It’s been a full year since Vogue’s street style coverage has transmitted the kind of frenetic energy and exuberance we’ve come to expect. Bustling crowds, celebrity sightings, traffic-stopping outfits—it all disappeared when Fashion Week became near impossible last March. When the menswear and couture shows quietly resumed in the summer, the feeling wasn’t quite the same, with masks obscuring people’s smiles (necessarily so!) and subdued, unflashy outfits replacing the mesmerising looks of the Before Times.
Last October, Style du Monde’s Acielle was in Paris to shoot street style for Vogue. She recalled the distinct oddness of running into models, designers, and editors she’d known for years—friends she would normally embrace and catch up with—but being unable to come within six feet or truly reconnect. It’s a sensation many of us have felt at one point or another: meeting family and friends outdoors but stopping short of fully expressing our joy.
“The human connection is what I miss most,” Acielle says. “I always love to see my friends and colleagues at Fashion Week, and I think everyone is missing that emotion and connection. But I’m very grateful I was able to work at this time because I know a lot of photographers and models had to stay home due to travel restrictions.” (Still, not everyone is as intrepid as Acielle! She estimates taking at least five COVID tests in the course of a week in order to travel between Belgium and Paris and attend certain shows.)
It wasn’t all bad, of course. Seeing as this wasn’t the moment for borrowed runway looks or multiple outfit changes, we got a glimpse of people’s most relaxed, personal style again. “I actually enjoyed how it felt more genuine,” Acielle says. “Some of the models really took their time getting dressed, or they tried some interesting mixtures, like a sweater over a denim jacket. They were still practical clothes, but with some twists. I always appreciate that element of surprise.”
Many of the people in Acielle’s photographs weren’t models, celebrities, editors, or so-called fashion people at all but stylish locals out for a walk or to run errands. The lighter fashion-show schedule gave her the rare opportunity to wander through her favourite neighbourhoods and photograph locals again; she even snapped a few on the Métro.
“It’s a completely different experience from shooting outside the shows because when you go to a show, you can shoot immediately—in 10 minutes, you’ve seen so many looks. But [to find locals] you have to walk around and look for little surprises, or if you see a background you like, you have to wait for someone to come along. It’s very interesting to see how people react because they’ll ask, ‘Who is this picture for?’ When I tell them it’s for Vogue, they can’t believe it,” she says. “It really brought me back to my roots when I started shooting street style in Antwerp in 2008 because I loved seeing students’ outfits and wanted to document them. Now we call it street style and people know what that means, but back then, you had to give a bit more explanation [as to] why you wanted to take their picture.”
Beyond the new faces and dressed-down looks, the biggest change in Acielle’s Paris photos might be the atmosphere. In some cases, it became more impressive, with brands choosing out-of-town venues that would normally be too disruptive to the schedule; she traveled to Versailles for Dior and the Charles de Gaulle airport for Balmain. Toward the end of the week, Acielle also took a break to shoot an entirely different setting: the city’s International Women’s Day march protesting sexual violence. “I felt an overwhelming sense of unity,” she told Vogue at the time. “[It reminded me] how different everything used to be, but at the same time, it made me hopeful and long for a post-pandemic future where we can fully celebrate life again.”
We’re optimistic that day will come sooner rather than later. It’s still hard to predict when—and if—Fashion Week and street style will return to their former glory, but we’re holding onto that sense of hope and recognising the silver linings. Below, scroll through 17 of Acielle’s favourite photos of the fall 2021 season, and come back for more of our street style coverage around the world.
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This article was originally published on Vogue.com