Bill Cunningham


I’ve said many times before, we all get dressed for Bill – Anna Wintour

I don’t think anyone would say I’m on the forefront of any style trend or own any clothing of particular value or significance. In fact, last week I was comedically scolded and sent to the back row of a group photo for yearbook because I was wearing all black everything–supposedly that’s depressing?

Anyway, I do quite like fashion. Fashion is often perceived as elitist, pompous, and a general danger to self-deprecating women and men around the globe. This, unfortunately, is too often true. HOWEVER, there’s another side of fashion, which I and many others refer to as style. Many die hard fashion fans are strong believers in the idea of fashion as a form of self-expression. Essentially, fashion is what you make of it. Fashion can very easily become materialistic and hollow, and frankly, simply being trendy does very little for anyone. But, fashion can garner a feeling–of confidence, of being one’s self–and I think that’s why people are so drawn to it. One of the things I love about fashion is that you can draw attention to yourself or blend right in, and it’s completely up to you.

A long cry from high fashion spreads with girls propped up in ridiculous positions, we now see a more natural approach to fashion, street style. Street style has, in recent years, exploded. There is now so much internet space dedicated to the idea of street style that it has become an important resource and tool in the fashion industry and careers have been forged and solidified on these grounds. However, this accessibility is perhaps both the best and worst part; any self-indulgent fashion loving teen can snap a photo of themselves in the mirror and call it street style. Now don’t get me wrong, this is street style. But let’s just say there are different levels, different tiers, like on a rugby team. The tricky part is getting through the junk to find the quality stuff that’s actually interesting, unique, and meaningful.

Some people have done a particularly good job capturing street style, a couple of my favourites being Scott Schuman (the Sartorialist) and Tommy Ton (Jak & Jil). No doubt famous names, but few realize just how long the idea of street style has been around or really who started it all. You know Bill Cunningham? No? Well, he’s the guy. He is the guy. And the best part is that you’d never know by the looks of him. He’s an absolutely lovely 83 year old man who lives in a teeny tiny apartment and rides his bike around Manhattan, always clad in his famous blue jacket. His first photo set was published in 1978 and he now has two weekly columns in the Style section of The New York Times; his “On the Street” column identifies emerging fashion trends as seen on the streets of Manhattan and “Evening Hours” covers social charity events in the city.

Bill comments on one of this winter’s biggest trends

Bill’s first spread for the New York Times, December 30, 1978

Some of Cunningham’s earlier work

Bill Cunningham photographing in the street

Bill Cunningham photographing in the street, again

He was doing something different: he was taking pictures of people, without their permission, just as they walked by or as he chased after them crossing the street. Simply, he’s interested in taking pictures that document the way we dress. The shear diversity of the people in his photographs is remarkable: he captures the famous eccentrics in all their glory, everyday people on the street, models strutting down the runway in new collections, and the most glamorous and famous fashion icons both at major events and in their everyday lives. He has chronicled the lives and clothes of many around the world and continues to do so to this day with as much heart as decades ago.

“Here we are in an age of the cookie cutter sameness. There are few that are rarities, someone that doesn’t look like they were stamped out of ten million other people looking all the same.” – Bill Cunningham

Some links to his greatest publications: “Paris“, “Flirty“, “Pow“, and “Power Point” and everything else.

Everyone, and I mean everyone, in fashion knows this man. He is a staple at the world’s most fashionable events and is undoubtedly beloved by the fashion community.Yet, he remains very private, even elusive, and has been extremely successful in staying out of the public eye. Because he is so well respected and his reputation for being camera shy is widely known, he is given his space and rarely prodded for interviews. But, in 2010 a documentary about the man was released; “Bill Cunningham New York” follows Bill through his day-to-day work and activities while recapping his extraordinary career with interviews from some of the world’s most noteworthy fashion elite.

Bill Cunningham New York Trailer

Take home message: the man’s an icon. If you like fashion, particular street style, Bill is your man.

Yours Creatively,

Ali Candib, Online Contributor

Image(s): New York Times, Zeitgeist Films, Time Magazine, Lisa Thatcher WordPress