08 February 2012

Bill Cunningham New York

Bill Cunningham New York is a delightful documentary that made me excited for New York and also inspired by a man devoting his life to doing what he loves. I admire him so much.

Bill Is a photojournalist for the New York Times. He rides around on his bicycle and stops to take photos of the fashion on the streets. He is also an octogenarian.

The documentary featured a number of high profile journalism, fashion and art identities commenting on Bill's life - Anna Wintour, Iris Apfel, Annette De la Renta, Editta Sherman, Tom Wolfe and Brooke Astor. I recall reading an article about Iris Apfel late last year, and Bill Cunningham New York made me want to learn more about her. She truly has a zest for life, and an amazing fashion sense.

The founder of street style in the 1950s, Bill loves seeing what real women wear. He loves clothing that can translate from catwalk to sidewalk. And it's clear when he loves an outfirt worn on the catwalk - he stops to photograph it.
Although invited to hightown parties bustling with celebrities and socialites he said he most prefers the clothes women on the street wear. Because, unlike celebrities, real women choose their own clothes and style, and this is what makes them interesting. He said people ask him why he hadn't photographed a certain celeb at an event - and his reason is that their style didn't grab his attention.
Despite mixing with the social scene, Bill doesn't subscribe to living extravagantly. For years he lived in a shoebox of a unit in New York artists' residence Carnegie Hall - until relocated in 2010 due to development. He didn't have many clothes - his 'uniform' is dust jackets garbage men wore - they withstand the damage of a heavy camera around his neck. He also uses traditional 35 mm film in his non digital SLR camera. Hi hearing is failing, but he has an incredible eye for detail, assisting the photo editors with the layout of his columns, below.
He is a simple man - a journalist of scrupulous integrity. He doesn't accept payment for his work, and he also won't accept free meals or drinks when he is at events, citing he's there to work. A friend of his commented she believes he may have been born into wealth because of the simple frugal way he lives, and still sustaining a happy and long life. It's quite extreme really. He's friends with some of the fashion industry's biggest icons, but also relates to the grass roots of the industry - taking part in protests to save New York's garment district.

Aside from his dedication to doing what he loves, for the love of it only - was his acceptance and open mindedness towards New York's diverse community, despite his generation. He's friends with people of all ages, races and sexual orientation.

Another thing I noticed were his older female friends who were ageing proudly - looking glamourous - dripping with jewels and wearing luxurious clothing, and maintaining youthful spirit (Iris Apfel classes herself as 'the world's oldest teenager') but their faces were marked with age spots and wrinkles. It was beautiful to see.

Watching this documentary gave me a sense of excitement about what's to come when I go to New York. I thought about what clothes I will pack (the big issues) and the sights I'd like to visit. I'd LOVE to meet Bill! The documentary gave me the confidence to just be myself (in New York and elsewhere) - for individuality is interesting. Former Nepalese UN leader Shail Upadhya - providing commentary in the documentary, is certainly very happy wearing such individual clothes!

I came out of the documentary feeling so uplifted, and incredibly excited for my trip ahead. 

View Bill Cunningham's New York Times column here.

Read more about the film here.

I think the season of Bill Cunningham New York is now finished in Australia but you can buy a region one DVD at certain book stores and online. I highly recommend it.


  1. Pack very lightly for New York in the summer. It can hover around 40 degrees (100F) for a few days at a time. A sweater for evenings, and your best walking shoes. That's about it!

  2. I think I'm going to have to check this documentary out!

  3. How utterly fascinating. What a man. Thanks for posting about him!


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