PARIS — At the close of the international marathon of collections, New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham and Marylou Luther, editor of The International Fashion Syndicate, received France’s high honors at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs on Sunday. Guests including Gareth Pugh, Rick Owens and Nathalie Rykiel were at the tear-jerking ceremony, where Cunningham and Luther, who have attended the Paris shows for more than 50 years, each received the L’Ordre National des Arts et des Lettres.
Sonia Rykiel thanked Luther for her early support, recalling an article in the Los Angeles Times in 1967 where Luther wrote: “Couture is not enough, you need a Rykiel.”
In her speech, Luther reminisced about shows that are now historic, such as Yves Saint Laurent’s first collection for Christian Dior. “I had never seen a designer, on the balcony, so shyly acknowledging the adulation of real people,” she said. She also recalled seeing Coco Chanel sitting on the steps at the Rue Cambon studios, “her piercing eyes watching the audience’s response to her work.”
True to form, Cunningham, whose career included stints at the Chicago Tribune and Women’s Wear Daily before he joined The Times in the Seventies, didn’t stop snapping attendees. “It’s not work, it’s pleasure,” he said. “That’s why I feel so guilty. Everybody else does work — I have too much fun.”
Photographer Jean-Luce Huré recalled Cunningham’s immediate success when he turned hat designer, the whole of New York queuing up for his creations, one of which had a fringe from the brim to the ground. “It was a bathing suit hat because you could change your clothes behind the fringe,” Huré said, to much laughter.
Cunningham, who was the first journalist in America to write about Azzedine Alaïa and Jean Paul Gaultier, paid tribute to Paris as the hub of creativity, which gives him a new education every season. “We have other capitals, but it’s all in Paris. I’m not interested in celebrities with their free dresses,” he continued. “Look at the clothes, the cut, the silhouette, the color. It’s the clothes. Not the celebrity and not the spectacle.”
Something of a celebrity himself, Cunningham’s life is soon to hit the silver screen in a documentary by Philip Gefter of The New York Times. Gefter and his crew have been filming the indefatigable lensman for a month and a half and hope the final movie will be selected for Cannes.
Cunningham’s final message received a storm of applause: “The only thing not to give up and to always believe is that ‘he who seeks beauty will find it.’”