4 March 2013

Paris, Milan and New York may spring to mind when you think of the world’s fashion capitals – but University of Queensland researcher Dr Toni Johnson-Woods is on a mission to prove that some of the most interesting styles are on the streets of emerging fashion cities.

Dr Johnson-Woods recently spent 10 days in Shanghai taking photos of everyday fashion and speaking with passers-by about their style for a book she co-authored with University of Technology Sydney’s Dr Vicki Karaminas.

Shanghai Street Style will be officially launched in Washington DC on March 27 and is already book of the month at Waterson’s book chain in the UK.

Dr Johnson-Woods describes the book as a “celebration of everyday fashion”.

“What we choose to wear says something about you – the mood you are in, the gender you are, the reason you are out. Fashion is part of our everyday performance,” Dr Johnson-Woods said.

“In Shanghai, I carefully did not choose young people or those who wore ‘designer’ clothes – I chose those who wore an item that told me something about them or about fashion.”

The opportunity to go to Shanghai for the project was not only due to Dr Johnson-Woods’ expertise in popular culture, but also a matter of ‘being at the right place at the right time’.

She was going to Taiwan as a keynote speaker for the South East Asian Popular Culture Association and was asked by Dr Karamanis if she was willing to take a one-hour flight to Shanghai afterwards to take the photos and do the cultural research.

“This was an entirely new area for me. I call it my guerilla assignment – we chased people, took photos, collected data and permissions, and rushed away before the police could stop us,” Dr Johnson-Woods said.

“No doubt about it, Shanghai is one of the most stylish cities I have visited – less costume-y than Tokyo, less formal than New York, and more colourful than London.

“Many of the people we photographed were living in Shanghai but came from other places – Korea, Europe, Japan.”

Over the 10 days in Shanghai, Dr Johnson-Woods and her photographer took 1500 photos and interviewed more than 300 people about their fashion style.

They captured everything from people’s shoes to handbags, hats and accessories.

“We focus on the emerging fashion capitals because it is there we believe the real ‘play’ with fashion happens,” Dr Johnson-Woods said.

“Street fashion is not about designer labels, it’s about the playful space between personal style and fashion dictates.”

Following the success of Shanghai Street Style to date, Dr Johnson-Woods and Dr Karamanis have plans to travel to other cities to capture fashion culture – and Brisbane is on the cards.

“We are doing Sydney and Mumbai this year, and Cape Town, Sao Paulo and Moscow maybe next year. I am particularly keen to get some cricket fashion in Mumbai, so that will dictate when I go there,” she said.

“I want to do Brisbane and already have a photographer lined up, however we haven’t locked in a time for this yet.”

She stressed the importance of having a quick turnaround for the books as fashion changes so rapidly.

“Hopefully the following books will hit the shelves by the end of 2013 and the start of 2014. We are aiming for quick turnaround as fashion can be so mercurial.”

Dr Johnson-Woods is the founder and inaugural president of the Popular Culture Association of Australia and New Zealand. She has written on reality television, animation, manga and popular fiction.

View a gallery of photos from Shanghai Street Style here

Shanghai Street Style can be bought online or at selected bookstores.

Media: Toni Johnson-Woods, t.johnsonwoods@uq.edu.au or Caroline Bird, UQ Communications, 07 3365 1931 or c.bird1@uq.edu.au