Les bleus de travail de Bill Cunningham (1929-2016) - A Homage {Paris Street Photographer}


Homage to Bill Cunningham from Paris

In Bill Cunningham New York the 2010 documentary by Richard Press about legendary street style photograher Bill Cunningham, the spectator is little by little invited to measure a contrast. On the one hand, there is the sometimes over-the-top display of sartorial effects that the lens man loved to document, while on the other hand there is the Spartan lifestyle of an artist who prized his freedom above everything else. His passion for fashion served up raw on the streets meant that nearly everything was designed in his life to make him unstoppable in the pursuit of this daily quest. Except for his military-campaign style bed, his other furniture were... filing cabinets. Ditto for his clothing. He, like some other fashion figures had simplified that aspect of his life too: wore de facto a uniform. It seems that for some people it is the fact that they just have enough time to occupy themselves with fashion, but not to wear it in all of its changeable forms...

This did not meant that Bill Cunningham did not have style, au contraire. Just like for Karl Lagerfeld, his silhouette, meant to be primarily functionally clothed, was instantly recognizable, along with his bike and camera.


In the documentary consecrated to his œuvre, Cunningham says in passing at one point that his trademark blue jacket, a French « bleu de travail » worn by manual workers in France, he goes to buy at the BHV department store when he is in Paris for Fashion Week. He wears it until it rips. It looks like a long Maoist jacket dipped in neonish Royal blue instead of marine blue. It's meant to be resistant and practical. Cunningham could have worn jeans or « bleu de Nîmes » to match his French « bleu de travail » for cultural consistency, but he wore instead beige chinos the color of his filing cabinets.

I remembered he had named this shopping address of his and decided to go take a picture of the section where bleus de travail are sold there, in that BHV basement where the photographer went to get dressed for his work among the screws, bolts, painting pots and what not that are famously all stored one level below street level for Parisians keen on repairing their homes themselves.

I don't know if Bill Cunningham considered himself to be a communist. But in many ways, the simplicity of his lifestyle and his taste, make you think that if not politically, at least, personality-wise, and for himself, he led an existence that was aesthetically blue-collar in its work ethic.

When I saw that some of his dear bleus de travail were sold under the label T 0 or « taille zéro », I couldn't help but smile and wondered if himself was attracted by this meeting of fashion's vainest lingo - FYI, you can buy sizes ranging from triple 000, to 00 and 0 up to size 6 - and the blue-collar's unpretentious world of daily toil, his universe, in short.

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