San Francisco-born, New York-based photographer Adam Katz Sinding is the sole force behind Le 21ème. Since moving to New York just three years ago, the 30-year old's site has garnered quite a following, with images appearing in just about every major magazine, and he has compiled an impressive list of clients that range from W Magazine and Vogue to Damir Doma and Marc Jacobs. We caught up with the photog, who talked about inauthentic street style, why he hates when his site is labeled as street style blog, Dior Homme under Hedi Slimane, and more ...
The Fashion Law – When did you start your site?
Adam Katz Sinding – In October 2007. A long time ago. Back when everyone else did (Scott, Tommy, they all started maybe 6 months before me) but I was in Seattle. So, it didn’t get to grow like their sites did, like immediately because its impossible to take photos in Seattle. I’d shoot maybe five people a month at the best.
The Fashion Law – How do you think you’re different from the other big street style photographers?
Adam Katz Sinding – Versus Scott [Schuman]. Well, Scott’s style has definitely changed quite a bit over time. He’s become less and less about fashion and more and more about the people and the light and stuff like that, which I actually really appreciate, and I think is really cool. Some of his photos are outstanding but I really only look at his stuff once every six months and I try to focus on a different aspect of things. He’s really big into showing people’s face and to me, that’s super disinteresting because you can do that anywhere. It doesn’t need to be fashion week.
Me and Tommy [Ton]: He’s the only one that I really look up to (even though he’s shorter than me). His site is the only one that I really look at because I get a lot of inspiration from him, and he has an incredible eye for detail. I feel like I do, too, but we’ll be standing side by side shooting somebody and then he’ll post this photo and I’m like, ‘What the fuck? How did you see that? I was right there and it didn’t even cross my mind.’
Then there are the other guys, like Phil [Oh], who are all about cute and fun and happy and for me, that’s bullshit. I don’t really ever mention the clothes, and I don’t care about trends. Phil really focuses on trends and I think that’s good. I actually don’t see the trends. I don’t pay attention to it. I just see something and I’m like ‘That’s cool' and take a picture. I don’t focus on leopard print and everyone wearing leopard print.
Also, I take it pretty seriously. I feel like me and Scott are a little bit too serious about it. Tommy still has fun with it, even though he does take it very seriously. I try really hard to avoid being friends with and meeting the people I take pictures of because I think that would ruin it. Then you build these biases and its just you taking pictures of your friends and that’s not fun. I like to feel like there is this sense of urgency; that if I don’t get this shot, I’m going to miss it and never get it. Whereas if its a friend, I can say, 'OK, I'll see you after the show and we'll go do photos.'
The Fashion Law – How has your work changed since you first started out?
Adam Katz Sinding – My first season, I’d take everyone’s photo. I thought everyone looked cool and then I realized, ‘Oh, this is a publicity stunt. She just wants her photo taken.’ And to me, that’s disgusting. Or I’ll take someone like that and I’ll chop their head off. So, its like, 'Cool, maybe it worked but no one knows it’s you.' And its not because their not attractive. It just shouldn’t matter.
The Fashion Law – So, how do you justify shooting Mira [Duma] and these other famous “street style” girls?
Adam Katz Sinding – Because Mira, while she is dressed, of all the Russians, she does it the best and she will wear brands like Calvin Klein or shit that’s really elegant. Then there's Ulyana [Sergeenko], who will wear super over the top stuff. My favorite picture of Ulyana is where she’s wearing black skinny jeans and a striped French sailor shirt and she has her hair up in a little bun and she’s wearing red lipstick and patent leather loafers. She looks incredible. And then the next day, she’s wearing a cape and a swim cap.
And Miroslava’s not provocative with it. Elena [Perminova] will show her stomach a lot and Elena will walk back and forth for the cameras five times, whereas Mira would never do that. Not even for Tommy or Scott. She doesn’t peacock around like everybody else. And I really appreciate that about her.
Also, I take a lot of photos because I know magazines will want them but that I never publish on my own site.
The Fashion Law – Why is the tagline of your site, “This is NOT a street style blog”?
Adam Katz Sinding – First, I hate the words blog and street style. It just generalizes everything and it causes you to look at the photos as a superficial thing, and then people just go to the site, thinking, ‘I’m going to find trends’ or ‘I’m going to find cool shoes.” And sure, the majority of people that go to my site are probably looking for that, but for me, I am trying to show a personality or show an idea of who the person is and just show something beyond the superficial, even though it is, without a doubt, superficial. It is fashion week and it is fashion people. But, I try to show something beyond that.
I approach it more as photo-journalism. I always think of some kid sitting in Iowa, or whatever, who is probably never going to go to Paris Fashion Week, and I am trying to show what it felt like to be there and what these people look like. What the mood was like and just give an idea, because before I went, I had no idea what it was going to be like and it was just so cool to look at Tommy’s site and be like, ‘Wow, that looks really fucking different than what I’m experiencing.’ And yeah, the clothes are cool but I don’t think I’ve ever gone to any of these sites and been like, ‘I need to dress like that.' I don’t want to tell people how to dress and I definitely don’t want to be commercial and tell people what to buy. They can go to other sites and do the “Shop This Look.”
The Fashion Law – Why don’t you want to do that?
Adam Katz Sinding – Because I don’t care about the money and I don’t want to tell people what to do. That would just create a bunch of uninteresting drones. People like to read magazines and know what to wear next season, but I feel like that breeds laziness, and no creativity will come from it.
The Fashion Law – You have worked with a lot of people. What is left for you to do?
Adam Katz Sinding – I don’t know. I am really happy. All of my friends are working really hard, doing collaborations and they’ll probably end up making a lot more money than I do, and that’s great, but I don’t need to be a millionaire. When I moved to New York, I had debt and it was very day-to-day. Now, I’m fine. I’m happy. I am able to live as freely as I can and don’t have to sit down at a job. I’m sure things will evolve and I will just go with the flow. I like to do one thing really well, and don’t necessarily like to change things up. My driving force is trying new places. Doing the same thing but in new places, and you have to adapt when you’re in new places because people dress differently.
The Fashion Law – I like the photos you did for Damir.
Adam Katz Sinding – That’s a funny story, actually. My first men’s week in Paris, I snuck in backstage. I got invited with my buddy and I snuck backstage and took photos and posted them. Then the next season, I emailed them and said, ‘I’d love to shoot this season. Here are my photos from last season.’ And at first they were like, ‘No, we’re not interested.’ And were kind of upset that I snuck backstage, but then five minutes later they emailed me back and said, ‘Damir would like to purchase the portrait you took of him as his official press portrait you took of him and we would like to know if you’d be interested in being our official backstage photographer.’
The Fashion Law – What was your first season? One season before Damir showed the boys with the headbands, right?
Adam Katz Sinding – Yeah, it was one season before the headbands. That was my first official men’s with them. No – I did a women’s before that. It was the one with the mirrored glasses.
The Fashion Law – I read this thing you said: “I just found out about Hedi Slimane in 2003/2004. That changed everything for me.”
Adam Katz Sinding – I remember exactly. I came to New York with my mom and we went to Jeffrey. I used to wear DSquared2 and had Louis Vuitton wallets and Gucci. I used to work at the W Hotel for 10 years and I’d wear Prada Sport running shoes and a Dolce & Gabbana belt that said D&G on it and I had a faux hawk and I used to wear leather cuffs on my wrists. And I thought it was super cool. I’d wear these skintight shirts and in Seattle, it was so cool. Then I came to New York and I remember I was looking at DSquared2 and there was this whole rack of black and there was this florescent blue hoodie on the rack and it was like painfully florescent blue. I went over and was like, ‘What the fuck is this?’ and I looked at the price and was like, ‘What the fuck?’ And then I looked through the whole rack and it was all winter 2003-2004, I think.
There was no branding, which blew my mind because I didn’t really understand why anyone would pay that much money and not have people know what they were wearing. To me, in Seattle, that just didn’t make sense. I wanted people to know that I spent $500 on a belt. That was super important to me. So, I was like, ‘Why would anyone buy this Dior Homme stuff?’ And then I tried it on just to be funny because I could never afford it and I tried the jeans on and I tried some jeans on, and I was like ‘This shit is fucking amazing. It fits amazing. The details are incredible. And no one would know except me.’
The Fashion Law – How old were you?
Adam Katz Sinding – I was 21, I guess.
The Fashion Law – And so, Dior Homme kind of changed it all for you?
Adam Katz Sinding – Yeah. I thought that was so much cooler. Its so much better to just do it for yourself because even when I would wear all of that stupid shit, no one ever really said anything and even if they did, it was just annoying. So, I wanted to start doing it for myself, and I was looking at Hedi Slimane and it was way beyond my ability financially but I thought, ‘This is what I want to do. This is what I want to look like.’
It wasn’t even just about Dior Homme. It was more about the silhouette and the idea of wearing all black. I used to wear a lot of color. My mom would wear all black and I would ask her why because it didn’t make sense to me.
The Fashion Law – So much of what we label as street style is inauthentic. Not everyone talks about it but it seems so obvious.
Adam Katz Sinding – I can’t really talk about it because it incriminates other people but its definitely not what people think it is. There is a lot of stuff that’s set up and a lot of people are, of course, dressed by the brands and its not like they weren’t before but it wasn’t to the same end. Before it was just about the front row photos. Its probably not that much different than it was before, its just that there’s more of it. There’s more documentation, and there’s more money to be made, and brand are going to capitalize on the opportunities because it is basically free marketing.
You can make that argument for anything, though. Even me. If a friend gives me free clothes, I am going to wear them because I feel like I should. Even if its not 100% my style, I’ll wear it once just because they made a gesture to give it to me. And it creates a false reality because I would have never bought that shirt and never would have worn that shirt if my friend didn’t give it to me, but then someone takes my photo wearing it and its like, ‘Oh, Adam wears that brand.’
But no, its not real. Half of the shit you see is like the 3rd time they’ve crossed the street to get the photo BUT I try not to do that whenever possible.
The Fashion Law – Do you think the whole personal style blogging thing is a bubble that’s very temporary in nature?
Adam Katz Sinding – Yes, this all is but no. I don’t know. I don’t think the bubble will burst just for the fact that even though some of these girls charge so much to do sponsored posts, its still cheaper than buying a page in a magazine and the reach is so much bigger and growing. You do that post and someone can see it three years from now and learn about the brand versus that magazine is in the garbage in two weeks. But I think print is so much more valuable. Web is whatever. Its not tangible. I can look at my own photos on my own computer screen. When I see it in print, I’m like, ‘Wow, that’s real.’ So, its tough to say. There’s too much flexibility and there’s too much room for it to grow for it to burst. And there’s so many people willing to do it for free. These girls will wear anything if the brands give it them for free.
The Fashion Law – Would you ever shoot a Kardashian?
Adam Katz Sinding – If the moment was right. I’ve shot people I never thought I would shoot. And I shoot people that I’m adamant about not shooting. You catch them in this off moment when they are actually being themselves and its beautiful and you’re like, OK.
The Fashion Law – What are you obsessed with right now?
Adam Katz Sinding – Traveling, I guess, and finishing my apartment. I am obsessed with my apartment.