Words by Mia Riley
Think of how much the fashion industry has changed over the past 40 years, every different trend, every different icon and every new and old designer. People have come and gone in the industry in the past 4 decades but one man always remained a constant; Bill Cunningham.
Bill Cunningham was an unlikely pioneer in fashion, he evolved and defined street style and trends to how we know them today. If you’ve ever had the chance to watch his documentary ‘Bill Cunningham New York’ you’ll know he was possibly the most down to earth, lovable and loyal man in the fashion industry. A creature of habit Cunningham, would hop on his bike everyday with his camera and blue overalls, khaki trousers and black trainers and snap the unknowingly stylish people of New York City.
For me personally what was so moving about Cunningham was that he did everything for the love of it. It was never about, fame or money. For Bill Cunningham it was about beauty and clothes, he was the eyes of the fashion world. There is this wonderful paragraph from an article he wrote in 2002 where he sums himself up perfectly. “I started photographing people on the street during World War II. I used a little box Brownie. Nothing too expensive. The problem is I’m not a good photographer. To be perfectly honest, I’m too shy. Not aggressive enough. Well, I’m not aggressive at all. I just loved to see wonderfully dressed women, and I still do. That’s all there is to it.”
Cunningham was the sear of trends, his camera lenses and eyes were invaluable and priceless. He knew it himself often saying “You see, if you don’t take money, they can’t tell you what to do, kid.” Showing that the liberty and freedom of your art was more important than any price.
When the news broke of Cunningham’s sad passing, the entire fashion and journalism community all mourned his loss, because at the end of the day he was an irreplaceable man that had an incredible ability to forecast trends simply by observing people. Sadness and gloom jolted through all forms of social media as news slowly spread of the 87 year old photography guru’s death. With Frank Rich saying “Bill Cunningham was as delightful and fascinating a person and colleague as he was as artist. An independent mind, big heart, no airs.” And Josh Groban, “This is so sad. Please watch Bill Cunningham New York, such beautiful documentary about this sweet brilliant guy“
He’s left a void in the industry that I suspect will never be filled. They really broke the mould with him. Rest in Peace The Godfather of Street style. It’s somehow fitting for the last word on a Fashion Legend to come from Fashion Legend, Ms Suzy Menkes who said of Bill, “the greatest street photographer fashion has ever had, has laid down his camera for ever. He has died in New York at age 87. His bicycle is stilled. He won’t be coming up to me any more saying ‘Hello child’ in his gravelly voice. I shall miss him so. As will the fashion world which has lost an honest and true reporter worthy of the New York Times where his work was cherished. May he rest in peace – but his incomparable record of changing styles last for ever.”