“We didn’t want to become resigned to a sense of darkness,” say the organisers of new print sale States of Change, which sees some of the world’s best-loved photographers come together to fight voter suppression in America
Election day in America is looming. On the November 3 – a mere three weeks from now – it will be revealed whether the turmoil of the Trump administration will continue for another term, or a new, more hopeful era will prevail for the Democrats under Joe Biden. It is undoubtedly one of the most crucial elections of our generation, and the fate of the result lies in the hands of just five key swing states: Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Arizona. With the future of the country hanging in the balance, “a small group of artists and friends trying to make a difference” have launched print sale States of Change, which is raising money to support local groups working on the ground in these vital states to fight voter suppression and to get out the vote.
The sale has seen donations from a staggering 150 artists and, among them, some of the most celebrated names in photography, including Gordon Parks, Larry Sultan, Mario Sorrenti, Nan Goldin, Susan Meiselas, Sally Mann, Carrie Mae Weems, Cindy Sherman, Dawoud Bey, Ed Ruscha, Alec Soth, Catherine Opie, Stephen Shore, Robert Frank, Steve McCurry, Hank Willis Thomas, Kim Gordon, and many more. Running until this Sunday (October 18), each print in the sale is 10 x 12 inches and is priced at $150.
States of Change is organised alongside the Movement Voter Project, which has selected 42 of the most impactful local community-based organisations working in the five key swing states to send proceeds to. With a focus on young people and communities of colour, Movement Voter Project works to strengthen progressive power at all levels of government by helping donors – big and small – support local community-based organisations to get out the vote, fight voter suppression, and galvanise communities to build infrastructures that will lead to lasting change. “We support hundreds of incredible organisations that both turn out unlikely voters and organise communities to grow their power and create transformation, from policy to the streets. We believe that supporting local movement vote groups is the most effective and most cost-effective strategy to transform our country,” say Movement Voter Project.
Photography by Khalik Allah, via States of Change
“In this short period of time before the election, groups are working on everything from early vote education and mobilisation to polls protection to fighting voter disenfranchisement,” the team behind States of Change explains of the objectives of the sale. On what drove them to action, organisers say, “there’s the prevailing sense that the country and our democracy are spinning out of control, and that we are powerless to stop it. We didn’t want to become resigned to a sense of darkness and had to act. Inspired by the change artists made with the Pictures for Elmhurst project, we decided to band together again to support these amazing non-profits. Every dollar we donate will make a real and direct impact on voter turnout.”
States of Change runs from October 14 – 18, 2020 – buy your print here.
IN OUR NEW WORLD, where travel is no longer advisable and social distancing mandatory, it has been a bit hard to connect with Lizzo. She has been on vocal rest in her home in Los Angeles, while I’m mostly isolated in my house on the East Coast. When a window of time finally opens, she settles in before the Zoom camera dressed casually, her sweater falling off her shoulders. She looks even more youthful than her 32 years, with her hair in two buns, reminding me of another princess, the fictional Leia from Star Wars. Both women took on the world and won. For Lizzo, this was not necessarily in our national script; for a Black woman it is never a given. But Lizzo’s script is an updated one. As she sings in “Scuse Me”: “I don’t need a crown to know that I’m a queen.”
This is not the first time I have encountered the singer. On my birthday last year, my teenage daughter gave me tickets to her concert at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. She knew I would be ecstatic because every morning, as I pedaled away on my stationary bike, Lizzo’s music filled our home. It had been a long time since I first visited Radio City, on a class trip to see the Rockettes. In my memory, they were a line of leggy white women kicking the air—maybe a woman of color or two was included, but they are not who I remember. This time, the Black woman onstage would leave an imprint.
As my daughter and I made our way to our seats, we passed through one of the most diverse crowds I have ever seen at a concert: queer men, older than I am, holding hands; suburban-looking women with young girls; people who drove their SUVs through the tunnels or across the bridges, judging from the license plates of the cars blocking the streets outside. All came to see Lizzo—in gold lamé pants with THAT BITCH embroidered down each leg—probably for the same reason my daughter and I did. Her music was a part of our daily lexicon—a means of communicating a myriad of emotions at breakneck speed.
Driving home from the concert, I was struck by the sense that I had experienced something singular. Lizzo is the kind of artist who speaks to multitudes because—in an era of fake news and lying politicians and stressed-out white Americans shouting racist words at stressed-out people of color—she was committed to positivity. This despite the trolls going after her for her race, her weight, her sexuality. Anyone who could understand what it was like to be targeted felt spoken to by Lizzo. They were seen by Lizzo and were taking her lead to love themselves a little bit harder.
But when I speak to her in late summer, last year’s gathering at Radio City feels very far away. Though I still do the bike in the morning and Lizzo’s songs still fill our home, we are in the middle of a global pandemic and a new civil rights movement, sparked by a police killing in a city Lizzo lived in not long ago. We are nearing 200,000 deaths from the coronavirus in the U.S., and the deaths continue to mount.
“I’m in a hot spot,” she tells me, referring to Los Angeles, where she’s lived since 2016. “I’ve been in my house every single day. I can count on my hands how many times I’ve actually left. I’m fortunate that I am in that position. I really had guilt about that, early on.” She is acutely aware that the lockdown orders can put people in dangerous situations. “A lot of times, staying home isn’t staying safe. There are so many levels to the butterfly effect of this pandemic—not just the sickness but the emotional and mental effects. That is what keeps me up at night. and that’s what stresses me out.”
“I always thought I needed at least two and a half white boys to make a song. One to engineer and one to produce. But now I can sit in my room and be my own engineer and producer”
What Lizzo has not indicated, at least initially, as one of the stresses of the moment is the killing of George Floyd by Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, where her musical career ignited and where many of her friends and colleagues remain. Lizzo knows the streets where Chauvin knelt on Floyd as he called out to his deceased mother. She is familiar with the places where the protests occurred. “I saw one of my friends say, you know, ‘Fuckin’ cop just shot another Black man. Let’s all head out,’ ” she tells me. On Instagram, days after the killing, Lizzo wrote: “Protest is not the end of progress, it is the beginning.” She received almost 300,000 likes and 3,000 comments.
Like all conscious Black people, Lizzo says she has “been brokenhearted by this country” since she was a child. “My dad taught me very early on about what being Black in this country is. When I learned about Emmett Till, I was so young. And I have never forgotten his face.” The formation of Black Lives Matter in 2013, after the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin, was a somewhat hopeful moment; BLM demonstrations seemed to signal that change could occur. But then 12-year-old Tamir Rice was murdered, and Lizzo shut down. As she describes it to me now, she was thinking, “They don’t actually care. And ‘they’—I don’t know who ‘they’ are. But I know that they don’t care, because if shit like this is still happening, there has to be a ‘they.’ They don’t care about somebody’s actual life.” The realization in part prompted her to write “My Skin,” which she released in 2015, just after the Jamar Clark shooting in Minneapolis by police officers Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze. “I woke up in this,” Lizzo sings. “I woke in my skin. I can’t wash it away, so you can’t take it away—my skin. Brown skin.”
I have been thinking about this song lately because, for me, it speaks to the toll the violence takes against Black people, and because it performs the transformative achievement that Lizzo has come to stand for: The song politicizes, and in a sense weaponizes, self-love, body positivity, and sex positivity. We can’t stop the shooting, we can’t stop the racism, but we don’t have to take part in the hatred of us: “I love you, don’t you forget it, you beautiful Black masterpiece!” Lizzo sings. Here was Lizzo’s first message to Minneapolis and by extension the country: “I’m done with the struggle. I just wanna enjoy my life now and maybe appreciate my skin.” This enjoyment, this recognition, is for her the revolution. It’s in your face. Sometimes it’s a protest. Sometimes it’s just feeling free. But whatever the fuck it is, it’s being alive in our beautiful Black skin.
When I ask her how she’s feeling now, she responds that she is allowing herself to be hopeful. But hope, she admits, is a scary word, “ ’cause I’ve been let down so much, you know.” She’s cautiously optimistic about the corporations that seem to be taking a stand, putting their dollars to work and pledging to hire people of color, but is tempering her positivity with a healthy dose of skepticism: “Mind you, capitalism is problematic in its own way and racist in its own way.” I share this skepticism: Segregationist attitudes still inform everything from redlining policies to gated communities. There is much that keeps Americans separate—even regarding their music, which brings me back to the crowd at Radio City.
When I share with her my initial surprise and delight with the diversity of her audience, she reassures me I am not the only one who feels this way. Early in her career, Lizzo says, she was told by music-industry executives, “You can’t go white to Black. But you can go from Black to white.” Her response: “‘Well, I’m a Black woman. So I can do just about anything I want to do.’ How dare these people sit up and tell me who my music is going to appeal to or not?” In part owing to the music scene in Minneapolis—dominated by indie rock and Prince, rest in peace—Lizzo’s early audiences were predominantly younger, white crowds. In 2015, she opened for Louisville rock band My Morning Jacket. “Lotta white feminists,” she says of her early crowds.
Now Lizzo is the recipient not only of Grammys and Queerty awards but also NAACP Image Awards, Soul Train Music Awards, and BET Awards. “When I go hiking or whatever,” Lizzo tells me, “it’s Black girls being like, ‘I like your music.’ ‘Hey, that’s Lizzo.’” These Black fans confirm for Lizzo what she already knows, that she’s “a Black woman making music from a Black experience”—and that her message can speak to anyone. Suddenly Lizzo’s usual unflappable confidence gives way to genuine disbelief: “I never thought that I would have…I guess you could call it ‘crossover appeal.’” I can’t help but grin back at her.
WHEN I NEXT SPEAK TO LIZZO, she’s sitting down in her house, looking like a photograph from Carrie Mae Weems’s Kitchen Table series. This day she’s without her Princess Leia buns and instead wearing a shimmery golden bonnet. Out beyond her patio there are pink plastic flamingos by her pool. Tomatoes and zucchini grow in the garden, rosemary and aloe plants too. There’s a giant screen set up so that she can project movies onto it while floating in her pool; she’s just watched Beyoncé’s Black Is King.
At the end of last year, Lizzo moved out of her small, one-bedroom apartment into this home, which has a recording studio. The writing, she says, has been therapeutic. Previously, she jokes, she was under the impression that she needed “at least two and a half white boys to make a song. One to engineer and one to produce. But now I can sit in my room and be my own engineer and producer.” (“She understands the basic constructs of music and the laws and theories that make you feel certain things,” says Lizzo’s longtime collaborator Sophia Eris.) When I ask Lizzo about a new album, she deflects: “Oh, girl, I don’t know. I gotta finish the songs. It’s gonna be good, though. I’ll tell you that. It’s gonna be motherfucking good.” Atlantic Records, with which Lizzo signed in 2016, has nothing to add except that she is currently recording. (A streaming deal with Amazon Studios was announced as this story was closing.)
Despite Lizzo’s celebrity, it’s as if we have known each other a long time, but I know it’s just Lizzo being comfortable with Lizzo that puts me at ease. Eris had warned me about this, that “people feel like they’re best friends with her” very quickly. Marc Jacobs, who dressed Lizzo for the 2019 Met gala, fell in love with the singer through her music. “I knew from the start, from her energy—her smile and the fact that she hugs people,” he says, “I knew that we would be able to do something really great together.” He now counts her as a friend and invited her to his wedding last year.
Lizzo tells me about her childhood, and it’s ordinary in the best ways. Melissa Viviane Jefferson was born in 1988 in Detroit during rush hour. Like her idol Aretha Franklin, she grew up with gospel music in the church. When she was nine, her family moved to Houston, where she took up the flute and joined the marching band. (Lizzo’s now-famous flute is known affectionately as Sasha, after Beyoncé’s alter ego, Sasha Fierce, and resides in a Swarovski-crystal case in her home.)
Houston was also where Lizzo began free-styling, in school and on the school bus. Band music, Destiny’s Child, and rapper Little Flip offered Lizzo her first sense of ownership over music. “Beyoncé had a major impact on me,” she says now, “as an artist, period. She is the definition of work ethic.” Lizzo was also encouraged by Queen Latifah and Missy Elliot; both began as rappers—like Lizzo—and neither fit the mold of other popular female performers. They were, Lizzo explains, “women who looked like me and who were successful in the ways I wanted to be successful. I was like, ‘Okay. I can be confident and look this way.’ You know?”
In her senior year of high school, her family moved to Denver, but Lizzo returned to Texas to attend the University of Houston for applied music and joined the Spirit of Houston Marching Band. Halfway through her sophomore year, she left school to put herself through a kind of self-reinvention, setting aside the flute and trying to teach herself to be a singer. She joined a rock band, drank lots of whiskey and Lone Star beer, and lived in her car. (She is quick to note the difference between having to live in your car and choosing to live in your car. Her mother, Shari Johnson-Jefferson, and older siblings, Vanessa Jefferson and Michael Jefferson, were always available to take her in. The family now lives near her in L.A.) It was during this period, when Lizzo was 20, that her father, with whom she was very close, passed away. “I was showering at the gym, ’cause I had no house, when I got the news,” she tells me. “I was in a dark place, and it was a dark thing to happen.” In 2011, she decided to relocate to Minneapolis, which had been building a reputation as a hip-hop mecca since the mid-’90s.
In Minneapolis, at a block party, Lizzo met Eris, who had come to the city from Dayton, Ohio, to study business and the music business in particular; they met up again later that first night, “got drunk, and bonded over karaoke,” as Eris tells it. The women quickly went on to become “like family,” Lizzo says, forming a band called The Chalice along with another Minneapolis musician, who went by Claire de Lune. The group started to gain traction on local radio, and from there the momentum and opportunities snowballed: “We just ran with it,” says Eris. When Lizzo’s solo career started to take off in the mid-2010s and she began touring, she asked Eris to come with her as her DJ. “I was like, Okay, now I need to learn how to DJ,” says Eris.
“Me and Sophia—we really were in the trenches together early on,” Lizzo explains, “me and her in a rental car driving through America, you know, touring at, like, dive bars.” In those early years of her career, Lizzo was mainly performing, as she puts it, “rappety rap rap,” and so it was important to have Eris with her: “She played the music. I don’t know who else would. I couldn’t afford a band.”
Lizzo remembers the day, the moment, when she met her other longtime collaborator, Quinn Wilson. “Me and Sophia walked everywhere back then,” Lizzo tells me. “We were walking down the street. And mind you, we had just gotten into a bar fight the night before, so we was all banged up and shit.” There had been an altercation over a cell phone, and Lizzo had ended up with “a little goose egg from hitting the concrete.” Wilson was pulling her car out of a parking lot but stopped to let Lizzo and Eris pass. “I literally turned to Sophia and I said, ‘We need friends like that in our life,’” Lizzo says, laughing.
Eris ran into Wilson a few days later at a sneaker store and recognized her. The twosome became a threesome, with Wilson doing makeup for their shows. “I pulled some really not-so-good looks for the first couple of times,” Wilson says. “And then I got it together.”
“The three of us,” Lizzo tells me, “have been like sisters. We have gone through so much since meeting each other. And we have always made sure that the relationship is what we prioritize. It’s never been money. It’s never been the career.” Wilson is now the creative director for Lizzo, with a hand in all her projects, committed to, as she puts it, “translating her vision visually.”
ONE GETS THE SENSE that sisterhood is of utmost importance to Lizzo. I mention Missy Elliot’s cameo on the track “Tempo” from her breakthrough Grammy-winning 2019 album, Cuz I Love You, and Lizzo says, with infectious delight, “that was incredible. And to still have a relationship with her—Missy calls me, texts me, and vice versa, just to check on me. And prays for me, and I pray for her. Being little and watching her, and being like, ‘Man, I want to be like that one day.’ Or, ‘I want to work with her one day.’ I don’t know what happened first. Having the thoughts because it was gonna happen? Or having the thoughts and driving myself to make it happen? But knowing that it did, yeah, is incredible.” Lizzo’s music is “empowering, liberating, and fun…with a side order of ratchet sauce,” Missy says. “She shows the world what strength and perseverance look like.”
When I ask Lizzo who she is dating, she tells me that her five-times-platinum single “Truth Hurts” from Cuz I Love You is “damn near a profile on a human being minus his name,” but she’s reluctant to say more; “I think it’s important to me as a human being to not disclose everything in my life.” As much as Cuz I Love You is an album about men, though, it is an album about self-love. Often, in fact, Lizzo’s songs don’t have an object of desire besides the self.
What Aretha Franklin did with her release of “Respect” in 1967—during that decade when Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, and Martin Luther King Jr. were all assassinated—is not unlike the personal revolution Lizzo calls for with her work. Aretha’s “Respect” functioned as an intervention at a historical moment, where Black women were historically invisible to everyone except themselves. Lizzo also is committed to “keeping the torch going,” in the same mode as Aretha, she says, “making sure that people understand that self is so important,” especially in the midst of “this right now.”
The “this right now” is the lockdown and the coronavirus but also white supremacy, sexism, homophobia, racism, and fatphobia—though she does not want her message boiled down to one of body positivity. Body positivity, Lizzo tells me, has been appropriated to a certain degree: “It’s commercialized. Now, you look at the hashtag ‘body positive,’ and you see smaller-framed girls, curvier girls. Lotta white girls. And I feel no ways about that, because inclusivity is what my message is always about. I’m glad that this conversation is being included in the mainstream narrative. What I don’t like is how the people that this term was created for are not benefiting from it. Girls with back fat, girls with bellies that hang, girls with thighs that aren’t separated, that overlap. Girls with stretch marks. You know, girls who are in the 18-plus club. They need to be benefiting from…the mainstream effect of body positivity now. But with everything that goes mainstream, it gets changed. It gets—you know, it gets made acceptable.” When I ask Jacobs about this, he speaks carefully: “I think what is so inspiring is the way she delivers the message,” says Jacobs. “Her positivity—putting the word body before it is just another part of her positivity, and that’s what’s really contagious.”
“I think it’s lazy for me to just say I’m body positive at this point,” Lizzo says. “It’s easy. I would like to be body-normative. I want to normalize my body. And not just be like, ‘Ooh, look at this cool movement. Being fat is body positive.’ No, being fat is normal. I think now, I owe it to the people who started this to not just stop here. We have to make people uncomfortable again, so that we can continue to change. Change is always uncomfortable, right?”
Malcolm X famously said, “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in American is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.” He meant thin or fat, tall or short, big or small, citizen or undocumented, senator or vice president—and so I have one last question for Lizzo regarding how she feels about our Democratic vice-presidential nominee, Kamala Harris. I am thinking about the avalanche of disrespect Harris will have to negotiate as a woman and as a woman of color.
“Having a Black woman as vice president would be great,” Lizzo says, “because I’m just always rooting for Black people. But I want actual change to happen…in the laws. And not just on the outside, you know? Not a temporary fix to a deep-rooted, systemic issue. A lot of times I feel like we get distracted by the veneer of things. If things appear to be better, but they’re not actually better, we lose our sense of protest.” She makes sure to mention Breonna Taylor and Sandra Bland and all the women who, inadvertently or not, often get dropped from the conversation: “We need to talk about the women.”
But first, she knows that in order to save and serve the culture, she has to save and serve herself. “I think it’s important that I take full responsibility for the way the world perceives me because that is the way they’re gonna perceive someone who looks like me in the future. Maybe, hopefully, that would give some young girl someone to look up to and take away the opportunity for someone to weaponize her uniqueness against her. I had to travel the world and I had to meet people and read DMs and look into their eyes and really hear their stories to believe that I was making an impact in a positive way. And now that I believe in myself in that way, I’m gonna continue to just push that conversation by being a better me every single day.”
“This is an unprecedented Fashion Week. In the history of New York Fashion Week there has never been one like it,” declared Steven Kolb, the CFDA’s CEO, on a Zoom call. Indeed, in February there were 177 labels on Vogue Runway’s NYFW review calendar. The schedule the CFDA released today, which begins with Jason Wu at 5 p.m. on Sunday, September 13, and ends with Tom Ford at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, September 16, includes just 60. With only a handful of IRL exceptions, all of the presentations on the CFDA’s official lineup will be digital.
Among those not on the calendar: Michael Kors, who has announced an October date, Tory Burch, Proenza Schouler, Brandon Maxwell, and Prabal Gurung. In an email Gurung explained his thinking: “Since the pandemic forced us into lockdown, I’ve been talking to designers, retailers, suppliers, and factories all over the world. Everyone in the industry was running around playing catch up, with no actual goal in sight…. Whatever we put out there has to have a reason for its existence; pretty clothes are no longer enough. We need to really think about purpose and a mission.” He’s one of the designers looking at a later date in order to bring his presentation “closer to the time that shoppers will want to wear the pieces” he’s showing.
At this point, Kolb and his colleagues know little about the type of digital content that will be living on the CFDA’s site, Runway360. “We connected people to content creators when they asked for intros,” he explained. “But at the end of the day the success of this for us isn’t who made an Academy Award winning film or who did the most innovative photo shoot. The barometer of success for us is: Were you able to see the clothes, able to write about them intelligently, and able to understand what is marketable to sell to your customers?”
A key difference between the CFDA and its Runway360 site and IMG and its NYFW.com site: The former is B2B and the latter is more B2C, with a schedule of livestreamed talks and IRL experiences that could include, say, an in-season shopping activation for a fall 2020 collection. That’s another difference: While Runway360 is a strictly digital platform, IMG has come up with a hybrid model, mixing in-person events with virtual ones made on the premises in its content hub. Jason Wu’s week-opening show at Spring Studios will take place on a runway with real models and a live audience. Earlier this week Governor Andrew Cuomo gave fashion shows his blessing; in a statement he said: “When COVID-19 hit New York, so many of our cherished events were forced to cancel or be postponed. The pandemic is far from over, but we’re proud to support IMG in moving forward with NYFW, in adherence with strict state public health guidance.”
That guidance mandates that guest lists will be smaller, elevators will have a capacity of just three guests, everyone will have to wear a mask, and everyone will have to pass a mandatory temperature check, explained Dominic Kaffka, vice president, production and managing director, IMG Focus. “The reason why they’re coming to us, especially names that are bigger,” says Matthew Orley, IMG’s vice president of designer relations and business development, “is we’ve assumed all of the health and safety risks; we’ve taken all that off their plate. In a season when there’s so much added stress for a designer, that has been helpful.”
Those precautions notwithstanding, the vast majority of the Fashion Week goings-on will be digital. On the CFDA’s calendar, designers and brands are scheduled on the half hour. In the end that may be the greatest virtue of a virtual Fashion Week. No traffic jams, no model delays, no waiting around endlessly for the front row to fill up. All efficiency. Just log on and click play. Of course, there are sure to be more off-calendar events and even more social media goings-on. Big picture, the pandemic has done to Fashion Week what it’s done to everything from office work to our social lives; it’s untethered it from place. The official calendars aside, the internet is a wide open space. Who knows who will chime in on the Fashion Week conversation? Or what they’ll have to say? That’s exciting.
It’s that time of year again, everyone: September issue season is upon us, and magazines are bringing their A-game with statement-making covers and editorials. Some of the issues even weigh more than a pound (sorry, USPS) and exceed hundreds of pages.
We’re rounding up the fall fashion covers as they become public, so be sure to check back as we update this post with the new releases.
The future of the fashion calendar is uncertain. Each day offers new challenges for designers and their teams to overcome amid a health pandemic, an economic depression, and a global social justice movement. Planning for the next season is no longer business as usual, but small steps are being made. After months in quarantine, fashion houses have returned to work in France and Italy with an urge to rethink everything, most notably the fashion show.
CHIC REPORT: THE UNTOLD STORY BEHIND THE NEW BILL CUNNINGHAM DOCUMENTARY
Bill Cunningham (Clint Spaulding/PMC)
In 1994, Mark Bozek landed the interview of a lifetime: a three-hour chat with Bill Cunningham. For the first — and only — time, the legendary photographer opened up and got personal on-camera. Now, Bozek is making parts of the interview public, through his documentary, The Times of Bill Cunningham. Last week after a premiere in New York, The Daily called Bozek to discuss the film. From using a network of Cunningham’s friends to piece together parts of his life, to exploring his previously unseen archives, the director fills us in on how the project came together.
When did you first become interested in interviewing Bill Cunningham?
I had a series called Fox Style News. One of the first stories I wanted to do was on Bill. The first time I asked was a very polite “No young fella, I don’t do that kind of thing.” But I asked him [four] more times. I remember later saying, “Let’s try to do this anyways.” For the next year when doing other stories, we’d see Bill on the street or at an event, and the guys would discreetly pick up the cameras and shoot footage of him. When I had enough I interviewed Bill Blass, James Galanos, and Liz Smith, the gossip columnist, and ran the piece in December, 1993. It was a nice three-minute story about Bill. I was happy I did it. There hadn’t been any stories about him like that at all.
So how did you finally land the interview?
About two weeks in [to my new job at QVC], I get a phone call from Bill. He said, “Young fella, I hate to bother you, I didn’t see your story. I don’t have a TV. But I have to accept this award. Would you mind coming over to my studio to interview me to produce this one-minute video to play on stage?” I got a crew together and went to his studio. There was no place to set up the camera, so we went to his best friend’s apartment a couple floors down. I thought, I’ve got 10 minutes. I gotta get a couple of sound bites and that’ll be it. But 30 minutes later he kept talking. I was young and inexperienced, but I realized that I should be quiet and just let him. We really did run out of tapes to use because I [only] brought enough to do a couple of sound bites. Luckily, we had some extra.
Ruben Toledo, who provided illustrations for the film, and Mark Bozek (Paul Bruinooge/PMC)
Do you have any theories as to why he chose to open up?
I only have theories based on other what other people have told me… he liked the fact that I wasn’t a fashion expert. I was certainly not Barbara Walters for 60 Minutes. Although when he started to get upset that first time out of the blue, just talking about how shy he was, I had this moment like, Oh my God, I made Bill Cunningham cry! I just need a couple of sound bites and now he’s crying. But they all say it’s because he just felt comfortable. And I think likely, because of his passion for documentation, that he decided on that day he was going to verbally document his life.
Were you conflicted at all about including the scenes of him being vulnerable?
At the end of the day, you want to make a film that shows your character in all it’s different forms. I can’t say I was totally conflicted, because I wanted to treat it respectfully. But what he was saying was so important, and he never said “turn off the camera” once. We turned it off a couple of times because it was too much. So many people that have seen the movie are emotional because of what he talks about. How the AIDS crisis was throttling the industry and the country at that time. I worked for Willi Smith, who died of AIDS in 1988, for seven years. So I knew the effect of that. It was something that he wanted to talk about.
Cunningham, Steven Gan, and Lady Gaga at The Daily Front Row’s Fashion Media Awards (Clint Spauling/PMC)
So what did you do after shooting that footage?
I put it in my basement and didn’t touch it until the day he died, three and a half years ago. On social media, everybody heard that Bill passed… it was a really sad couple of days in New York. I said to my son, “Let’s go in the basement and find those tapes that I did with Mr. Cunningham 23 years ago.” I found the old beta tapes and had them bumped up to a digital file. That was the first time I’d watched them in 23 years. It was really emotional, because he had just passed and he’s so full of life in this interview — so many different spectrums of emotions. It really touched me.
You held a screening of all three hours of footage for a close group of Bill’s friends. What was that viewing like?
They were stunned that Bill opened up as he did, because they’d never seen him open up like that. Certainly not on camera. Obviously, personally [he did]. Ruben and Isabel Toledo would have dinner with him almost every Saturday night for years at a little cheesy diner by Carnegie Hall. We spent another hour or so just talking about it. It was very emotional for a lot of them because it was just six months [after he passed]. I remember asking them, “What do you think? Do you think I should go forward?” They all said, “You must do this!” And then relentless emails from particularly Ruben and Isabel — “How’s it going? What’s happening?” — it was great.
Did they have anything to add to the process?
They helped me fill in the blanks on a lot of holes of people I didn’t know that Bill talked about. Particularly Chez Ninon [the boutique he was employed by]. They could connect me to this person and that person. It began this process that I had no idea was going to take three and a half years to finish. But, especially now, it’s the greatest feeling in the world. After all that work, having Ruben do the artwork for the film, having Pat Cleveland let me use her song “Tonight Joséphine” during the credits. And of course having [narrator] Sarah Jessica Parker say yes before she even saw one frame of the film.
The film includes decades worth of his photos. How did you get your hands on them?
I didn’t have any access to Bill’s pictures until I met his niece, who owns the archive. That began a whole new process of showing her the footage at this Holiday Inn up in Orangeburg, where the archive is stored. She was she was very emotional, weeping hysterically after seeing it because she had never seen her uncle talk like that. He kept those worlds of his very separate. They just knew he was a photographer. So she gave me access to the archives.
What was that like?
The first day there I was like a kid in a candy store, to say the least. Having lived with this footage for a year and a half and now being able to go in and find the pictures of Diana Vreeland, every time her hand touched a mannequin for 11 years times two weeks; the gay pride parade pictures which he had never published; all the Jackie Kennedy pictures. Those things were just remarkable and they actually let me bring boxes of the archive to my home on Long Island. I turned my dining room into this massive scanning operation.
Cunningham and Karl Lagerfeld in 2012 (Patrick McMullan/PMC)
Wow! That’s amazing.
We immediately bonded because she liked the film and she knew that I wasn’t going to do anything untoward, or dishonest, or take advantage of [his legacy]. She loved it. She was at the premiere. And it was incredible being able to celebrate with her, because she’s been so gracious. I ended up, of the three million images in his archives — and documents, tape recording, you name it — scanning about 25,000 of those images, and then 500 or so ended up in the film.
You could have easily made a film just about him documenting the early years of the Met Gala or the history of the Pride Parade. Why did you edit the film chronologically?
From day one, I wanted to make it into a feature documentary. I had talked to other people about doing it as a series. That may eventually still happen. The picking and choosing of what I thought were going to be the most effective stories was really based on the stories Bill told us. The interview you see in the film is not in sequential order because Bill was jumping from one era to the next. It would be confusing if I did that, so we created a timeline. The part that took the longest by far was editing the pictures. I wanted to do what Bill did: be selective about every single picture in the movie like he was very selective about every picture that would be in the Sunday Times.
Cunningham at Public School’s Spring 2016 show (Clint Spaulding/PMC)
Was there anything you discovered in your research that you didn’t include in the documentary?
Bill was a documentarian and he saved everything. When the women from Chez Ninon passed on, he saved all their stuff. In the Chez Ninon box was a box of receipts of all the clothes they made for Jacqueline Kennedy, Brooke Astor, and Rockefeller. I went to the Jacqueline Kennedy file and there was the receipt for the pink dress that she wore to Dallas. It’s likely one of the most famous dresses in history, certainly in American history, because of all the attachment to it to the president being assassinated. And there was this receipt with a little pink swatch.
What do you think will stand out the most to viewers?
His treasure trove of an archive will go down as one of the most important in the history of New York City. Not just fashion, but society. He took pictures every single day since 1967. The other thing was his unbelievable humility, that somebody could be so revered and treasured by everybody in the fashion industry, and yet live on cheese sandwiches and oatmeal in a tiny space that didn’t have a bathroom (he shared with everybody on the 12th floor). Lastly, his incredible generosity. Buying Antonio Lopez’s painting [for $130,000] when Antonio had AIDS, and then giving the painting back so he could sell it again. He had diamonds in a pillowcase stuffed away in his cave at Carnegie Hall. That surprised a lot of people because he would never, ever share that with anybody. He was too discreet.
Cunningham with Anna Wintour in 2012 (Owen Hoffmann/PMC)
What are you hoping this documentary will add to his public memory?
I never ever set out to make a fashion movie. I was much more intrigued by his character — his sometimes contrarian character… Ruben said, “This should be in the National Archives” because it’s him full of life, telling a story that had to be told. There will be other stories about Bill. There will probably be a feature film about him. I think they’re going to name buildings after Bill Cunningham, build statues of Bill Cunningham. I hope the fashion world sees what an original character he was. There will never ever be another Bill Cunningham again, no matter how many followers a photographer has on Instagram.
What’s missing from how fashion is communicated these days on social media?
A knowledge of history. Understanding how things were cut and how different designers had an effect on [each other]… Nobody will be as wise as he was in terms of fashion history and his ability to remember things back to the ’30s… I don’t want to necessarily give Diet Prada a plug, but those two people know fashion history in ways that blow my mind. They’re the closest to come to at least having the knowledge. But that’s what’s really missing. I want young people to see this guy who, up until a week before he died, was out there working every single day, and so passionate about his work.
The Times of Bill Cunningham is playing in select theaters.
As New York Fashion Week approached, so too did the insider drama of the show calendar. Which designers are skipping this season? Who is switching cities at the last minute? Who is left?
One conflict on the schedule stands apart: The 92nd Academy Awards, one of the most high-profile fashion events of the year, are on Sunday, right in the middle of fashion week.
The overlap is an anomaly; the awards show is scheduled two weeks earlier than usual in 2020 and will revert to late February next year. But it means that this year, many red carpet designers are pulling double duty, and that front-row seats reserved for A-list clients at the runway shows may be harder to fill.
It’s another complication in an already complicated season for the Council of Fashion Designers of America, which manages the New York Fashion Week calendar.
In an email, Steven Kolb, the chief executive of the CFDA, said that when his organization learned of the conflict, it “took initiative to have an open dialogue with designers” about their time slots, “in order to best support them.” He said the global spotlight of the Oscars red carpet “complements NYFW.”
For the red carpet designers who have decided to show in New York, preparing for both events simultaneously has been “a juggling act,” said Mark Badgley, of the label Badgley Mischka. “A roller coaster,” James Mischka said.
The two designers have been zipping nominees into elegant beaded gowns for more than 20 years. They spoke to The New York Times on a hectic morning eight days before their runway show and nine days before the awards. Several models were due soon for fittings.
“You’re looking at your sewing machines and weighing out, ‘Does that machine go to an Oscar dress, or does it do a runway sample?’” Mr. Badgley said.
At that moment, they were working on two gowns for the Academy Awards. That’s nothing compared with the 30 to 50 looks they present on a runway during any given season. Still, these two red carpet gowns — if they survive the last-minute celebrity mind changing and actually make it to the Oscars — could attract more attention from the general public than a fashion show.
Yet shows still matter to many designers. In an email, Brandon Maxwell, who dressed Lady Gaga, Melissa McCarthy and Sarah Paulson at the 2019 Oscars, said that “from a business and brand perspective NYFW is the priority, so we are focusing our efforts and resources there.” His show is scheduled the night before the awards.
At one point, the best way for designers to draw attention to a runway show was to put celebrities in their front row. This, too, has become difficult with the overlapping calendar, especially for labels whose shows are scheduled closest to the Oscars.
(The Badgley Mischka, show will end more than 24 hours before red carpet coverage begins, so the designers have it easier than others. Still, it is not ideal; because of the show’s proximity to the awards, its 2020 invite list focuses more on New York-based V.I.P.s than in years past.)
“I would be very concerned if I was one of those designers,” said Jessica Morgan of the celebrity fashion blog Go Fug Yourself, referring to the shows scheduled during the Oscars coverage. Ms. Morgan spent about a decade covering fashion week for New York magazine and Cosmopolitan. Awards season is her website’s biggest traffic period of the year.
“For one thing, you’re not going to have any celebrities there — maybe a few, but not anyone big,” she said. “And no big stylists are going to be able to attend their show because they’re going to be putting clients in Oscar or Vanity Fair Oscar party outfits.”
One designer scheduled for Sunday evening is Jason Wu, a celebrity favorite. (Mr. Wu declined to comment for this article.) Otherwise, the CFDA appears to have worked around fashion week’s big names. Prabal Gurung has shown on Sunday evening for the last four seasons; this year, he has been moved to Tuesday evening.
Others showing Sunday night include the street wear label Palm Angels; the futuristic swimwear-and-more label Chromat; and Kim Shui, who has dressed Kylie Jenner and Cardi B. Those designers may not be as disappointed as one might expect. Ms. Shui doesn’t care that her show is scheduled for 8 p.m., when the Oscars ceremony begins. The audiences are “different,” she said.
“We do have some front-row guests who might not be able to make it on the same day, but for us that’s not important,” said Ms. Shui, whose front row in the past has included Kehlani and Azealia Banks. “The people that would be coming to our show would be coming to our show anyway.”
Last season was more of a problem, she said, when her show was scheduled at the same time as the monster Savage x Fenty show. Diverse models Ms. Shui likes to cast were already booked by Rihanna, the Fenty designer.
A few years ago Badgley Mischka was scheduled at the same time as the Super Bowl, a considerably less fashion-centric event than the Oscars but nevertheless one that some of the designers’ guests — namely the presidents of retail companies — didn’t want to miss. So they put on their runway show at halftime and turned the game on backstage.