The world’s most beloved street style photographer passed away on Saturday at 87. Bill Cunningham was a kind, unassuming man who chronicled the trends of fashion from the seat of his bike. He eschewed his own fame and recognition, although New York declared him a living landmark and the French Government bestowed him with the Legion of Honor.
“Art has many essences,” New York magazine’s Jerry Saltz wrote this week about the passing of Bill. “One of the rarest is the joy of being alive, a sumptuous wonder about the way people look, how they dress and pose themselves in public, fantasizing out loud, being bouquets of our strange, strange relation to life, each other, and this passing moment.” Bill was a tireless and charitable chronicler of the fashion of our times.
We could relate to Bill. Style was a form of human expression for him. It wasn’t about the material trappings of the business. Plus, Bill had a thing for weather. He was drawn to curbside puddles and other natural forces. “It’s a little ridiculous, but a fierce snowstorm is wonderful!” Bill said once. “Oh, it’s marvelous—it just rearranges the whole fashion scene when the wind blows down from the top of the Avenue…Nothing like a good blizzard, kid, and you got pictures!”
At least one of his “On the Street” columns, examined the way New Yorkers dress for wet weather. Bill poked a little fun at “the snobs,” who “are so above it all, they think the waters will part for them even as they sink to their ankles.”
A few years ago, emerging from Penn Station, Cleverhood designer Susan Mocarski saw Bill on his bike with a fix on her bright red shoes. Every New Yorker knows to not look back at Bill but it didn’t matter. His focus was the Rhode Islander’s shoes. Who knows if they ever made it to print.
Shortly after that, Susan sent Bill one of our Cleverhood rain capes. After all, Bill was:
- a city biker;
- undaunted by weather;
- a generous artist with indomitable spirit.
A few days later our Cleverhood was returned to our Providence office along with a handwritten note from dear Mr. Cunningham.
The note read:
Dear Susan Mocarski,
Thank you for your thoughtfulness. Your design is so custom compared to the commercial ones. The NY Times insists no gifts so it must be returned. I’ll keep in mind your “Cleverhood.” The poncho is the best for keeping dry on a bike.
P.S. Your kind note was appreciated and if you spot me again please say hi and remind me of your Cleverhood.
Bill was an inspiration to us. His note hangs proudly in our office. Vogue Editor-in-chief Anna Wintour said, “We all get dressed for Bill.” It’s a legacy that will continue to be with us in our hearts and minds without the pictures.