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Jefferson Root Written by Jefferson Root
Mar. 24, 2011





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BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK at LACMA

Everybody knows that rain storms in Los Angeles are rare, and have the general effect of making Angelenos act as if they’re facing the apocalypse. Even so, the weather seemed appropriate for an event with a New York theme, and last night’s LACMA Costume Council program only started a few minutes late. 


One of ten arts councils at LACMA, the Costume Council is a nonprofit organization which supports the museum’s Costumes and Textiles departments.  In addition, they host a number of fashion-focused events each year for their membership.  Previous events have honored Mad Men Costume designer Janie Bryant and featured screenings of fashioncentric documentaries like
Valentino: The Last Emperor.


Last night’s focus was a preview screening of the Richard Press and Philip Gefter’s new doc Bill Cunningham New York.  For the uninitiated, Bill Cunningham has been photographing street fashion for the New York Times for well over four decades.  Now in his eighties, Cunningham works the way he always has, taking his camera to the streets of Manhattan on his Schwinn bicycle.  The film is a thought provoking, entertaining look at a man who’s followed his passion, and become an unwitting New York icon in the process. 


At the conclusion of the film, LACMA film department director Ian Birnie moderated a Q & A with Press and Gefter from the stage of the Bing Theater.  After a brief discussion, Birnie took a few questions from the audience, which revealed a fascinating anecdote about Cunningham which didn’t make it into the finished film.  It turns out that Bill Cunningham, before his rise to prominence as a photographer, was a designer working in New York’s fashion district.  One of the followers of his work was Jackie Kennedy, who asked Cunningham to dye a red Balenciaga suit of hers black so she could wear it to her husband’s funeral.  Press and Gefter promised that the DVD release of the film would include this and other bonus material.


In the evening’s only un-Cunningham like moment, the engaging Q & A was cut short so that the audience could attend the post screening reception, which had to be moved indoors from the courtyard due to the inclement weather.  The reception offered the chance to interact with the filmmakers and featured cocktails and a celebration of New York style street foods.


Information about the Costume Council can be found at www.costumecouncil.org, or by sending an email to costumecouncil@lacma.org.  For more info about Bill Cunningham New York, visit www.billcunninghamnewyork.com


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