like to see fashion going forward, but for me it’s much more abstract. The runway shows are much more abstract than you know what ends up on people is much more real to me.
Question: Are you a fashion insider or a fashion outsider?
Scott Schuman: Realistically a fashion insider. I mean I was in the business 15 years before I started the blog, so even though it was in a different part of the business. It was in sales and marketing. None of the people that I’ve met since I’ve been doing the blog did I know really beforehand, but I knew about the business and that’s how I really came with the eye. I think part of what I do is the photography. I think that’s half of it and I think I’m able… I learned how to be able to shoot something in the romantic way that I see it, but then the other half of it is the editing, who I choose to shoot and not so much because of the drama and over dramatic nature of the way they’re dressed. Sometimes it’s very, very subtle. My background in tailoring and in pattern making and I think really helped me understand the subtleties of a suit and why a guy can look great looking very subtle in a suit. I think that’s what really separates me is I have a real understanding of actual clothes and how they work and how they should fit and a reasonably good artistic version of photography that kind of captures that. I think that was really kind of the best combination.
Question: What is the difference between fashion and style?
Scott Schuman: The difference between fashion and style is that fashion is the sometimes. It’s the thing that’s happening at that moment. Sometimes it might be pointy shoes. Sometimes it might be heels. Sometimes it might be flats. Where style I think is something that’s always there in your own personal wardrobe whether it’s a navy cardigan, reading glasses like this, but that’s different for everybody. Everybody’s version of style is totally different and that’s what I think keeps me going out on the street everyday is going out and kind of seeing the variations and what things maybe I’d never seen quite that way that I find very curious and how people will be able to communicate their own persona through their clothing, their posture, the way they wear their hair. I think all those elements end up becoming very interesting because I don’t think I’m really particularly a people person. So for me I think it’s interesting to kind of be able to read people in that way.
Question: What are your favorite cities to shoot and why?
Scott Schuman: My favorite cities to shoot, Milan in Italy obviously. The guys look great. The women look great. There is an old school romance. I mean it feels like Italy in the 1950’s. The guys at the bars still wear beautiful white dinner jackets and there is a formality there. I mean it doesn’t matter if it’s 90 degrees in the summer and it’s killer hot in Milan. The guys still put on their jackets to leave their office to go get lunch and bring it back to the office. You never see that in America. Guys barely can put on their shirts to go to the office or keep their tie done, so I think there is a romance that they’re willing to and enjoy that formality that they’ve created there in Milan and all across Italy, but especially in Milan. So I love that formality, but at the same time after about a week I’ve had enough of that and I’m ready to go to Paris where it’s more sexy and more dramatic, more challenge in terms of how they put things together and then back to America. I really love being able to go to those three different places and in America we’re so much more sporty, so much more color, so much more different in the way that we talk about our style, the way we exude our style. We have… Like in Milan for example they’re very narrow. Everybody dresses in a few certain ways and they have beautiful variations on those few kind of styles, but in American there is a million different styles, rocker and vintage and sporty and preppy and so I like that variation, so one without the other is not nearly as interesting.
Question: Where else do you want to explore?
Scott Schuman: I’ve been to Hong Kong, which I thought was very interesting. Beijing, but I want to go there more. In 2010 that’s one of my big challenges is try and make it through Asia more and I don’t know. I’m curious to see what I find. I think in Japan I think there is a lot of style and a lot of subcultures, but it will be interesting to see how much of them… how much of the people wearing those clothes are really expressing something about who they are or who they want to be and it will be very interesting to see, especially once you get there, once you get to a certain city like in Stockholm you really get to know the people a little bit and what they’re saying through their clothes. It’s more… To me I think it’s much more interesting than just the clothes they’re wearing or the length of the skirt. You start to understand something about that culture. In Rio none of the girls have short hair. A lot of the interviews I did in Rio people would say, “What do you want to find in Rio?” And I’d say the one girl with short hair because they just don’t do it and once you get to know them a little bit you realize that all the girls are afraid to cut their hair short because they’re afraid their men won’t like them, so what you think of as a beautiful natural style actually becomes a style out of fear and it kind of changes your perception of it a little bit. So for Japan I’m very curious to see who is really doing something unique and who is just doing something because they’ve heard that’ s the way they do it Florence or Milan. [
Question: Are any trends truly classic?
Scott Schuman: Well by that question it’s… What’s that, an oxymoron? Trend and classic, I don’t know if we can put those two together. I don’t know because it’s totally different for everybody. For me a navy cardigan always looks great. Converse tennis shoes just always work, but that’s for me. And that’s just it. I don’t at least for me I don’t ever really look for trends. I’m looking for just what captures my attention at that time and rarely do I ever look back and try and put together trends or say this kind of trend is important. For me it’s about the individual expression and if you go back and look through the archives you might find certain things become trends, but it’s just not something that particularly interests me.
Question: When did your blog really takeoff and why?
Scott Schuman: Well the blog took off pretty quickly and I think it’s because I had a particular point of view. There has been other street style photographers, Bill Cunningham in the New York Times is like the godfather of modern street style photography and other people historically, but I think what they had always done is they were always trying to find the most dramatic, the people that you wouldn’t see every day, the people that were really different, where I shot things that people would aspire to. Something that maybe they would see every day, but didn’t really know the difference between something done well and something not done as well, a suit that fits a guy really well as opposed to just another suit or dress that fits a woman beautifully or the way that she has put this combination of fur and an open-toe shoe, two totally just separate kind of ideas and yet she has put them together in a way and go okay, that does look really great. So I think it took off not because I was shooting the incredibly different, but because I was shooting something people could relate to, a lot of different people could relate to and I don’t think there was one time, one particular thing that made me say this is really becoming popular, but for me it was these really heartfelt emails I would get from people that meant something to them, that they could look at these pictures and say, “I look like that guy, but I don’t look like him yet.” “I want to look like him.” “I’m big like him.” “I’m a little chubby like him, but he looks great and he is dressed better in his clothes than I am.” So I know these guy were printing photographs and taking it to Nordstrom or Sachs or Dillard’s or wherever and saying help me look like this and would be able to achieve it because it was never in my blog about how expensive it is. Almost if you look at most of the guys that are really well dressed it’s just the attention to detail and anybody can do that. That’s just taking it to alterations and getting the right amount of cuff and all these little things that aren’t about the expense, but just about the attention to detail.
Recorded on December 2, 2009
Growing up in the Midwest, Schuman initially saw fashion as an in with women.
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