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Aug 18

How Photographer Lee Oliveira Went From Snapping Influencers at Fashion Week to Coaching Them

Helena Bordon

Helena Bordon

Photo: Lee Oliveira

In Paris this past winter, Lee Oliveira took his seat at the Fall 2018 Rochas show next to two overzealous women. They’d squeezed themselves into the front row, pushing well-known editors and buyers to the side so that they could snap selfies. As the lights dimmed and the models started walking, the women began talking to each other. Loudly. Oliveira overheard one ask, “Who is this designer?” To which the other replied, “I don’t know; who cares?” As a street style photographer for the past seven years, Oliveira has seen it all. Including wealthy, aspiring influencers who approach him to take their picture in a head-to-toe Céline or Gucci look they’d just purchased. They’d ask once, twice, three times, until it became a recurring theme nearly every day of Fashion Week. And he wasn’t the only street style photographer they targeted. Oliveira saw an opportunity and decided to pursue a side career in coaching up-and-coming fashion bloggers.

It started when a PR friend from Brazil, where Oliveira was born and raised, asked him why there were so few Brazilian girls being photographed on the streets during fashion month. “I told this publicist it’s more interesting to photograph an editor with a distinct personality and personal style, or someone who has great relationships with the brands already. I thought, maybe I can use everything I’ve learned from just observing people and help some of these girls with their style and knowledge, and also help them understand how to sustain their influence over the next five or 10 years.” Oliveira took on five clients to start, including Helena Bordon, the daughter of Vogue Brazil style director Donata Meirelles; Brazilian actress Marina Ruy Barbosa; and Camila Coutinho. Not only did he help curate their wardrobes, but he also taught them about proper etiquette for attending shows, how to carry themselves on the street, and the importance of relationships. “Know who the editors are and the designers. Don’t just sit on top of a press release at a show—read it,” he says.

Knowledge for Oliveira has come in the form of years spent dutifully observing the body language and conversations between stylists, publicists, buyers, and editors. “I don’t have very much of a fashion background,” he admits. “When I first came to New York in 2011, I was the second generation of street style photographers after The Sartorialist, Jak & Jil aka Tommy Ton, and Phil Oh. I knew I needed to step back and really observe everything and analyze how everyone acted, and I began shooting people based on my instincts. I watched carefully the new editors going to the shows, how they carried their bags, how they walked, and I learned so much about how to give people a story to talk about or a trend to discuss through one image.”

As the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, and in the age of the influencer as cash cow, it can help push a business forward. Oliveira also helps his clients with entrepreneurial pursuits. He gave Bordon the guidance and contacts she needed to translate her growing popularity into a sunglasses brand in Brazil. Her label, By Helena Bordon, currently boasts 40.7k followers on Instagram, while her personal account has a following of 1 million. “What’s next after those pictures fade away on Facebook or Instagram?” Oliveira asks. “What if people forget about Instagram entirely in the next few years? Are you going to be able to channel your influence into something sustainable? Can you turn one of your signature style pieces into a business or collaborate with a like-minded brand? These are the questions I ask the girls when we first meet and continue to ask as we work together on reshaping their image.” According to one influencer outside of the fashion space, Josh Ostrovsky aka The Fat Jewish, the era of making money off of an Instagram picture and all of its subsequent likes may be coming to an end. He told CNN last week: “Everybody’s just like, ‘Wait. I could go out and hold those hair enhancement gummies’ or ‘I can go out and hold a product, and I can make money.’ I just think people need to learn how to actually build things from the ground up. That will take you farther than the Internet.”

To get ahead in an oversaturated world of fashion influencers, says Oliveira, it takes not just sharp style but an entrepreneurial drive. And, of course, knowing when to step back and not stand front and center at a runway show (or squeeze into a seat that isn’t yours).


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