At first glance, a documentary about fashion and fashion photography, well, I couldn’t think of two things I was less interested in. But from the minute Bill Cunningham New York began, I was hooked. A film about a man obsessed with taking pictures of hats, legs and shoes, I would soon learn, had almost nothing to do with fashion, and everything to do with history, heartbreak and art.

The world of fashion strikes me as an ugly place, filled with beautiful, ugly people, and Bill Cunningham, although considered by his peers, “The most important person in the world,” is quite alone in that world, and in the world at large.

Cunningham has little need for fabulous as I see it, because he is a true artist. His art is the kind where youth, society and commerce may have a strong presence, but have little importance.

Clothes can enhance your beauty and clothes can mask your fear, but they cannot, and they do not make the man. Just look at Cunningham, 80, in the same shirt, slacks and worn blue coat, shining like a quasar in a galaxy of stars.

Bill is a rare and lone bird, hovering over the hard edges and straight lines of a tightly stitched industry, pulling poetry from the stage and the streets, pasting together the society girl and the ghetto boy, creating a collage of the human experience.

Design alone does not make art, nor is there beauty in numbers, lunches, and a list of Who's Who. Ideally, fashion is outerwear for the soul's innerwear, and a woman can't expand her heart by putting on the right dress.

But Cunningham embodies expansion; he does not swim with the sharks in shallow water--he lives on the bright side, and in the deep end. The divine and broken self, the artist; who takes colors off the runway and onto the walkway, with determination and grace, a vision of breathing streets, hats, legs and shoes; a vision of life.

March 31, 2012