On June 25, 2016, Bill Cunningham passed away in Manhattan. He was 87.
We mourn Bill Cunningham today.
I don’t know one person without a story about him: an insider’s memory from the hallways of The New York Times; a general nostalgic waxing about the heydays of print; an embarrassing anecdote from the check-in line at fashion week (“I was working the door and accidentally gave him a hard time about coming in!”); a tourist’s sighting; a worthy brag about being shot for his column not once, but twice.
So many of these stories are spun from respect and admiration, told just as well by those who know (and love) him only from the documentary as those who read the Style section with devotion or, more fortunate yet, had the honor to meet him. No one had to know Bill to feel like they knew Bill. His quick hands and sharp sight did the knowing for us. With sidewalks as his platform, Bill Cunningham democratized fashion before that was in fashion.
It’s why so many mourn today. We lost an artist and an ally.
Fashion is quick to judge. Criticism drives sales. Trends come in, styles go out. Taste — that you either have it or you don’t — is part of the appeal. But “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” never held more weight than when Bill did the holding. He looked for patterns in strange places, like corporate Midtown, and saw reasons to snap in earnest where many of us might have looked away. He captured fashion in awkward angles and sometimes tacky interpretations, not to please a design house or an editor, but for the sake of telling a story.
A December trend piece of his centered around the color of Manhattan’s fallen ginko tree leaves — a yellow autumnal gold. He shot a lemon scarf and a sort of garish purse and found multiple bumble bee coats — none of it exactly prominent on this year’s runway. Bright, yes. Perhaps unremarkable outside of its clustered pollen context, but somehow lovely, inspiring and arresting. Bill Cunningham saw what most of our eyes could never detect, didn’t he? With intuition or conviction or something else.
Sometimes I wonder if he was the only human alive who had the ability to stare directly into the sun.
Photographed by Krista Anna Lewis