On June 25th, after being hospitalized for a stroke, acclaimed American photographer, Bill Cunningham passed away at the age of 87.
Cunningham was an unbelievably humble man. Riding around Manhattan on a bicycle, he could usually be spotted wearing a uniform of khaki trousers and a bright blue windbreaker- passerby untrained in the ways of this visionary would never know he was the one credited with bringing street style into the vocabulary of modern fashion. He was just as excited to be behind the lens at high-profile event snapping the elegant society gals of New York’s social scene as he was downtown seeking out rave kids and trend-setting denizens.
Bill spent nearly 40 years working at The New York Times. He brought the worlds of high and low fashion together, as each lived in symbiosis in his once-weekly column, On the Street. Tracking trends among the fashion savvy of Manhattan, Bill’s work demonstrates the progressive shift towards self-expressionism through clothes.
As Anna Wintour, Vogue’s prestigious editor-in-chief, once remarked, “we all get dressed for Bill.” Those lucky enough to catch his attention on the pavement or at a party reveled in the opportunity to be photographed by him- it was an honor.
Although Cunningham spent most of his time behind the camera, he managed to turn himself into somewhat of a celebrity. He was the subject of a documentary entitled Bill Cunningham New York (2010), which revealed the photographer’s witty, kind nature and modest lifestyle. He was awarded a Legion d’Honneur by the French government and the New York Landmarks Conservancy dubbed him a living landmark in 2009. Bergdorf Goodman memorialized the icon, filling their fifth avenue windows with a few of his possessions, copies of his work, and even a life-sized mannequin of him. A petition was drawn up in the days following Bill’s death to rename the corner of 5th Avenue and 57th Street- a popular haunt of his- to “Bill Cunningham Corner.” It became official on July 6th with a renaming ceremony.
I had a casual interaction with Bill Cunningham that I will remember fondly for the rest of my life. Outside of the DVF show in February, I saw a sweet man drop his bus pass and simply picked it up for him. I met him eye-to-eye and suddenly it hit me that this unassuming stranger was one of the most iconic visionaries of our time. He thanked me and went about his day cracking jokes with an infectious smile. While his work changed the way we view fashion, it is his good-natured, wholesome spirit that Bill will always be remembered by.