Just like Central Park or the Brooklyn Bridge, Bill Cunningham is one of New York’s beloved mainstays. Over the past decades he’s photographed galas, fashion shows, society parties and street style with a unique flair for capturing that elusive of-the-moment mood.
Tomorrow, March 13th, the legendary lensman and subject of an upcoming New York Historical Society exhibit turns 85. Cheers!
Ask anyone in the fashion crowd about the first moment they spotted—or were spotted by—the famous blue-jacket clad photographer, and we’re sure they can recall. So to honor Mr. Cunningham, that’s exactly what we did. Check out ‘Bill moments’ and birthday wishes from friends and fans like Linda Rodin, Mickey Boardman, Stephanie LaCava and Simon Doonan, and leave your own birthday message in the comments section below!
“My favorite memory of being shot by Bill was recently during fashion week right as a show was about to start. He saw me in a colorful painted cape and said, ‘Vollbracht.’ It’s rare, even in the fashion world, that people know Vollbracht, much less how to spot one of his illusive pieces. Bill took the line sheet out of my hand, threw it on the floor and commanded I walk down the runway to a printed wall for a photo. I explained the show was about to start and he said, ‘Michelle go!’ I did it nervously because when Bill asks you do something you do it. It’s Bill after all!”
-Michelle Harper, Brand Consultant
“Happy, happy birthday to a New York fashion legend! I will never forget the visit I had with you and Josef Astor in Carnegie Hall—it’s one of my favorite memories. Thank you, Bill, for everything you do. xoxo”
-Linda Rodin, Founder and Creator of RODIN
“The most memorable moment for me was when we ran into each other after the Valentino couture show. I was wearing an outfit by the Russian designer Vika Gazinskaya, which included a cotton neckpiece made to look like big jewels drawn in colored pencil. He totally went crazy for it; he thought it was a genius idea.”
-Shala Monroque, Creative Director of GARAGE magazine
“The worst thing is when he takes a look at you and then puts the camera down! Love you and happy birthday, Bill.”
-Laura Brown, Executive Editor, Harper’s BAZAAR
“I remember how special it would be to feel him there capturing you. The thing was, it was around that time that the culture of preening and street style was starting and we were all prey to it. But Bill knew when girls were looking for it and instead always seemed to find the ones who inhabited the moment and look as personal, not for attention. You could feel him feeling you out on any occasion. He was over it before it started, before we even knew it. He’s the real thing.”
-Stephanie LaCava, Writer
“We always see Bill at the shows and offer to squeeze him in with the Barneys team, but he rarely sits. He finds a way to crouch down or slip back to his official seat just seconds before the show starts.”
-Mark Lee, CEO, Barneys
“After the YSL show at the Grand Palais, which featured a clear plastic cape, I bumped into Bill on the Metro (as we all know, he’s thrifty!) and he just couldn’t stop laughing at the fact that I was also wearing a clear plastic raincoat. He just kept chuckling and snapping away.”
-Susie Bubble, Fashion Blogger
“Bill Cunningham will be forever known as the leading photographer capturing street style. He’s been carving a path for decades, making it possible for so many young photographers to follow in his footsteps.”
-Tom Kalenderian, GMM, EVP, Barneys
“Diana Vreeland worshiped Bill. She was convinced that every Met costume installation needed to have a contribution from the bicycle-riding fashion sage. On the occasion of the Royal India show in 1985, I was instructed to leave space in one of my dioramas for a white peacock. Bill, an amateur taxidermist, promised Diana he would deliver a specimen in time for the opening.
Days passed. No peacock. On the last day of the installation Bill careened into the parking lot on his bicycle with Mr. Peacock in a trash bag on the handlebars of Bill’s bike.
He told me it wasn’t a peacock, but a dead seagull that he found while cycling through Central Park. He took it home, stuffed it and added goose and peacock feathers! Voilá!
With a little careful lighting and judicious angling, Bill’s seagull delivered a remarkably good impersonation of a regal peacock. There is yet another lesson for us all: When in doubt, make sure you are totally backlit.”
-Simon Doonan, Barneys’ Creative Ambassador and former Vreeland collaborator
I’m sad to report that for years he never seemed interested in taking my picture.
A few years ago at the CFDA Awards, I was wearing a Calvin Klein tuxedo with a sequined Proenza Schouler top. I also had on a crazy giant necklace by Dana Lorenz for Fenton. I saw Bill and he was THRILLED. He ran over to me and grabbed my hand saying, ‘Mickey, have you seen Iris Apfel? I’ve just GOT to get a picture of you two kids together.’
I thought I’d FINALLLY make it into the fashion page, but I didn’t. About a week later, a manila envelope arrived at my office and it was a color print of the photo. Bill’s note said, ‘This is what great style looks like.’ That was the most exciting fashion experience of my life!”
-Mickey Boardman, Editorial Director, Paper Magazine