It is no surprise that we are extensively debating street style. Starting from Susy Menkes controversial article
on The New York Times last February, the critical commentary provided by bloggers Leandra Medine and Susie Lau that followed and — most recently — the interview
of Scott Schuman and Garance Dore on Elle UK, it seems that street style is justifiably claiming its spot in the fashion industry, since its influence today is more powerful than ever.
is an unavoidable name when it comes to street style. Born in Boston in 1929, he moved to New York in 1948, after he dropped out of Harvard. He briefly worked in advertising and then as a hatter under the name “William J.”, before he was offered a job at Women’s Wear Daily. After John Fairchild turned down his story on Courrèges, because he insisted “Saint Laurent is the one,” Cunningham quit and went on to work for the Chicago Tribune. In 1966, he was given a camera by photographer David Montgomery, who advised him to use it “like a notebook”. That was the turning point.
Since then, Cunningham has been riding his bicycle around New York capturing whatever draws his attention. Most of the time it’s clothes and, particularly, how people express themselves through them. His work is split between documenting New Yorkers’ street style by day and covering exclusive social events by night. But he photographs everyone with the same enthusiasm — the young, the elderly, the drag queens, the socialites — because, after all, they all contribute to New York’s unique vibe. His photographs are being published in his New York Times columns “Evening Hours” and “On the Street” (also a video column) for more than a decade to this day.
Style icon Isabella Blow, socialite Brooke Astor and legendary editor Carine Roifeld have been among his favorite subjects to photograph. Cunningham has been also documenting Anna Wintour’s characteristic style since her early twenties — in case you are wondering, YES, she has been sporting the coat-dress-mid heels-bob haircut look that long — and Wintour spoke for everyone when she admitted “we always get dressed for Bill.” The one thing he will never be interested in, though, is “celebrities and their free dresses.”
Apart from reporting street-style trends, Bill Cunningham also covers fashion week shows. Of course, he does it in the Cunningham way: unlike all other photographers, he always sits in the front row; he only captures the looks he likes based on whether the clothes are actually wearable (“If it isn’t something a woman would wear, I’m not interested in it.”); he always focuses on the details.
His photographs are actually a visual record of New Yorkers’ personal style, which dates back to the ‘60s. Acclaimed by the industry’s top leaders, he has paved the way for modern street-style photographers, such as Scott Schuman, Phil Oh and Tommy Ton, to name a few. The most fascinating thing about Cunningham, who is turning 85 this March, is that he enjoys so much what he does that it doesn’t feel like working: “I do not work. I just know how to have fun every day.” So don’t expect him to retire anytime soon.