Thursday, June 30, 2016

RIP Bill Cunningham

He's Just Our Bill

Bill Cunningham, the legendary photographer with a 40-year career at The New York Times, died last week. He was 87 years old.

He was beloved in the style world for his On the Street spread in each Sunday's Times, as well as the Evening Hours coverage of society and charity galas.

On Sunday, October 27, 2002, The Times published a special section called "On the Street." The lead article, "The Age of Street Fashion," was written by Guy Trebay, my favorite style writer who can turn an original phrase like no other. "Has there ever been a designer's catwalk that produced better fashion than a city sidewalk?" he wrote.

I saved that section for 14 years and pulled it out of my "Fashion Articles" box because I remembered that there was a treasure trove of material in it on Bill Cunningham. "Bill on Bill" was in his own words. Here are some of the words and pictures from that section.

Bill Cunningham apparently was a sweet, funny guy. He rode around New York City, even in his dotage, (although he really did not have a dotage) on a bike, snapping pictures of the "stunners" that he passed. Or he would station himself at the corner of 5th Avenue and 57th Street to capture the ladies and gents "going to business," as he put it. He could be spotted in his blue workman's jacket which he purchased in the hardware section in the basement of the Bazar de l'Hôtel de Ville department store in Paris.
Bill Cunningham on the Sheep Meadow in Central Park,
Easter Sunday, 1967 with his first camera.

Bill wrote:
"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."

In the 1950s, Bill designed hats under the label William J. because his family would have been embarrassed if he had used his real name. His shop was at 44 West 54th Street in a brownstone.

 Two of Bill's hats.
 An overflow crowd in Bill's Salon for a 
1956 showing of his hats.

Joe Eula, Illustrator, said:
"In the 1950s, I lived across the street from him when he was William J. I remember he had this hat in the window with fringe hanging from the brim to the ground. It was a bathing suit hat, and you were supposed to change your clothes behind the fringe. I called up Sally Kirkland, who was the fashion editor at Life, and I said, "You've got to see this!" She put it in Life. Bill was an absolute innovator right from the get-go. His hats were the grand opera of all time."
Bill's first collection of street photography in The Times on December 30 1978.
Greta Garbo is top, second from right.
Bill said:
"Then I got to know Arthur Gelb (former Managing Editor of The Times), and one day I told him about this woman I had been photographing on the street. She wore a nutria coat, and I thought: "Look at the cut of that shoulder. It's so beautiful." And it was a plain coat, too. You'd look at it and think: "Oh, are you crazy? It's nothing."  Anyway, I was taking her picture, and I saw people turn around, looking at her. She crossed the street, and I thought. Is that? Sure enough, it was Greta Garbo. All I had noticed was the coat, and the shoulder." 
 Bill in his hat salon in 1957.
He was quite a handsome fellow.
My favorite anecdote about Bill, is that
when he covered the fashion shows in Paris,
he always stayed at a modest hotel and made the
room reservation by sending them a note on a postcard.
John Fairchild said, 
"You know, he's like a pixie on a bicycle. You're at some dreary event. Suddenly, there's a flash, a wonderful word, and just lifts you up."

In 2012, Bill photographed my friends, 
The Idiosyncratic Fashionistas, in
my felt helmets, which he
really liked, according to Jean and Valerie.

Bill, we will miss you. Sundays will never be the
same without opening the Style Section to
your "On the Street."

Au revoir, Bill.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Amy Downs Pops Up in the Big Apple

Amy Downs Has a Pop-Up Shop
Memorial Day weekend turned out to be memorable for me because I went to an Amy Downs Trunk Show with a bunch of my pals.

Who is Amy Downs? Let's go back to 1985 when Richard and I moved to NYC and rented a loft in a former dance hall on Rivington Street. The loft had two big rooms and two bathrooms, no kitchen and no shower. We installed a shower in one of the bathrooms, purchased a small refrigerator and hauled out our double burner for cooking. In summer, we built our famous air-conditioned room for sleeping. The room was constructed from 4 by 8 foot panels covered in clear vinyl with edges sealed in green duct tape. I believe that MoMA has a replica in their design department.

For fun, Richard and I would wander the wild and woolly Lower East Side, stepping aside to let the random drug dealer or drug taker lurch by. It was the time of Mayor Koch's reign and Operation Pressure Point was trying to push the drug trade out to the boroughs. It was on one of these walks that we came upon the wonderland of Amy Downs, The Hat and Mary Adams, The Dress, two intrepid designers who shared a storefront at the corner of Ludlow and Stanton.
Me in an Amy Downs hat. 
Four hat people have just come from Amy's Trunk Show
on East Broadway.
L-R, Dayle, Debra Rapoport, Teresa Taylor and Carol Markel.
All but Debra, who wears a hat of her own design, are
wearing Amy Downs' toppers.
We were giddy as we began the trying on.
There was picture-taking.
 Much style advice was proffered.

 Choices were made.
 Theresa's choice: a becoming red straw.
Dayle in a lemon-lime tulle which
complements her yellow glasses.
Amy makes darling mannequins.
Debra is a consummate milliner.
She models this big-bow hat
of her own design.
Leaving the scene of the crime
(assault and battery on our wallets)
we head to Seward Park
for a lawn party!
 Joining us at our Seward Park Co-op,
were Diana Gabriel and Valerie of  The
Idiosyncratic Fashionistas.
Diana holds a bag of donuts
from The Donut Plant.
Truly forbidden fruit.
 Valerie uncorks some bubbly.
 Richard and I are fortunate to have a wonderful
lawn area on our co-op's property.
Red chairs are set out every day.
Diana models Teresa's Amy Downs hat.
A sun-dappled tableau.
 Families and children share our outdoor space.
Some years ago, Amy moved to
Centralia, Washington.
You can look at her studio in
a charming video or order a hat,

A Big Hat Thank You
to Denton Taylor
for these photos.

À Bientôt!