Everyday People: The Legacy of Bill Cunningham

Many tributes have flooded in for Bill Cunningham; the celebrated long time photographer of the New York times, who passed away a few days ago after suffering from a stroke. Cunningham was a visionary ‘street fashion’ photographer (a term he coined) who was admired by many in the fashion industry. He has worked for esteemed publications such as Details, Women’s Wear Daily, and The New York Times.

Vogue. Getty Images

In light of his passing we take a look back at some of the tributes to him by significant people in the fashion industry. These accounts are over a decade old, which is testament to the legacy that Cunningham had created. Even when he was alive and kicking, he was highly revered and was randomly sighted like a mythical creature that would appear in blue at different corners of Manhattan. (You can’t miss that blue shirt)

“We all dress for Bill”

Anna Wintour – Editor in Chief of Vogue
I don’t know how many times he has taken my photograph, but we all dress for Bill. You feel he’s the only one who notices or cares how you dress. I wonder if Bill will like this. And it’s always a flattering picture he chooses. He picks everything carefully, so you will look your best. He’s a very seductive guy.

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Anna Wintour and Bill Cunningham

Oscar De La Renta
More than anyone else in the city, he has the whole visual history of the last 40 or 50 years of New York. It’s the total scope of fashion in the life of New York.

Isabella Blow – Fashion director of Tatler Magazine
He does make you run, Bill. He once said to me, ”Baby, can you stand on top of that grille?” We were outside the Louvre, and I had on a white chiffon dress. He could see right up to my pants. I was walking on the street recently in Paris when he just grabbed me and said, ”Come, kid, get out there!” You don’t mind because you know the voice.

First Thought Films
Bill Cunningham shooting women attending a fashion show in Chelsea. © First Thought Films

Polly Mellen – Fashion Stylist and Editor
He photographed me a lot. And sometimes I didn’t even know he was photographing me, which was the whole point. I remember he photographed me in a pair of trendy Comme des Garçons shoes with fox pompoms. He’s very hung up on shoes. He’s very hung up on originality.

Bill Cunningham in NYC

John Fairchild – Former Publisher of Women’s Wear Daily
One day I was having lunch at the old Le Cirque, and I mentioned how beautiful the flowers were. And someone said, ”Oh, they’re done by Bill’s lady friend, Suzette.” When I saw him, I said, ”Bill, you sneaky guy.” He just smiled.

Annie Flanders – Founder of Details Magazine
I met Bill in 1967, when I opened my store, Abracadabra, and he was working for The Chicago Tribune. My idea was to introduce designers who were sewing at home and put them in a retail space. Quite a few went on to very good careers, including Willi Smith. Bill just loved the store. Then I left the country for three years, and when I returned, I ran into Bill, and he encouraged me to go back into fashion. In 1976, I started working for The SoHo Weekly News, and I asked Bill to do the fashion reports. We founded Details almost literally on the night that The SoHo News closed, in April 1982 — myself, Ronnie Cooke, Stephen Saban, Lesley Vinson, Megan Haungs and Bill Cunningham.

Bill Cunningham photographs model contestants outside the European Wax Center . © Cindy Ord/Getty Images for European Wax Centers

Andre Leon Talley – Editor at Large, Vogue
Bill was a great friend of Antonio Lopez, and when I first came to New York, around 1975, Antonio would take me up to Bill’s studio. It was such a Zen atmosphere. We should all get to the Zen atmosphere of Bill sleeping on a mattress, just like Mr. Yunioshi, the photographer in ”Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

One of Bill Cunningham’s collections.

Spot the piano!