In a world where pretty much anyone can go viral on social media as long as they have a phone, internet access, and a good/bad/weird/dramatic idea, it’s become hard out there for A-listers. Well, obviously not, like, truly hard, but a bit more difficult to compete with career influencers for attention (not to mention for lucrative endorsement deals). Their solution? The expertly taken, looks-candid-but-is-almost-certainly-not streetstyle photo.
Yes, I mean those paparazzi shots featuring your favorite celebrity striding from grocery store to car or from car to coffee shop in an enviable outfit. You may have saved a few to Pinterest when hoarding future wardrobe inspo. (I definitely *will* wear a fuzzy jacket and crop top combo one day.) You may have marveled at said star’s cool off-duty style, their ability to just “throw something together.” You and everyone else.
“A paparazzi-captured image is almost automatically more eye-catching and viral than an Instagram post,” says celebrity photographer Miles “Diggzy” Diggs, who’s snapped everyone from Rihanna and Kendall to the Hadid sisters. “People tend to be drawn toward the voyeuristic element.” There’s something intoxicating about seeing a Very Famous Person when they’re not posing for an official shot. For those of us constantly craving more access to stars, the perceived intimacy these photos impart is practically addictive. Plus, there’s the added excitement that comes with wondering where they’re going and what they’ll be doing in their chic clothes. The mystery is half the allure.
Except (and sorry, it kinda crushed me too) there’s not actually much that’s spontaneous about celebrity candids. Or should I say plandids? Not unlike the long con of the no-makeup makeup look, a lot more strategizing goes into these ephemeral moments than it might appear. And the celebs are almost always in on it.
Los Angeles photographer Tim Regas often gets requests to take photos of stars in specific settings—usually promoting a street-style outfit. Although it’s generally celebrities’ stylists or managers making contact with Regas, the celebs themselves are ultimately calling the (literal and figurative) shots for what is a surprisingly large team effort. Getting just one casually-out-and-about pic can involve a stylist, personal or corporate PR, a manager, friends, and, finally, a venue. “They all play a role in getting a photographer and celeb connected for an image,” he says.
Goal number one for celebrities is to land their plandids in popular tabloids and glossy fashion magazines (hi), says New York City photographer Christopher Peterson. The more exposure a star gains this way, the more likely they are to get work from brands that want, say, their water bottles or new sneakers featured in paparazzi photos.
It doesn’t matter if an actor or musician is promoting a huge movie or album at the time—the ongoing influence is what’s important here, because those who really lean into their specific streetstyle approach are thrust even further into the spotlight. Take Hailey Bieber, says Regas. “She has a great stylist plus her own charisma that allows for a variety of looks that are ‘on brand’ for her. And now fans actively want to see those looks.” As in, if Hailey’s street-style photos were like a subscription service, her followers would happily sign up. (Business idea, anyone?)
Same goes for Rihanna, Gigi and Bella Hadid, Dua Lipa, and a handful of other stars who are consistently seen in paparazzi photos wearing covetable ensembles outside of Met Galas or movie premieres. The personal brands they’ve carved out for themselves via street style—and the photographers ensuring they’re seen—constantly put them at the forefront of our minds.
Maybe even more mind-blowing: The street-style photos themselves can become another income stream…for celebrities. There have been industry rumors about certain stars who’ve had a financial stake in the seemingly unplanned photos of themselves. Kim Kardashian, ever the strategist, is said to have worked directly with top photo agency Splash News to earn a cut of sales. “I’m surprised more people aren’t doing it,” says Peterson.
There’s something intoxicating about seeing a Very Famous Person when they’re not posing for an official shot.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how all this behind-the-scenes info is supposed to make us regulars feel. In some ways, getting a peek at how the street-style sausage (sorry) is made lessens the thrill. But it’s also kind of like getting sucked into an incredible novel—reality is beside the point as long as it makes you feel something. And what I’m often feeling while scrolling through these pics is: Hell yeah, great outfit idea.
Plus, the fact that these paparazzi photos manage to stand out in the 24/7 content hive of the internet says something else: The list of people who get to call themselves famous may be everchanging, but the voyeuristic nature of humans? That’s going to be here as long as the cameras keep flashing. ■