Sunday, June 26, 2016

"We All Dressed For Bill"

The "Bill" in the title of this post would be William (Bill) J. Cunningham, street photographer extraordinaire, who passed away yesterday in New York at the age of 87.

 photo of Bill Cunningham from 2010 by Scott Schuman, from his blog The Sartorialist

If you're not familiar with Bill Cunningham, I suggest you watch the 2010 documentary by Richard Press, Bill Cunningham New York, or read the 2009 profile in New Yorker magazine, or some of the lengthy articles currently in the New York Times, where Cunningham worked for almost 40 years documenting the fashion parade on the streets of the city.   Wearing his uniform of a blue French worker's jacket, khakis, and black sneakers, pedaling his bicycle through the streets of New York with camera in hand, he was a New York icon, and in fact, was designated a "living landmark" in 2009 by the New York Landmarks Conservancy.

In an article he wrote for the New York Times in 2002, Cunningham referred to himself as a "Record Keeper"

MOST of my pictures are never published. I just document things I think are important. For instance, I’ve documented the gay pride parade from its first days. It was something we had never seen before. I documented every exhibition that Diana Vreeland did at the Met, but every picture is of her hand on something. I do everything, really, for myself.

I suppose, in a funny way, I’m a record keeper. More than a collector. I’m very aware of things not of value but of historical knowledge. I remember when Chez Ninon was closing in the mid-70’s. I went in one day, and the files were outside in the trash. I said to the secretary, “Well, I hope you gave all the letters from Jackie Kennedy and Mrs. Rose Kennedy to the Kennedy Library.” And she said, “No, they kept a few, but they felt that the rest were too personal, so they threw them out.” I rescued everything I could and still have it.

Bill Cunningham was an important inspiration for me when I decided to start my blog.  I was familiar with his work from the style pages of the New York Times - I loved his weekly video series, "On the Street" which included his voice overs - and was inspired by the joy he found in documenting what people were wearing.  He went everywhere - fashion shows, fund-raisers, parties, or his favourite observation corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street.  He was known to attend multiple events in one evening, spending only a few minutes at each one getting a few photos and then hopping on his bicycle and heading off into the night.  I will confess that at one point I entertained the fantasy of being the female version of Bill Cunningham in London, Ontario.  The thing is, no one else can, or could duplicate what he was doing, because no one else had his eye for THE thing, the detail, the colour, the tilt of a hat, the tie of a scarf - whatever it was that made something special enough to be captured by his camera lens.  He had an appreciation for the eccentrics and creative dressers, and was a gentle, kind, and humble man. It was always about the subject, never about him, and he tried to remain as anonymous as possible when he was out shooting.

The photo above was taken during my most recent trip to New York, when I was out for dinner with the Idiosyncratic Fashionistas.  I'm holding my treasured "Bill Cunningham" necklace made of Perler beads by Victor-John Villanueva.  New York was the only place I could wear it where people actually knew who it represented.

So of course, as a huge fan of Mr. Cunningham, my ultimate wish was to see him on the street or at an event during one of my visits to New York.  When I was there in October 2011, I arrived at the Manhattan Vintage Show only to learn that "I had just missed Bill".  This happened again the following year, and I began to think I would never see him in person.  My friends, The Idiosyncratic Fashionistas, had been photographed by Cunningham several times, as had a number of the other women I knew in New York.   

During a visit in October 2013, I was invited to tag along with the IF's to a party they had been invited to at the Tribeca Issey Miyake store.  The theme was red and black, and I had purchased a red and black Japanese kimono style coat at the Manhattan Vintage Show that day, so I was appropriately attired.  Mid-way through the evening (you can read about the party on my blog here) I spied a familiar figure walk through the door of the store - a spot of blue and khaki in the midst of a crowd of black and red - and my heart started to race.  Jean was standing next to me, and I immediately began poking her with my elbow and saying "It's Bill!, it's Bill, it's Bill!"  I had met designer Jean Paul Gaultier earlier that day, which was an absolute thrill, but it paled in comparison with coming face to face with Bill Cunningham.

I snapped three quick shots of him as he was photographing people at the party, and almost passed out when he approached Jean and me.  I tried hard to act nonchalant, as if I lived in New York and seeing him was no big deal, but failed miserably.  I babbled something about how much I loved his work and how he was such an inspiration, and kind gentleman that he was, he nodded and said thank you.  I'm sure I blushed as red as the pants I was wearing, but I felt like I had just won the lottery.   Then, the unimaginable happened.  He took a photo of Jean and me standing on either side of a man  wearing a wildly colourful Issey Miyake outfit.  I had just been photographed by BILL CUNNINGHAM!!  When Anna Wintour said that "We all dress for Bill", she didn't just mean all the fashion industry people, she meant everyone in New York who has ever secretly, or not so secretly, dreamed of appearing in one of his photo collages in the New York Times.  And on the following Sunday, my dream came true.  Click here, and scroll down to the bottom of the photo collage, to photo #45.

Thank you, Mr. Cunningham, for giving a small-town girl her ultimate style validation.  Your passionate commitment to documenting the ever-changing vista of personal style on the street inspired so many of us, and New York will be just a little less exciting without the chance of a "Bill" sighting.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

High Society

It feels very strange to be writing about attending a fashion/fundraising event when only a few days ago 50 people were shot to death in a gay bar in Orlando Florida.  My deepest sympathy goes out to the family and friends of those who were killed or injured in the attack, and once more, I am very grateful that I live in a country with stronger gun legislation, and for the love and acceptance I have in my life.

When I was visiting Vancouver, Melanie was able to secure us invitations to a chi chi event - a private reception for celebrity photographer Emma Dunlavey and fundraiser for Beauty Night Society.  The event was hosted by LuvnGrace Entertainment at LEONE, an elegant palace of a store that sells luxury goods from designers like Prada, Dior, Alexander McQueen and Georgio Armani, to name a few.

Yours truly and Melanie with Colleen Tsoukalas, who told Melanie about the event

Melanie and I weren't sure what to expect, as this was not the kind of thing we attended regularly.  According to the Facebook description of the event, (it) "will host an elevated list of key influencers in Vancouver and those who are notoriously savvy in the art scene: a truly high-fashion mix of local socialites and celebrities, models, photographers and up and coming “cool” kids that have both industry legitimacy and international resonance."  
Not being influencers, socialites, celebrities, etc. we assumed we would be the proverbial "fish out of water".

As soon as we entered the store, we were greeted by Vernard Goud, of LuvnGrace Entertainment, wearing a vintage jacket and a custom Boar's head neckpiece by Carolyn Bruce Designs

LEONE is a spacious store full of beautiful stuff, all of it priced well beyond my budget.  That didn't stop me from enjoying the eye candy, like this lovely appliqued dress.  I liked the simple black and white colour scheme of the mannequins which made the clothing the focal point.
Although I can never imagine spending $1,000 on one piece of clothing, I can appreciate that when you are dealing with that kind of price point, there is a quality and creativity in the use of fabric and embellishment that you're never going to find at Forever 21.  Kitten soft cashmere knits, fabulously bold prints, and uniquely constructed garments drew my eye to many of the pieces on the racks.

I really, really wanted this uniquely shaped down-filled jacket, which was on a sale rack downstairs where the slightly less expensive brands were featured, but even on sale it was more than I could spend.  Sigh.....

Anyway, back to the people...

I was intrigued by this woman's brightly coloured mesh jacket and I liked how her shoes matched the pops of red in the pattern.

Melanie (left) and Denice Thompson (right)

I complimented Denice (above right) on her facinator and her beautiful jacket, and that lead to a long, enthusiastic conversation about style, ageing, and life in Vancouver.  Melanie and I were buoyed by our encounter with her and it set a positive note for the the rest of the evening.

Carolyn Bruce Designs had brought a number of pieces of her Steampunk jewellery to the event, The massive size of her work was eye-catching enough, and I also  loved the Game of Thrones vibe of the styles and elements used. 

My favourite was the Geisha-themed neckpiece, but I also appreciated the appeal of a James Bond theme and the always popular skulls.

Carolyn Bruce, wearing a stunning multi-layered piece of her own design featuring two eagle heads

Rich, in the photo above, accessorized his blue ensemble with custom-designed insect-themed brass rings and collar piece by Carolyn Bruce.

These young women are Janice Skoreyko, (left) founder of RAW Foundation, and Emma Smith, owner and founder of Zimt Chocolates.  Zimt is a raw, vegan chocolate with a lovely smooth texture and a hint of coconut flavour (I tried one of the samples of course).

Beauty Night Society founder, Caroline MacGillivray, introduced British-born photographer Emma Dunlavey to the crowd.  Images from Emma's book RAW, a collaboration with Pamela Anderson, were enlarged, framed, and on display, (above right), and a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the photos, (as well as a copy of the book which was auctioned off) went towards assisting Beauty Night Society in providing wellness, life skills, and makeovers for impoverished women.  

There were some very well-dressed men at the event.  Photographer David Bong looked very sharp in his patterned jacket and ascot.

Monny (above) has owned Envision Optical Designs in Kitsilano for the past 25 years.   His photographer and style consultant's eye for detail is consultant is evident in his personal style, from the eyeglasses, striped scarf and contrasting shoe laces.

Bikram made a lasting impression because he was beautifully dressed and delightfully charming.  David Bong had just tried to win him over to wearing ascots and had tied the print scarf around his neck just before I took this photo.

Melanie snapped this photo of Yuliana and myself at the end of the evening.  We were surprised at how much we had enjoyed ourselves chatting with people who we would have initially thought we would have nothing in common with, which just goes to show that if you are open to new experiences and willing to step outside your comfort zone, you can end up having a marvelous time.   

Thanks very much to Vernard, of LuvnGrace Entertainment, for the invitations to the event

Monday, June 6, 2016

Gisele Bundchen, Eat Your Heart Out

So by now you've gathered I recently spent some time in Vancouver, getting up to all kinds of shenanigans with Melanie.  I took a lot of photos while I was there, including some of the scenery and a wonderful event that Mel managed to get us invited to, but those are saved for future posts.  Right now, I want to show you the results of a photo shoot I did with Melanie, shot by, and starring myself and Melanie (and a little help from a tripod and a remote).

But first we had to get ready....

Model #1 - Melanie, blogger, expert in creative posing and notorious farker of all things fabric, putting finishing touches on her own makeup after wielding her colour magic on model #2 (see below)

Model #2 - yours truly, blogger "of a certain age", decided that blue brows and lips were the way to go (go blue or go home) and my makeup artist was only too happy to oblige.

Location Scouting....

We found this public art installation - "Alien Terrarium" by artists Elisa Yon and Amanda Arcuri in Queen Elizabeth Plaza, next to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, which wasn't far from where I was staying. The work features some of the invasive plant species that have moved into the Vancouver region, and despite the fact I knew nothing about the work or what it represented when we chose the location, I think it was an apt choice, given that bloggers could be considered an invasive species...

We are both wearing thrifted outfits - Mel's is a multi-layered confection of faux fur, lace and polyester, while I chose to keep it simple in stretchy, slinky, big-shouldered black. 

I borrowed Mel's bug-eyed blue sunnies for part of the shoot as they complemented my lips and brows sooo nicely, and helped me feel like I was incognito.

This was the first time I had worn this dress, and I was delighted to see that the silver pattern on the dress gave the illusion of curves where I don't actually have any. 

I think this is the only shot I got of Mel looking all dreamy and reflective - isn't she gorgeous?  The shades of green in the background set off the colours of her outfit wonderfully.

 The rest were more like the above, in which Mel demonstrates the "Fuck, Yeah" method of posing

The pink robe/coat had excellent swish-a-bility

Modelling is exhausting, and sometimes you have to sit down on the job

The approach each of us took to our posing was very indicative of our personalities.  While I readily admit to not caring what people thought of us as they passed by, I was conscious of the fact that I pretty much have the same facial expression in every photo.  I've been very self-conscious of my teeth my entire life, and have trained myself to smile without showing them, and I was keenly aware that Melanie is much more "expressive", to put it mildly, with her face.  The two collages below show what I mean....
Serious me

Not-so-serious Mel

A young man walked by us carrying this beautiful guitar and Mel asked if she could borrow if for a photo.  She has no problem getting into character at a moment's notice.

At a certain point we both became rather giddy and decided that was the perfect time to move to the other side of the installation and take some shots together.

Apparently that was all it took to loosen me up

We had no inhibitions left by this point, and I'm sure the guys sitting on the benches not far from where we were posing wondered what the heck was going on.

You can find the "serious" version of this photo on Mel's blog here

Melanie has already put two posts up on her blog about my visit, so if you want to see more of what we got up to, head over to Bag and a Beret.  She has included a little video I choreographed of us meeting for the first time.

And in a delightful turn of events, one of the photos of me that Mel put on her blog was incorporated into a post on the blog Warning: Curves Ahead.  You can see the post here.  I am in fantastic, and very humbling, company.

It was such a treat to meet Melanie in person after a couple of years' worth of emails and phone calls.  More of my West Coast report coming soon!