Monday, January 2, 2012

Bill Cunningham, Fashion Monk


Happy New Year, readers! I'm settled back in New York after a lovely vacation, and last night Jeff and I watched Bill Cunningham New York (yay, Netflix streaming!). I was truly blown away by it; it is certainly the most inspiring fashion documentary I've seen.

It follows a period in the life of 80+-year-old Bill Cunningham, style photographer for The New York Times. His two columns, "On the Street" and "Evening Hours", portray a vast array of New York fashion, from street to society.

But the most intriguing thing is his personal life. As I said to Jeff last night, he's sort of like a fashion monk. He was one of the last hold-outs to live in the Carnegie Hall artist studios, and believes in simple living to the point of asceticism. He works constantly, roaming the streets on a bicycle--wearing the same thing every day, eating the same meals. His tiny studio has no kitchen, and he sleeps on a wooden platform surrounded by filing cabinets that hold negatives of every picture he's ever taken. He's never had a romantic relationship, and goes to church every Sunday.

And his work philosophy is certainly admirable: he's inspired by the way real people wear clothes on the street and in life. His approach to fashion photography is very kind-spirited and never mocks his subjects. One of his first jobs was at Women's Wear Daily, but he quit after an editor changed his copy to make fun of the women he photographed.

Have you seen this film? If not, do! I think DIY types will especially appreciate his down-to-earth take on fashion. It's a great reminder of why we do what we do. As Bill quoted tearfully in an award acceptance speech: "He who seeks beauty shall find it." (Just try not to get choked up when he says it!)


Bill Cunningham New York Trailer from Gavin McWait on Vimeo.

33 comments:

  1. This looks good! And my husband is going out to watch the bowl game today so guess I know what I'm watching while he's gone!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I just watched this last night too! He seems like such a nice guy, and I now desperately want to hang out in Carnegie Hall with his elderly lady friends - they were all awesomely eccentric. That 96 year old was SPRY.

    I thought it was quite sad towards the end that he seemed to be struggling with an internal conflict. I was distracted by wrangling a toddler at that stage so I don't know if it explicitly stated, but it seemed like he was feeling a tension between his religion and his sexuality. Was that your take on it?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks for recommending this documentary. I'll definitely look it up!

    ReplyDelete
  4. i loved this movie so much (and wrote about it on my blog too)! bill knows what fashion is for -- it's our second skin, it's the "armor we use to get through everyday life, doing away with it would be like doing away with civilization itself."

    i can't imagine wanting to only document what others are doing fashion-wise, and not playing with it all myself, but i'm glad that documenting is bill's calling! he's extraordinarily good at it.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Awesome! I hadn't heard of it, but just added it to my Netflix instant queue :-)

    ReplyDelete
  6. Not living in the States, I'd never heard of Bill Cunningham. He sounds absolutely fascinating and very gracious with it (which in the worlds of fashion and photography isn't always a given). I adore stories of people so passionate about what they do that almost all else falls by the wayside. Presumably the documentary will be shown at some point in the UK but, if and when, I'm not sure I can wait that long! And so the DVD is now on its way... Thank you for recommending it.

    In the meantime, all my best wishes to you for a happy and very productive New Year!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Just added this to my Netflix queue! Thanks for the recommendation!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thank you so much! I kept seeing this and bypassing it because I didn't get it -- I have to say that I thought Bill Cunningham was a comedian (and I hate broadcasts of comedy performances, except for a couple). I always read his column without ever really noticing his name. My shame. I can't wait to sew today while watching this film.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I also recommended this documentary on my blog last September when I saw it in the theatres. What a great film about some fascinating characters in the fashion industry. I loved it.

    ReplyDelete
  10. This looks fabulous! Oh thanks so much for the recommendation. After watching the trailor, I'm especially intrigued by the fact that he himself, doesn't dress up in marvelous clothing. Kind of reminds me of my dad in a way who is a true connoisseur of music, yet can't read music or play an instrument to save his life. It's so refreshing to meet someone who's so positive about something that so many are negative about!
    xoxo, Sunni

    ReplyDelete
  11. Thanks for sharing! I'm excited to watch it.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I just found your blog this Christmas- my New Year's resolution is to improve my sewing skills and sew more vintage and I have already learned so much here! I live in New York and it is a dream of mine to run into Bill Cunningham on the street...one day...

    ReplyDelete
  13. I loved this film when I saw it last year at a film festival. I wrote about it on my blog, too.

    http://www.mymusiclifeblog.blogspot.com/2010/06/concert-and-film.html

    It's also a great New York City film.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Even way out here in Indiana we adore Bill Cunningham! I'm Hoping maybe he'll snap you someday!

    ReplyDelete
  15. I totally agree. He is the cutest, sweetest little guy. I just want to give him a big hug. I saw the documentary last week and loved it. Bill is just so endearing.

    THE PARADERS

    ReplyDelete
  16. I'll definitely have to give this a watch. Sounds interesting. I can always use more Netflix recommendations!

    ReplyDelete
  17. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Ohh- this sounds great! Anyone who leaves their job after people turn something positive they do into something negative has my vote!

    ReplyDelete
  19. Thanks for sharing this with us/me. I have Netflix streaming too and this looks like a great film.

    Happy New Year!

    ReplyDelete
  20. My wife and I watched this on iTunes a while ago. What an amazing documentary! Bill Cunningham comes across as such an uncompromising artist, both unknowable and completely lovable. And I'll never forget the retired U.N. worker and his crazy suits.

    ReplyDelete
  21. So nice of you to let us know about this film. Thank you! Happy New Year!!!

    ReplyDelete
  22. This looks great, Gertie. I'll have to watch it. I got choked up just reading, "He who seeks beauty shall find it." Thanks for the tip and hope 2012 exceeds every expectation.

    ReplyDelete
  23. How funny! This doc has been in my Netflix queue for a couple weeks now and I almost watched it last night. I decided not to when I realized finishing it would have kept me up past my bedtime. Now I'm looking forward to watching it tonight as soon as I finish dinner!

    ReplyDelete
  24. I just finished watching this, thanks to your recommendation -- and thank you so much for the recommendation! I went from not knowing who Bill Cunningham was (and having only a passing familiarity with On The Street) to absolutely adoring the man by the end of the film. While they're obviously quite different in presentation, he reminds me of Tim Gunn in some ways. We need more men like the two of them in this world.

    The one thing I had a hard time coming to grips with was that his love of fashion doesn't extend to dressing himself. For me, any appreciation of clothing always comes back to what I want to wear, how I want to present myself. On the other hand, he does talk about using clothing to present yourself as a piece of art, as a statement, and in that vein he does present himself exactly as he is, no more and no less, and I can get behind that.

    His reaction to the question about what religion means to him was particularly endearing. He strikes me as such a deep person, and yet simple, honest and open and yet still private about some things. What a wonderful subject for a documentary. I hope the world gets to keep him for many more years.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Thank you so much for recommending this! I've watched the first half, and am very much looking forward to watching the second half after work tomorrow. He's such an interesting person! I love his views on money and not letting anyone own you. I aspire to be more like him and make do with less. Working this job that I hate for what seems like not a lot of money feels like such a waste of my life. I need to find something better!

    ReplyDelete
  26. I'm thrilled to see your take on this film. It's been in my Netflix cue for awhile now and I'm completely excited to watch it. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  27. Thanks - we subscribe to streaming Netflix and I will look for this!

    Isn't it interesting how so many men in the fashion industry seem to wear the same clothes over and over, but women (possible exception - Carrie Donovan) can never get away with that?

    ReplyDelete
  28. I watched this the other day and totally enjoyed it! He is so unique and has such a great outlook on fashion and life in general! I love it that he is so focused and has single purpose. Bill is amazing!

    xoxox,
    Sandee
    from katespade-aholic.com

    ReplyDelete
  29. I love this movie! It was so inspiring. I watched with my husband and then the next week with my best friend.

    ReplyDelete
  30. I enjoyed this film so very much-- but it makes me so homesick for NYC! Bill Cunningham is such a genuine person, he comes through as being so true to his purpose, I wish more of the world had that sense of commitment. His neighbors at the Carnegie studios are certainly a bunch of characters! I would love to have cocktails with the whole lot of them and try on hats.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Stayed up late last night and watched the Bill Cunningham docu. it was great! Can you imagine what he has in all those file cabinets! And isn't it funny how he keeps finding styles that are really just copies... ahem... yes, I'm thinking I would be pretty mad too... if someone was copying my stuff! Hopefully he is leaving all his files/negatives to be donated to some museaum... so sad that they were going to close up the Carnegie Hall apartments... they were beautiful!

    ReplyDelete
  32. I loved this documentary. Thanks for the recommendation!

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

© Gertie's Blog For Better Sewing. Powered by Cake