On Fashion and Bill Cunningham

Alcune riflssioni sulla moda della nostra ragazza di Melbourne; Bill Cunningham come Jane Austen?

Anyone who has been to Melbourne will know that people there mainly wear greys and blacks. It’s a kind of uniform from which colours are banned as if to counterbalance the abundance of natural light and the glorious boldness of the sky’s vivid blue, the luscious green of the numerous parks and the ocean’s ever-changing hues. In contrast, Milan, with its old buildings and foggy winter weather, offers a grey backdrop for the colourful outfits displayed by Milanese of all ages rushing to catch the metro, riding beautiful vintage bikes (sometimes while talking on the mobile phone and smoking a cigarette all at once) and openly staring at each other in the street or on public transport, instantly recognizing each other’s social class by the handbag’s brand or the perfect (or imperfect) cut of the coat.

Milan Fashion Week has just finished and this brings my focus onto something that does not usually play a great role in my life (as a Melbournian, I mainly wear grey or black, I don’t follow trends and I spend very little on clothes and accessories), but that I nevertheless very much like: Fashion.

BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK. A film by Richard Press. A Zeitgeist Films release. Photo credit: First Thought Films / Zeitgeist Films
BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK. A film by Richard Press. A Zeitgeist Films release. Photo credit: First Thought Films / Zeitgeist Films

I first became interested in the world of fashion after watching a movie on Anna Wintour, the legendary editor of American Vogue, but what drew me deeper into its many expressions and meanings was a documentary on Bill Cunningham (Bill Cunningham New York. A film by Richard Press. A Zeitgeist Films release).

Bill was a well known Boston born New York fashion photographer who died in June 2016. He was easily recognizable riding his bicycle through the streets of New York with his blue jacket and black sneakers. His simple, minimalist lifestyle was in stark contrast to the glamorous world of fashion that was the focus of his art. I see him as the Jane Austen of fashion photography: carefully documenting changes and trends in the fashion world whilst never being part of it, from the sideline. Bill was an outsider by choice, preferring to observe with just a hint of irony and never judging. His deeply Catholic core did not translate into prejudice, but rather into a full acceptance and fondness of the diverse mix of humanity he photographed in the streets of New York.

In an increasingly virtual, intangible world, fashion remains something you can use, wear and touch. Most importantly, from time immemorial, fashion has served the purpose of marking us out as members of a tribe, of displaying our cultural background and revealing the class that begot us. It reflects what’s happening in our economies, societies and politics; a crucial ritual in the theatre of life.


Freddie Lamech


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