Thursday, September 29, 2011

what to watch: bill cunningham new york


"Fashion is the armor to survive every day life." - Bill Cunningham

Before Scott Schuman and Garance Doré, there was one man on a bicycle (before bicycles were cool) documenting the sartorial street scene of New York City. And I just have to say: Bill Cunningham is the man. He lives a simple life in a studio apartment in Carnegie Hall (before he was evicted) with a colorful cast of eccentric elderly neighbors and floor-to-ceiling file cabinets chock full of photo negatives, riding his bike to-and-fro throughout the city from event to elegant event (never accepting so much as a glass of water--!!!--so as to maintain his objectivity), and celebrating the diverse beauty on the city streets with his (film) camera day in and day out (he was even snapping photos at a gala held in his honor), all while humbly waving off praise with a bashful grin.

These are the people I imagine populating New York City. These are the people that draw me to urban life--creative, unyielding, independent, honest. I know that's not the case, and that most inhabitants of The Big Apple are probably soulless money- and power-hungry liars and cheats who will do anything to get ahead (Too harsh? It's the world we live in.), but people like Bill Cunningham give me hope. He doesn't take payment for any of his creative projects (his job is his job and everything else is just his) so that he can maintain complete control. "If you don't take the money, they can't tell you what to do," he says. "That's the key to the whole thing."He wears the same blue coat every day but has spent his entire life photographing the elaborate costumery of strangers--letting them shine while he darts about like a shadow. He is absolutely, adorably giddy. His life is his own.

Although far from "stylish" himself, he truly appreciates what it is that makes fashion so great. So much of our lives is spent immersed in the mundane, and the simple joy that comes from putting on a prismatic pattern or a stunning abstract hat, can transform the everyday into the extraordinary. He has no interest in photographing celebrities "in their free dresses," or taking pictures of people simply because they are famous. He might sit at a runway show and keep his camera in his lap the whole time if it doesn't excite him. His eye is impeccably trained to spot genuine style--the perfect harmony of beauty, originality and daring.

As I sat watching this delightful little film, completely and utterly charmed by this nonagenarian oddball and trying desperately to will my broken camera back to functionality, I thought about this blog and how much I really rely on it to carry me through each day. Most days I really enjoy the challenge of putting together an outfit that is different and interesting, and I love seeing what all of you are mixing and matching on any given day. I've always known it but it can be easy to forget: fashion isn't about designers or trends or "free dresses." It's about expression. It's artistry. It brings an element of fun to every day, even if all you have planned is an eight-hour stint spent flat on your ass in front of a computer screen. And we all need that fun. We all need to celebrate our eccentricities, to exercise our creative minds. True style is the epitome of art for art's sake--dressing for fun, not functionality or even for fashion, is truly liberating and makes each day a little bit brighter.

Thank you, Bill Cunningham, for being so awesome.

(Tomorrow (I hope) we will be back to regular programming. Looks like I'll be buying myself a new camera this afternoon.)


  1. I love avant garde people who really aren't avant garde...they just GET IT on a whole other level.
    Thanks for sharing!

  2. This sounds great. Unpretentious and wonderful. Will try and check out the movie and will definitely check out the blog. And just think how wonderful New York and the world would be if people were honest and creative and eccentric and not soulless money grubbers and hipster. Ah well.

  3. I saw this movie too. Absolutely loved it and loved that Bill was so down to earth.