20 May 2012

Bill Cunningham New York

This morning I had the goal of watching two Vittorio De Sica movies, an early neorealist specimen (Shoeshine) and a later one of glossy gloom (could not decide which one, partly the problem), but I left the apartment and discovered Los Angeles wrapped in the arms of summer. What did I do?

I watched Bill Cunningham New York instead. Another day, perhaps when there's an overcast, I'll revisit the tortured interiors of De Sica. Today, something else. The sunshine inspires locals to free themselves from the cells of their rooms, so I'll watch a documentary that's an externalized view of the human soul.

Bill: See a lot of people have taste, but they don't have the daring to be creative. Here we are in the age of the cookie-cutter sameness. There are few that are rarities: someone who doesn't look like they were stamped out of ten-million people looking all the same.

While watching the documentary I had plain and fancy thoughts. Like: 'normal' is a sketchy illusion of appearance that's purchased through familiarity. One struggles to picture strange, and knows it better upon encounter. Strangeness is a projection of the imagination, and a portrait of the human soul in conflict with 'reality.' Normality is acquiescence to a mass and delusional perception of reality.

When we dress, do we manifest a thing inside us, or are we projections of other people's fantasies that grow from their visual readings; do we attempt to tame and steer their fantasies by controlling our image, as we endlessly attempt to control our uncontrollable lives?

Bill: [asked if he wants fish at a charity dinner] Oh, I don't want anything. I eat with my eyes.

I want to dress in a way that can only be attributed to me, so that when I die and my friends want to remember me, they'll see me in a thing that sticks out in some way, some sharp image for their memories so I don't blur into a clothing ad or some random other person. My clothes are my flag which I carry to claim a land of memories.

(the dog, lol)
Bill: [editing his photo page with the art director or something] Oh no, you don't cut her arms. Are you crazed? (He: "Oh, excuse me.") Keep her hands in. My God John, where's your sensitivity? She's probably the most elegant ... woman -- or one of the most elegant women in New York. Oh you wouldn't know, what am I talking to you about that stuff? (Bill begins a laugh.) You're a lumberjack, here I'm talking dresses to you. (Bill lets out a genuine laugh. He: "Oh, are you talking to me? I was just completely ignoring you all that time.")

Thoughts both rich and cheap: a person who doesn't care about their clothes has a diminished view of their worth as a being and a physical, spatial object. The view is limited and encourages mediocrity and complacency -- buying clothes others wear because others wear them, buying whatever is easiest to buy (which is different from buying what's affordable). Seems most people transition along with shifting fashions in their social sphere. As with all else, it seems best to care all the way or care not at all. And by 'care not at all' I mean somehow really not care, in a way that either means you never find yourself in the same clothing store twice, or you find yourself an effigy of a cartoon character and in the same clothes all the time, which I think is an interesting way to crystalize a particle of your being. Seems okay to be the same person every day, every day, or to be a different person every day -- but to be in the middle, that seems like trying to be other people, for some reason.

Bill: Why the world perceives fashion as... uh... sometimes a frivolity that should be done away with in the face of social upheavals and, uh, problems that are enormous. The point is, in fact, that fashion -- uh -- you know -- uh point of fact it's-it's the armour uh to survive the reality of everyday life. I don't think you could do away with it. It would be doing away with civilization.

Bill: I think she's a poet with uh clothes. But a very fine poet.

Artistic representation is a way for one to engage with ambiguities and combat ones struggle to cope with the fluidity of emotions.

Iris: It's really hard to describe oneself because, I think, one lives very often in other people's visions. I see myself as the world's oldest living teenager. Because I have such a good time, and I try to get as much kick out of things as possible -- and all my little animals [note: stuffed animals] who by the way are very jealous of me, and so I have to give them jewelry. Otherwise they bite.

Final thoughts: it's slightly funny this man who's devoted his life to fashion dresses in such a plain way himself, a 'contradiction' as he calls it. He doesn't go to many movies, doesn't watch tv, isn't into food. His iconic blue jacket: a cheap purchase from Paris, something street sweepers wear. His bike: some generic Schwinn. His apartment: a tiny studio.

But firstly, funny to think he's made these simple things 'his' (his fashion), and secondly, you don't have to bomb a city to be obsessed with war.

What's more, his personal plain style makes him seem accessible in an industry that can often feel exclusionary. The street fashion photography of Cunningham has a human dimension the runways lack; it's not necessarily the supermodels he wants to capture, but regular people who feel super.

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