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Media: A Cunning Subject

Has the Style section's street-fashion report become a one-man photo festival? How one man became Bill Cunningham's muse.

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Eagle-eyed observers of Bill Cunningham's Sunday Times Style "On the Street" feature -- and who in this social and style-conscious city does not look at that page with eagle eyes? -- have had their interest piqued by a mysterious tall, dark dandy who has appeared three times since July 30. "A lot of people are very jealous about it," says the famously curmudgeonly Cunningham. "But he just stands out. He must put all his money into clothes."

The slim stranger has appeared on the page a dozen times over the past two years -- including one Sunday when he pulled off a hat trick: three photographs on a single page. Cunningham has used this one-man trend machine to illustrate a variety of recent themes, from summer black to bright yellow, as well as earlier reports on striking hats and clashing patterns. But he bridles at the slightest suggestion that his page is anything but a selection of photographs that have caught his disinterested documentarian's eye. "I don't know anything about him! I see him two or three times a week -- after lunch -- when I am out shooting. But I don't speak to anyone on the street."

The emerging style icon turns out to be Patrick McDonald, the 44-year-old P.R. director for Upper East Side dressmaker John Anthony and lifestyle editor for aRUDE magazine. And he does spend a lot of money on clothes. He buys his brightly colored and boldly patterned suits from Ozwald Boateng, Vivienne Westwood, and Paul Smith, his matching shirt-and-tie sets from Westwood, his strikingly complicated shirts at Turnbull & Asser and London's Hackett, his two-tone shoes from John Lobb and Crockett and Jones. And his berets and bowlers? "I have my hats made," he says.

McDonald, who maintains a clip book of all his fashionable forays into print ("I have friends who say, 'I look in the Style section as soon as I get home from the Hamptons to see if you're in it,' " he says), rotates his wardrobe with each of the four seasons and plans his outfits precisely. "I take my inspiration from old Hollywood," he says, launching into a discussion of Rudolph Valentino's influence on his own use of makeup: dramatic coal-black eyebrows raised in a permanent arch and a just-so beauty mark on his left cheek.

So what is it that places McDonald before Cunningham's lens so often -- luck or location? Aspiring "On the Street" subjects will want to note that much of the runway action takes place in midtown: "I do see him a lot on the corner of 57th Street," McDonald says. But perhaps there's an even easier way to get noticed by the street shooter. "I think," McDonald deadpans, "it's because I wear hats."


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