You know when you have the opportunity to study one of the greats of an industry; the innovators, the revolutionaries? Like the Steve Jobs’, the Marlon Brandos, the Mark Zucherburgs, the Oprah Winfreys. That is Bill Cunningham in the fashion world- the founding father of street fashion photography, the one who paved the way for photographers such as The Sartorialist, Jak & Jil and Chicago Street Style, and one of the most honest and creative minds our time will ever see.
Bill Cunningham was born in 1929 and started photographing people on the street during World War 2. At 19 years old, he moved to New York where he worked in advertising at the department store Bonwit’s, but spent all day being consumed with women’s clothing. He said that he couldn’t even concentrate during Church because he’d be concentrating on all the women’s hats. Just one year later, he was roaming the streets looking for a place to live when he decided that he wanted to be a milliner- a hat maker. To help make ends meet, he worked at a corner drugstore delivering lunches inbetween making hats. After being released from the army, he was approached by John Fairchild to write a weekly column for Women’s Wear Daily. Bill’s whole career changed when he was given a little tiny camera as a gift in 1966.
Bill longed to show the world the images he saw in his head; to display the beauty of the world as he saw it. He says he realized that no one didn’t knew anything unless you photographed the shows and the street, to see how people interpreted what designers hoped they would buy. He said that the street was the missing ingredient. And although he wasn’t the first person to photograph people, he was the first person to focus on the clothing and not the people. He didn’t see the subject, he just saw their clothes. For Mr. Cunningham, it’s always been about the style, not the subject. And so he went, with his camera, his bike and his famous blue jacket, to capture the spirit of fashion through the eyes of those who truly believed in what they were wearing.
Today, even at 83 years old, Bill still does a weekly column for the New York Times, rounding up that week’s greatest street style icons.
He does it for himself, he always has. He does it because he loves the art; because he lives for the flow of the street, the unspoken language of personal style. He considers himself a record keeper of historical knowledge. Can you even imagine the stories that Bill has to tell about the last 50 years of New York City?
Bill is such a beloved genius, that two film makers created an entire documentary about him, aptly named Bill Cunningham New York. The entire documentary gives incredible insight and history into one of the most fascinating and loved characters in fashion history…
Mr. Cunningham, we salute you. We thank you for what you’ve done, for your genius mind and for how you constantly remind us that fashion is not dead, it’s simply ever changing.