Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Prêt a Reporter

This sweet looking guy is Bill Cunningham of the New York Times. We spotted him last Saturday on 57th Street on our way to the park with Baby E, not the first time I've seen him around town by any means, but never before when I was on foot and had a camera handy.

Way in the background you can see a tiny figure, roughly third from right, hurrying away in a camel colored coat. Cunningham had caught our attention as we passed him farther down the street, when he interrupted an earlier conversation to say, "Oh, that guy looks sharp, I've got to get him." He scurried into position and raised his camera to snap the camel-clad man.

Sure enough, the dapper fellow appeared a couple of days later in a slide show on Cunningham's what-they're-wearing blog, the topic of which was "tailored men's topcoats." His theme was that guys, or at least the ones who were catching his practiced eye, were abandoning scruffier habits of dress in favor of more "serious", i.e. more structured and stylish, outerwear.

I don't follow fashion news, and I don't even read Cunningham's interesting pieces unless Pam or my daughter Laurel call my attention to it for some reason. But I deeply respect Cunningham for the way he covers his beat, which I'd describe as ordinary people who array themselves for daily life with originality and flare.

He wanders the streets in his own conspicuously style-free garb on his elderly bicycle and looks for these folks and the clothes and accessories that seem to be catching on with them -- hats, bright scarves, leopard skin thises and thats, skirts pleated, biased, longer or shorter than the mainstream is favoring, whatever.

His readers may not follow the trends he spots, but they follow him with fascination. He's influential enough to be interesting to the fashion market, but he holds himself rigorously away from any effort to direct his interest toward a designer, brand or store. At shows, he won't accept so much as a glass of water, let alone any of the favors or goodie bags that are ubiquitous at such events.

From the feature stories about him that appear from time to time, I have the sense that he is highly skilled but unfailingly modest, and that he believes so strongly in the importance and human interest of what he does that he has turned over virtually his entire life to it.

You don't have to share the view that what people are wearing matters very much to feel moved to salute the commitment and integrity he brings to a craft that polls always seem to show is held in generally low regard by news consumers. He smiled cheerfully and nodded when he saw me taking his picture. Alas, he didn't take mine.

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