Adam Katz Sinding on Why He Hates the Word "Streetstyle"
It’s been a long journey for Adam Katz Sinding, maybe better known as @le21eme. He’s one of the world’s top fashion streetstyle photographers, you know - one of those photographers perched outside fashion shows capturing everyone’s outfits. But the American-born, Copenhagen-based creative has carefully built his career into one that’s not just snapping what people are wearing - he’s a full-fledged fashion photographer and now, an author.
He’s been in the game for around a decade, and he’s seen fashion change. As one of the first guys out there documenting style, he’s seen trends come and go, but most jarringly, he’s witnessed the democratization of fashion and the infiltration of streetwear styles on the high fashion runway. Case in point: just yesterday, the man who wrote the foreword to Sinding’s This is not a F*cking Streetstyle Book was named the new men’s artistic director at Louis Vuitton. Yeah, we’re talking about Virgil Abloh himself.
Sinding was in town for his book launch and he spoke to us about his start, how things have changed and what he thinks about streetwear being high fashion. Check out the whole interview below.
How did you get started in streetstyle photography?
It just started as photography, shooting with my friends. I used to work in a hotel in Seattle, and we’d shoot around at night and at abandoned buildings. I had seen The Sartorialist, then a couple months after that I realized that [street style photography] would be an interesting thing to do - because there weren’t a lot of stylish people in Seattle! And then I moved to New York, and then a few things happened, a bit of luck and somehow it became a job.
Have you always been into fashion?
My mom was a sportswear designer for like Helly Hansen, Nike and stuff. She always had Vogue, WWD and Harper’s Bazaar with her. Once, we were flying to Hong Kong back in 1997, and she usually never had time to read the magazines so she’d bring them all on the plane for the long flight. After she was done with them she’d give them to me. I’d only read them because of the pretty girls, but then I started getting interested in fashion… but mostly because of the hot girls [laughs]. Then I moved to Paris and saw that aesthetic and then I became into [fashion]. I have always been a consumer and in an industry with like 8 collections a year and drops all the time, and it’s easy to remain excited.
What was a major turning point in your career?
Probably the beginning of my career and moving to New York. I got contacted by Elle Magazine who reached out to me to do street style photography in Seattle - two days after i moved to New York! I was like “F*ck, I live in New York now!” But they hadn’t found a photographer for New York yet so they asked me to do it. At the time, I didn’t have a job or anything and it was the middle of winter. They were paying me $25 USD per photo and I had a goal of shooting 10 girls a day to pay my bills. I never let the momentum slow down.
What do you think about the term "streetstyle?"
I don’t like it, I mean, look at the book name! I don't have anything against it specifically… I just think it’s really commercial but it’s the only way that it can exist.. it got really superficial. There’s no question that I fit into that as well, but because I’m a part of it, I try to go beyond the superficial level and tell a bit of a story… I want to make people feel something or ask questions. I think anyone can shoot street style - it’s just documenting people on the street, you can do it with your iPhone. It’s a more niche form of street photography and I want to go a little deeper than that I guess.
How has the streetstyle landscape changed since you've been in the game?
Just the sheer number of photographers more than anything. When I started, there was the OG Japanese crew who have been doing it for decades, there was Bill Cunningham and Scott [Schumer]. But now, it’d be an underestimation to say that there are over 500 street style photographers outside of a show. When the music starts, it’s like, “What are we all doing here?” No one’s invited, but that’s also the beauty of it. I have no more right than anybody else - literally anybody can do [street style photography], it’s just a matter of doing it.
How did This is not a F*cking Streetstyle Book come about?
Well it’s impossible to tell that story! My former editor mostly made the initial selection and then we chose from that. But in the middle of the process, the direction of the book changed. We were originally going to have a thousand images and then we cut it to 200… I have probably taken over a million photos during my career, and getting that down to under 200 is so difficult!
On how it came about, well, I was contacted by Mendo the publisher who’s based in Amsterdam. At the time, they didn’t know I was also living in Amsterdam, so they emailed me and said “Come drop by when you’re in town!” And I was like, “Well, I live 500 meters from you so… tomorrow?” And I dropped by, and that was almost two years ago.
Your book documents the rise of streetwear inspirations in high fashion - what do you think about this?
In my opinion, anything that makes fashion more accessible is important and great. Except that it can also go the other way, for example with the Louis Vuitton x Supreme collection which was awesome but so expensive. It’s great that I can dress how I dressed in high school and it’s ok, instead of the norm aesthetic being to “look rich.” Now, T-shirt and jeans are fine, and it allows you to get rid of excess stuff. Streetwear is important because it’s changed the landscape completely, and it’s taken the focus away from a lot of old school houses - it makes people refocus. I don’t think it’s going to last much longer though, but we’ll see.
Words / Helena Yeung