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The Sartorialist Shares His Success Story With USC Audience

Lydia O'Connor |
April 19, 2011 | 6:06 p.m. PDT

Staff Writer

Never will the “dress to impress” mantra ring truer than when The Sartorialist — street style documentarian and blogger extraordinaire Scott Schuman — comes to town.

Lydia O'Connor)
Lydia O'Connor)

The masses showed up Monday night at USC’s Taper Hall bedecked in larger-than-life lace hair bows, sweaters knit with every color of the rainbow, oversized leather clutches, dangerously deep v-necks, sunglasses sported indoors and sky-high wedges for Schuman’s talk.

Schuman started his blog, The Sartorialist, in 2005, posting photos he takes on the city streets around the world of people who exude their quirky essences through their sartorial choices. The “regular read” status his blog achieved amongst lovers of fashion, photography and people alike opened up work opportunities for him at Style.com, Saks Fifth Avenue and fashion week.

But Schuman is charmingly humble when it comes to expanding his presence in the industry.

“For me it was never about using the blog as a starting point,” he explained. “It was about making a full circle,” and coming back to The Sartorialist with a following of people interested in street style and his aesthetic. 

“Sometimes the best ideas are the most simple,” he said of his decision to document street style, an idea that came to him after he closed the showroom he opened in New York and began photographing his young daughters Isabel and Claudia, with the latter sitting front and center at dad’s show (rocking adorable oversized spectacles and eventually falling asleep mid-presentation) alongside Schuman’s girlfriend, equally noted French fashion blogger Garance Doré, who charmed both her man and the audience with questions of her own during the Q&A session.

A product of rural Indiana, Schuman fulfills the down-to-earth, people-loving Midwesterner stereotype.

“I really love the interaction that comes with putting a photo up,” he said, noting the enjoyment he finds in reading viewers’ comments on each photo. “I don’t know if my photos tell a story as much as they start one. People from different cultures will interpret a shot and all do it sort of differently.”

Schuman similarly enjoyed interacting with the audience, asking the crowd of college students to shout out their majors and interests.

Schuman scrolled through the front page of his blog, projected on a screen for the audience, pointing out the different ways people might interpret a subject’s style or story. He tries to mix people of different worlds all on one page — an old man in a perfectly tailored suit enjoying a cone of gelato next to a pierced, beanie-sporting man puffing away on a cigarette.

“Both become cooler by association,” he explained.

While Schuman studied sales and marketing in college, his fascination with the people he saw in the fashion magazines he poured over while growing up sparked his sartorial aspirations. He took construction and pattern-making classes at school as well, giving him an edge in style spotting that most bloggers don’t have. 

Another key component to his success? His ability to not take the fashion industry too seriously, noting that many young designers can’t see the humor that comes with extravagant, eclectic tailoring. 

For Schuman, the sartorial world is not as exclusive as some make it out to be.

“I don’t think fashion is important to the world,” he said. “The communication that you are part of a certain group is important to everyone,” he explained, pointing to soccer fans and his golf-gear-wearing dad as unexpected examples of style mavens.

Schuman also made the audience privy to his subject-scouting techniques.

“I learned early to have a natural energy when approaching people for photographs,” he said. “I think my body language says more than any of my words.”

Though of course, approaching people for photographs several times throughout the day will inevitably go wrong occasionally.

“I have a lot of situations where people think I want them to take my picture,” Schuman said, laughing at the confusion that comes with language barriers.

Photographing older women in Milan also gets complicated. “I tell them how great they look, but it gets to the point where they think I’m hitting on them,” he joked. 

Regardless, Schuman points to Milan as his favorite city to photograph in because of its duality of “modernity with an old world charm.”

When asked why he doesn’t photograph in Los Angeles more, Schuman called out Angelenos on their car-centric culture. “I drove here (to USC), and didn’t see a lot of street culture,” he said. “I try (to come to LA), but I have a lot of places I have to go. I’m like Santa Claus.”

Schuman let some news from his personal life slip out, much to the excitement of the crowd. Asked a question about Doré, he replied, “She’s not my wife, but she’s my soon-to-be, sort of …” trailing off nervously as the audience erupted in gasps and cheers. 

“Was that a proposal?” one onlooker called out. That remains to be answered, but we do know that any wedding of The Sartorialist’s would be perfectly and effortlessly styled and brilliantly photographed.

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