Growing up with an obsession for everything related to print media and fashion, Bill Cunningham’s weekly On The Street column in The New York Times was a beacon of light among the black and white newspaper print and the day-to-day routine of suburban Detroit.
Before I even knew who he really was, and his long legacy and contributions to the fashion industry, I would study his photo collages and teach myself the basics of what I know today about trend spotting, personal style, designer fashion, and more. Little by little, each time I picked up a copy of the Sunday edition of The New York Times (whether stealing a copy from my parents or dipping into my allowance to buy one), Bill’s column influenced the way I still continue to interpret fashion and my own personal style philosophy.
Eventually, I was able to put a face to the name via the documentary Bill Cunningham New York. To my surprise (and probably most fashion lovers who aren’t native to New York as well as avid Netflix subscribers), Bill wasn’t a young, suave man that resembled the models in GQ. Instead, he was an 80-year-old man with more than 40 years at The New York Times under his belt who rode a bicycle around the city, dressed in slight variations of the same outfit everyday and cameras strung across his skinny frame.
Most people who are familiar with Bill’s work know how incredibly creative and talented of a fashion photographer he was. However, for those who have seen the documentary (and if you haven’t, you need to immediately), you’re probably also well aware of how passionate, educated, and humble he was. Out of all the beautiful characteristics that he was fortunate to posses, however, it’s his pure love for fashion and authenticity that really stood out.
Between his zingy one liners, strong ethics, and unwavering sense of who he was, Bill’s authenticity guided him through every creative endeavor and hardship he endured. He lived a simple life dedicated to what he loved most and that is something that I whole heartedly admire.
Fashion is a weird thing. When things go to shit and society doesn’t seem to be all that great, it’s easy to dust it under the rug as something thats frivolous and unnecessary. There’s more important things to worry abut, and after all, its just clothes, right?
Yet, every time I doubt or question my love for an art form and industry that revolves so intensely around one’s self, I remember Bill’s unwavering commitment to preserving and celebrating the joy, self expression, and individuality that fashion truly stands for.
Bill Cunningham passed away on Saturday at the age of 87. I didn’t know him, and I don’t know if I ever would have. However, despite living miles and miles away from New York, I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to be influenced by his work and spirit, and I’ll miss his ability to capture such incredibly special moments in fashion.
How did Bill Cunningham influence you? Did you ever have the chance to be photographed by him? Share your story in the comment section below.