Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bill Cunningham: Quips, Quotes & Words of Wisdom

See it!

My friend Karen and I saw Bill Cunningham New York last spring as soon as it hit the theaters in San Francisco. We were charmed, enchanted and inspired by his big smile and unparalleled passion for photographing style and devotion to beautiful clothes. The film is now out on DVD so I've had the opportunity to watch it again. Well, actually three more times. I had fun collecting some of his quotes. I hope you enjoy them! I'd love to hear which ones inspire you and why. 

Here are the quotes I captured:

"The best fashion show is definitely on the street. Always has been and always will be."

"Let’s get snappin’ and crackin’."

"Oh my god! Look at those shoes!"

"I let the street speak to me."

"A little tape and we’re back in business." 
(Said with a grin as he repaired the tears in his black plastic rain poncho.)

"Everyone has taste, but they don’t have the daring to be creative."

"We’re in the age of the cookie-cutter sameness. There are few that are rarities, someone who doesn’t look like ten million others."

"You have to do three things: you have to photograph the collections, you have to photograph the women on the street who have bought the things and how they are wearing them and you have to go to the evening events."

"It’s not what I think, it’s what I see."

"It was marvelous!"

Bill shooting a peacock. Still from Bill Cunningham New York

"It never occurred to me that I was just waiting. It’s always the hope that you’ll see some marvelous exotic bird of paradise, meaning a very elegant stunning woman or someone wearing something terrific."

"If you don’t take money, they can’t tell you what to do, kid. That’s the key to the whole thing."

"Money is the cheapest thing. Freedom is the most expensive thing."

"Who the hell wants a kitchen and a bathroom? Just more rooms to clean."

"I eat with my eyes."

"Look at this beautiful child. The dress is terrific, asymmetrical and on the bias. You never see that and that’s not a model. That’s a private person that bought their own clothes."

"Most of the time I miss it, but I try." (When shooting the Paris runway.)

"The wider world perceives fashion sometimes as a frivolity that should be done away with in the face of social upheavals and problems that are enormous. The point is, in fact, that it’s the armor to survive the reality of everyday life."

"I don’t think you could do away with it (fashion). It would be like doing away with civilization."

"Fashion Week in Paris is exceptional. It educates the eye."

"Can you see all the paparazzi going crazy over Catherine Deneuve? I’m interested in clothes. I can hear people say 'He’s gotta be the dumbest one in the crowd. He didn’t bother photographing her.' Well, she wasn’t wearing anything interesting."

An up-to-the-minute anachronism. They say he has every negative he ever shot. What a treasure chest of fashion and cultural history!

"It (photography) has to be done discreetly and quietly. Invisible is the word."

"I just like fashion as an art form of dressing the body."

"If we all went out looking like a slob like me, it would be a pretty dreary world."

"They wore clothes that gave women enormous security through the elegance of cut and taste and refinement. There was nothing frivolous about them." (Referring to the Paris couture houses in the 50’s.)

"Looking at these collections, I look for what I think a woman could wear, would wear and whether it would fit a human body other than the model. I’m very attuned to that. If it isn’t something a woman could wear, I have no interest in it."

"Oh, child!"

Caught in action, photographed by The Satorialist

"My dear, it’s not work, it’s pleasure."

"I don’t work, I only know how to have fun everyday."

And the quote that choked Bill with tears (and consequently me) when he received the Officier de l'ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture:

"It’s as true today as it ever was, he who seeks beauty will find it."

Friday, October 14, 2011

Vogue Nostalgia

Just out: Nostalgia in Vogue, edited by Eve MacSweeney with a forward by Anna Wintour.
I've always had an emotional reaction and attachment to certain Vogue photographs. I started reading Vogue when I was fifteen and the photos by Helmut Newton, Irving Penn and Richard Avedon showed me a world that was rich in elegance, beauty and sometimes an edgy provocative sexuality. I would tear out the photos and save them in a three-ring binder that I still have. Through those photos, I experienced a vision of glamorous, worldly women and what they wore. Although it wasn't just the outfits; it was the powerful combination of attitude, surroundings and clothes (sometimes not much!). The photos told a story that I wanted to know more about, delve into and hold close.

Clothes can have a huge emotional tug; they are a marker of how we want to show ourselves to the world. The awareness starts in those coming-of-age years when we are trying to figure out who we are, how we fit in and what we want to be. I grew up defining life events by what I wore, or sometimes what I wore and why I wore it created the event and made the memory for me, for better or worse or bittersweet.

Ever since it started in 2000, the Vogue "Nostalgia" column is the first thing I turn to when I receive a new issue. When I first read "Nostalgia", I realized that I wasn't the only one who felt such a personal reaction to certain Vogue photos, experiencing them as talismans for a future self and the clothes as life-defining.

Photo from Nostalgia in Vogue, Marimekko hand-printed dress and sandles.  Photographed in Finland by Gordon Parks. 

When I heard that Vogue was publishing a compilation of these columns, I pre-ordered the book, it arrived yesterday and I've been studying the writing and the photos every chance I get. On page 88 is an essay from the April 2008 issue of Vogue that is especially evocative for me. In her poignant essay "A Backward Glance," Elizabeth Kendall tells of her first encounter with a Marimekko dress in 1965 and what a life changing experience it was. Her mother died right after she discovered Marimekko and my mother died right before I saw a Marimekko dress for the first time.

I made my first trip to California when I was nine and my aunt, uncle and I drove to Big Sur and had lunch at Nepenthe and I was awed by a hip waitress wearing a Marimekko cotton canvas dress. The cool dress, the endless Big Sur horizon and the loose hippie Nepenthe vibe cinched my decision to move to California "as soon as I get old enough." When I got back to New Orleans, my aunt sent me a black, white and gray Marimekko fabric dress that she made for me. I wish I still had that dress. (In addition to being surprised to read that someone else had a profound moment seeing a Marimekko dress worn for the first time, by crazy coincidence the woman wearing the dress in Kendall's story was Robin Von Breton, my daughter's high school English teacher!)

The book is a collection of sixty-three essays by authors, designers, musicians and actors such as Joan Didion, Margaret Atwood, Karl Lagerfeld, Anjelica Huston and Manolo Blahnik. Patti Smith writes about finding a discarded stack of Vogue magazines when she was little and how those photographs were her first introduction to art and fashion.

Lisa Fonssagrives, in a Lilly Dache hat, photographed by Irving Penn in 1950. The photo that inspired Patti Smith for her "Nostalgia" column, "When Hats Had Names."

I've saved this cover since it appeared in 1988. It's of model Michaela Bercu photographed by Peter Lindbergh.  I was drawn to the elegant theatricality of the jeweled cross on the Christian Lacroix jacket surprisingly worn with faded jeans. It wasn't until I read her "Nostalgia" essay, "When High Meets Low," did I find out she did that accidently because the matching skirt was too small!

One of my all-time favorite "Nostalgia" stories was written by Sophia Coppola. It doesn't appear in this book and I'm curious to find out why. It seems an obvious choice. When I saw Sophia's essay in the October 2003 issue I had a shock of recognition. I had unconsciously stored that 1974 provocative photo of Charlotte Rampling in my memory and here it was again with Sophia's thoughts and feelings about it. So much of what she said I related to.

The magic of nostalgia is that it's not just in the past. It's happening right now. It's a touchstone from the past, but it also inspires the present and the future. When we feel a reaction to a photo or artwork or writing, it's for a reason. Qualities about it touch something deep and if we take a little time to let those feelings surface, we learn about ourselves.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Mille Fiori

Our Route Book, 214 pages!

Our trip to Germany was not just about wining and dining with friends and trying on designer clothes. It was also about touring the Alps in a classic sports car. Seriously. We spent four days with forty-nine other classic cars zipping through picture perfect German Black Forest villages, crossing the German, Swiss or French borders a couple times a day, zooming around Mont Blanc and motoring past luscious green Swiss hills.

Our friend, Christof Hillebrand, who is a classic car collector and aficionado, invited us on an amazing adventure called the Mille Fiore, a 1200 kilometer road rally. He loaned us a sexy Italian car; a sleek dark blue 1974 Alfa Romeo Bertone 2000. I've never thought much about any car I've owned, as long as it had four wheels and it took me where I wanted to go. But after spending time with so many beautifully designed cars, I have a new outlook. Being in a sexy car does make one feel more sexy and stylish.

You may ask, what about the outfits? What about the clothes? Not a priority on this adventure for a couple of reasons; sports cars have small trunks and we were sitting in a car most of the day. So accessorizing was huge, note Pucci scarf and Hermes hat below. And I learned that a cool car is a fabulous accessory!

I fell in love with "our" Alfa. I grew very fond of the throaty, robust  tone of the tuned exhaust .

The event started in Lake Konstanz, Germany, on the garden island of Mainau with all the cars gathered in front of the peachey-pink Mainau Palace. We had a couple hours to meet people and admire the other cars and then we were off!

Our friend Christof's intensely elegant Mercedes Benz 600

Not knowing anything about a road rally, I imagined we'd casually drive a few hours a day through beautiful scenery, with plenty of time to daydream and chat. But I soon learned that "Road Rally" in Europe is a serious sport. As the navigator, I was handed a two-inch thick spiral-bound book filled with pages of route hierglyphics. Being directionally challenged my first reaction was "You're kidding, right?"

A page from the Route des Alpes book.
After our bumpy start, it got us where we had to go
and I sure appreciate the team that put this together.

Matt and I roared through the starting gate and the first forty-five minutes on the road we had a "heated discussion" ("which way do I turn?" "I don't know!" "You have the book, what does it say?" "I can't tell where we are!""I have to do something, tell me which way to turn!" "Stop yelling!" "I'm not yelling!"...) But our relationship survival instincts kicked in and soon we developed a routine. I felt more like a human GPS, "Point 5 kilometers, roundabout, go straight" "Point 1 kilometer, town of Kreuztingen, continue straight". On the first day, we had no time for conversation or casual gazing out the window.  But by day two we got into the game of it and I was loving our rally on the road.

Fun to follow this Austin Healey MKIII.

Cool to be followed by this Jaguar XK 120 OTS

Quite a line-up! Our lunch stop on day three near Chamonix. 

In the Alps with the Austin Healey and a Triumph TR 5 Pi

Our route

The Imperial Palace Hotel on Lake Annecy, where we stayed on our second night. Each night we stopped at a beautiful hotel. The Mille Fiore event planners did a great job of organizing all the details. 

The rally ended back at the Mainau Palace where we started. I felt a sense of accomplishment; we kept pace with the Europeans!