A Need For More Bill Cunninghams in the Fashion Industry

A recap of our night with Fern Mallis interviewing Bill Cunningham during NYFW and why we need more Bill Cunninghams in the fashion industry.

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I remember the night I watched the Bill Cunningham New York documentary. I was so moved by his monastic life in such a huge social spotlight. A man always surrounded by people and parties but essentially, a man who loves privacy and if possible, solitude. A man who wears a uniform on the streets because he has a job that millions want to see and be part of.

He is absolutely proud to serve.

Cunningham calls his job as a New York Times street fashion photographer, columnist, fashion historian and celebrity a “7 day a week Purgatory,” capturing all levels of  fashion and people on the streets who wear clothing with an attitude all their own- street striders who strut with an almost otherworldly glow that only Cunningham can see.

This week at 92Y with Fashion Icons with Fern Mallis interviewing Cunningham, we all got a special treat and (at times) heart-wrenching glimpse into the fashion photographer’s back story as well as some pretty fantastic fashion (his)tory from a man Anna Wintour says we all dress for.

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And whether you care about fashion or not, Cunningham is a man who sees the way we dress as art and movement as much as social protocol. Cunningham is everything a million+ followers blogger could ever wish to be and will never because they don’t have enough hands-on history to reference. They can’t touch his authenticity. Heck, most fashion writers can’t.

Mallis questioned whether some mythical Cunningham stories were true, going year by year throughout the photographer’s history, at times grabbing his hand when he started sobbing from the weight of emotion.

As in, did you know after President Kennedy was assassinated, Jacqueline Kennedy sent her pink Dior suit to Cunningham’s place of employment, Chez Ninon, where Cunningham helped dye the suit black so she could wear it to the president’s funeral?

Cunningham looked incredulously at Mallis, “There wasn’t time to get fabric and make a new suit. So overnight we dyed it!”

He wants nothing to do with money. “I’m terrified of taking money because then, they own you,” he shouted, referring to the millions he has been offered and never accepted or collected. “I’m really not good with money and I don’t pay attention. I know I can eat…”

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Some of the best takeaway quotes from the night?

“The fashion world is killing the industry by giving everything away.”

“Do you think I know what I’m photographing when I’m out there? The street speaks to me. If you’re not out on the street you don’t know anything.”

“People dress the way they do because they don’t want to be noticed.”

“I dine with my eyes on the street.”

“Legacy? I’m a worker in the factory…all we care about is today! A legacy…what a bunch of baloney.”

“The fashion world needs to come to grips with reality. The reality is you have the whole country electronically connected. They’re dressing the insides of their heads, as they should, and not the outside with a fancy hat or a dress.”

Images: The Sartorialist, 92Y, Bicycle Habitat, Jake Levine