Sunday, June 26, 2016

New York Fashion's Bill Cunningham: RIP

Yesterday the news broke that longtime New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham had passed away, at age 87. Cunningham's fashion posts and videos were a staple of the Times' fashion pages for several decades, and one of my weekly online destinations for years. Rather than a long tribute I'll direct readers to the sparkling 2010 documentary about Cunningham's life and work, Bill Cunningham New York, which Richard Press directed and cajoled Cunningham, thankfully for viewers, to participate in. It was streaming on Netflix a while ago, but should be available on DVD via that service and others, and at libraries. Its portrait of this simultaneous complex and bare-bones man, who elevated street fashion photography to an art, is poignant, perhaps even more so as the diverse, sometimes chaotic New York he chronicled through the lens of its fashions is being hypergentrified out of existence.

Below is a great clip of the animated Boston-native Cunningham speaking about what he considered the greatest fashion show of all time, 1973's "The Battle of Versailles," the "competition" pitting five  French haute couture designers (Yves Saint Laurent, Hubert de Givenchy, Emanuel Ungaro, Pierre Cardin, and Christian Dior) against the US's ready to wear stars; one of them, the then-young African American designer Stephen Burrows, and his spectacular  models, stole the show and electrified the French elites and the fashion world, as Cunningham relates, so moved at one point by the revolution he and everyone was witnessing on the catwalk that he cannot speak. So far we've come, so far we've gone backwards, so far we still have to go.  But we will have Bill Cunningham's New York (and Paris and Milan) fashion photographs as guideposts from the past, and templates for the future.

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