It’s not the main focus of the book, but in the last chapter of Brooklyn Street Style: The No-Rules Guide to Fashion, authors Anya Sacharow and Shawn Dahl take a moment to reflect on why, in New York City’s rapidly changing cultural landscape, Brooklyn is now widely acknowledged as the city’s most exciting area when it comes to fashion. “The fashions of the city reflect the experience,” they write. “From the Brooklyn side of the river, the experience feels more authentic: grittier, diverse, small scale, and creative. It’s reminiscent of the perfectly imperfect New York.”
Brooklyn style is hard to pin down because it hinges so much on fearless individuality, which is probably why Brooklyn Street Style, with its collection of 175 photos by Sioux Nesi, gives almost as much consideration to the backgrounds and professions of its subjects as the clothes they wear. If you missed the author’s panel at Powerhouse Arena last Friday, there’s another chance to catch them again October 10 at the “Straight Outta Brooklyn: Real Style for Real Gals” panel at BookCourt.
Book designer and editor Dahl’s interest in doing a Brooklyn style guide was sparked while working on Abram’s “Street Style” series, which had covered international fashion meccas like Paris and Berlin. “I was like, ‘We should do a New York book, but if we do it everyone is going to end up being from Brooklyn, so let’s do Brooklyn,” she said. This makes sense, considering that even Dahl, who lives in the East Village, can’t deny that the cool, downtown vibe that first attracted her to reside below 14th Street has “in recent history gone over the East River to Brooklyn.” She teamed up with cultural reporter and Brooklyn resident Anya Sacharow, who has written for Time, Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, and others, and the resulting Brooklyn Street Style was released Sept. 8.
The book is chock full of recognizable destinations and people you’d probably peg as a Brooklyn dwellers, even if you’ve never seen them before. There’s DJ Lauren Flax sporting owlish glasses while perched in a tree at Evergreen Cemetery in Bushwick; a four-woman “community of makers” enjoying a daytime bottle of wine outside Marlow & Sons in Williamsburg; longboard skaters Priscilla Boullion and Emina Kadrich in cutoffs and vintage muscle tees, photographed in front of the Bushwick Collective outdoor street art gallery.
The book has so many different components it can feel a little muddled at first, but there’s a rhythm to chapters – and the organized chaos keeps reading it fun. The majority of the book is comprised of vignettes about the stylish Brooklynites captured in Nesi’s photos, but interspersed throughout are Q&A’s with knowledgeable designers, style and beauty experts, and fashion magazine editors. Brief sections advise on topics like how to “Build a Working Wardrobe” and shop with “Conscientious Consumption” in mind, and short “interludes” break up the text with odes to accessories, hats and shoes.
One thing you’ll notice is that while there’s some advising and nudging toward a few trusty rules for dressing, the authors encourage individuality and offer up fashion icons as wide-ranging as Gwen Stefani and Audrey Hepburn for inspiration; if you like the pop star’s sporty, comfortable, athletic wardrobe then they suggest you mix Stefani-esque pieces with more formal, dressier garments. If Hepburn’s personal style (masculine shirts, blazers and coats) are more your thing, consider blending the menswear-inspired look with a feminine skirt or heels.
“Style books get dated quite quickly as a rule,” said Sacharow. “You might say one thing, but then in a couple of months find that fashion is doing the opposite.” What makes street style special is that everyone brings their own sensibilities and personal background and taste to the mix, they agreed. “New York City offers this so nicely with all its busy subways and packed sidewalks. You get to see all these people,” said Dahl. “I get way more inspired by the people I see on the street or in the subway than I do by fashion magazines,” added Sacharow.
There are some fun industry insider-type Q&A’s in the book, too – of course, no Brooklyn style book would be complete without a nod to HBO’s Girls, and the show’s costume designer Jenn Rogien gives some interesting insight into crafting the characters’ now iconic looks. The meticulously put together Marnie (Allison Williams), for example, never leaves her apartment without a ring, a necklace, and earrings, while Hannah’s lucky if she manages a pair of earrings and a ring she wears all the time. Hannah’s charmingly disheveled, unself-aware look is achieved by putting all the hemlines in just the wrong places on Dunham’s body and steaming her clothes but leaving them crumpled overnight in the bottom of a garment bag to achieve that “just picked this up off the floor and threw it on” effect.
“I think that Hannah is a glorious mess,” said Sacharow. “She’s never dressing herself to be as beautiful as she could be, but the costumes are used to reinforce their personalities, so I think the style completely works. On the other hand what strikes me are the photos caught of Lena Dunham in real life, where she’s actually way more chic than Hannah but still has her own style that’s quirky and funky. I think that’s interesting, seeing the character and then Lena Dunham. Hannah and the actor are both women who live in Brooklyn, but they both have completely different styles.”
If you’re itching to break out of a style rut but fear you’ll become a walking “glorious mess” yourself, Sacharow and Dahl have a few suggestions for local clothing stores that can fix you up with some new, never boring duds. A couple of their top picks are Sincerely, Tommy in Bed-Stuy and Martine’s Dreams in Crown Heights. Both are mentioned in the guide the authors included in the back of the book that highlights not just their favorite Brooklyn clothing boutiques but their go-to places to dine out, shop for shop for homemade goods, and see a show, all places that make for great makeshift runways. “I love this idea of confidence as an accessory,” said Sacharow. “This idea of self-empowerment that ultimately comes out of Brooklyn.”