Paparazzi Style

An incomplete history of how fashion and the paps have influenced each other over the years

By Refiloe Mokgele

Flashing lights, hordes of frenetic photographers and itty-bitty Dior Saddle Bags used as shields to cover mascara stained faces, the early aughts mark a time characterized by TMZ clips and gossip magazines – all captured by the infamous paparazzi. But how did we get here and what does it have to do with fashion? Quite a lot it seems, as the tumultuous relationship between the two has since sparked wild handbag trends and inspired numerous fashion editorials. The twists and turns of the dance shared by fashion and paparazzi is charted in the timeline below, dating back to the first mention of the word "paparazzo" in 1960 to the here and now.

Paparazzi Style

1960: Paparazzo is the name of an overly enthusiastic news photographer in the Italian film La Dolce Vita. The word paparazzi is coined by the director to describe the buzzing mosquito quality of the intrusive independent photographers whose subjects include celebrities and high-profile people.

1978: Paparazzi images from Studio 54's heyday feature Andy Warhol, Grace Jones, Donna Summer and Diane Von Furstenberg in gaudy disco inspired get-ups as the club solidifies itself as a watering hole for style icons.

Paparazzi Style

1997: Princess Diana is frequently captured by the paps as her outfit choices skyrocket brand sales. The Dior Chouchou bag is renamed the Lady Dior as a result, but the paparazzi's reputation for aggressively pursuing Di's every move leads to them being implicated in the tragic car crash that kills her.

Paparazzi Style

2004: Despite the negative connotations associated with the paparazzi, the early 2000s sees the rise and rise of their presence in Hollywood. An unofficial partnership between paps and celebs results in what comes to be known as 'It Bag Fever', as season after season a new designer bag spotted on the skinny arm of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Mischa Barton or Sienna Miller sends fans in droves to the nearest brand waiting list.

2005: Vogue Italia publishes Celebrity, an editorial lensed by Steven Meisel and styled by Edward Enninful satirizing the style tropes of the famous and off-duty and formatted to resemble gossip magazines like US Weekly and People. In the same year celebrity tabloid mammoth TMZ is launched, marking the omnipresence of 2000s pop-culture and its relentless documenters.

Paparazzi Style

2006: More paparazzi influence as zeitgeist shoe and accessories brand Jimmy Choo releases a campaign starring reality TV star and Paris Hilton BFF, Nicole Richie. The flashing lights surrounding Nicole and her enormous handbag are both distressing and aspirational.

2007: After being charged with assault for hurling a flip phone at her assistant, part-time janitor and full-time supermodel, Naomi Campbell arrives to the last day of her community service shimmering in a silver Dolce and Gabbana Haute Couture gown – much to the delight of the paparazzi camped around the New York sanitation garage to which she is assigned.

2007: A big year for fashion and the paparazzi it seems as 2007 marks the zenith of the Juicy Couture velour tracksuit craze. The company reports sales of $439.8 million, a 49% percent increase from 2006 as the tracksuit becomes the uniform of the out-of-office celeb. (Available in an array of shades and commonly donned with a ubiquitous pair of UGGs). Paris Hilton is frequently snapped wearing the track pants pulled down low – exposing the pelvic strip of skin between the waist band and bottom of her tracksuit top. Non-celebrities feverishly follow suit.

More pelvic skin for the paps as Britney Spears attempts to resurrect her image in (extremely) low slung denims following her breakdown involving hair clippers and a green umbrella. The 'fit sparks the Daily Mail headline, 'How Low Will Britney's Jeans Go?' By then 'muffin top' has already been coined to describe the bulge of flesh caused by the too-tight low-rise pants worn by normal folk who don't possess washboard abs, yet still opt to follow the celebrity trend anyway.

Paparazzi Style

2009: The launch of Twitter marks a shift in celeb culture, creating a platform for the famous few to interact with fans directly. As the bright lights (and necessity) of the celebrity paparazzi scene start to dim, streetstyle photographers congregate outside fashion shows to catch stylish editors and off-duty models looking cool and aloof.

2011: Tabloid style fashion fizzles, Instagram is alive and kicking and Chiara Ferragni, Suzy Bubble, Bryan Boy, and (of course) Anna Dello Russo dominate as style icons in a world democratised by social media and self-publication. Streetstyle eclipses grainy TMZ shots and everyone's eyes are turned towards the peacocks of fashion week for sartorial sustenance.

2013: Revered fashion critic Suzy Menkes is disgusted by the 'The Circus of Fashion' in an article she pens describing the scenes outside the shows. 

"Something has been lost in a world where the survival of the gaudiest is a new kind of dress parade," she writes.

2016: The fashion community mourns the death of streetstyle photography stalwart, Bill Cunningham, who since 1978 documented the personal style of Manhattanites for the New York Times. His usual people spotting position, the corner of 5th Avenue and 57th Street, is renamed in his honour.

Paparazzi Style

2017: The line between paparazzi and streetstyle photographer blurs and now the models outside shows have shrugged off their 'cool and aloof' chic in favour of 'trendy and impeccable'. Vogue publishes an article titled 'Meet the Stylists Behind Your Favourite Supermodel Off-Duty Looks', revealing the behind the scenes work involved in creating "at least the illusion of effortlessness" for models like Kendall Jenner, the Hadid sisters and Hailey Baldwin.

In the same year an obscure Instagram account @shiasoutfits emerges, quickly amassing 71.5K followers. The account is dedicated to paparazzi shots of actor Shia LaBeouf going about his day dressed in bizarre permutations of UGGs, hoodies, blue crocs and old T-shirts. The Cut, in an article titled 'Why the Menswear World is Obsessed with Shia LaBeouf', declares that:

"In our supremely styled world where celebrities are dressed by professionals for their walk from the car to the terminal…LaBeouf's dirtbag aesthetic is refreshingly real".

2018: #JonahHillFitWatch, continues to gain traction on twitter as the self-styled actor and director is photographed by the paparazzi, roaming the streets of New York in the kind of gear any hypebeast would be envious of. His cult-like status among menswear aficionados has him labelled a "new style savior" by GQ.

Several fashion brands revisit the paparazzi motif, with Balenciaga and Yeezy presenting the most compelling campaigns. Demna Gvasalia's ironic elevation of the ordinary finds a perfect medium in the form of paparazzi style shots – boosting them from seedy to high fashion. Models in head to toe Balenciaga are captured on the streets of Paris hiding their faces and shouting expletives at the photographers in true celebrity form (trés chic). Kanye West in his self-aware reclamation of the paparazzi narrative has his uber-famous wife Kim Kardashian West photographed around LA "getting gas #Yeezy" or on a "McDonald's run #Yeezy" dressed in what is later revealed to be the Yeezy Season 6 collection.

Perhaps there is a reason why the fashion world seems to be turning its head back towards the paparazzi and the style associated with it. Maybe it's a case of nostalgia for when filterless, un-styled authenticity (no matter how tacky) reigned supreme? 

Either way the tango continues.

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