Who The Heck Is Bill Cunningham?
I had a friend who used to brag about reading the entire Sunday NY Times front to back every weekend. While I could never commit to something that ambitious on a Sunday morning, I do try not to miss the Times' Sunday Style section, including (of course) those On The Street layouts of stylish NY'ers by legendary fashion photojournalist and eccentric, Bill Cunningham.
I'm such a fan of BC's in fact that I just re-watched Bill Cunningham's New York, the documentary that explores how he came to be the legend he is today as well as how he actually lives. Up until this film, those aspects of his life had been something of a mystery to many, including me. Not gonna lie - the whole experience left me feeling sorta sad for him. While I can appreciate his love of NYC style, I cannot help but feel badly about his living conditions. I mean he has spent most of his life sleeping in a tiny cramped space surrounded by filing cabinets full of negatives and riding that darn bicycle thru the congested NYC streets. Yes, he did live above Carnegie Hall, but I imagine the novelty of something like that wears off after a while. (Take it from me, cramped spaces are horrid places to live. Even worse? Sharing a cramped space with other people. I shared a tiny room in college with 2 other girls who smoked and wore my clothes. Need I say more?)
At the end of the film, our Bill is forced to leave his studio apartment (if you want to call it that) above Carnegie Hall and someone does help him find a real honest to goodness apartment with a kitchen, bedroom and bath, but there is still the matter of his clothes. Bill's uniform of choice? (In the fashion world btw, it's perfectly OK to have a uniform or signature look. In fact, many fashion big shots end up adopting a uniform or signature and then, simply wear variations of it over and over again. See Karl Largerfeld's ponytail, sunglasses and white shirts or Grace Coddington's head to toe black ensembles for starters.) As it turns out though, Bill's uniform is an actual uniform. (This might not be so OK after all.) We see in the doc that the flimsy blue jacket he is partial to is a replica of one that the street sweepers in Paris wear. Hey, I used to be all about slouchy uniform chic. I'll even admit to having once built my entire wardrobe around striped tees, pea-coats and sailor pants from Army Navy stores, but there comes a time when you’ve gotta buy a few nicer pieces to wear, items that don’t require you to sift thru crummy cardboard boxes on your knees in a dimly lit storefront.
The idea of all of this only makes me want to run out and buy Bill an alpaca overcoat (Forget the cashmere coat he admires on designer Michael Kors toward the end of the documentary. Alpaca is much lighter, warmer and a whole lot less irritating to the skin than cashmere.), a five course meal, a golden retriever (for companionship - I’ve always wanted one. They’re such beautiful and sweet dogs.) and finally, door to door car service in the more severe weather. Sure, he could still ride his bike during the Spring and early Fall, which everyone knows are the best times of year to be out and about in NYC, but car service is a lifesaver when the weather turns foul (either dangerously hot or dangerously cold). And someone once advised me that the coolest possible thing you can do is step out of a chauffeured car wearing super causal clothes, so maybe he could keep those blue Parisian street sweeper jackets after all?
*Photo Courtesy: Bill Cunningham DVD Photo, Amazon