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Fashion Climbing, photographer Bill Cunningham’s secret memoir

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 21, 2018

Fashion Climbing

This is kind of amazing. Legendary street fashion photographer Bill Cunningham died two years ago, leaving behind a massive body of work documenting the last 40 years of the fashion world. Somewhat surprisingly, he also wrote a memoir that seemingly no one knew about. He called it Fashion Climbing (pre-order on Amazon).

Fashion Climbing is the story of a young man striving to be the person he was born to be: a true original. But although he was one of the city’s most recognized and treasured figures, Bill was also one of its most guarded. Written with his infectious joy and one-of-a-kind voice, this memoir was polished, neatly typewritten, and safely stored away in his lifetime. He held off on sharing it — and himself — until his passing. Between these covers, is an education in style, an effervescent tale of a bohemian world as it once was, and a final gift to the readers of one of New York’s great characters.

The NY Times, where Cunningham worked for decades, has more information on the book.

“There I was, 4 years old, decked out in my sister’s prettiest dress,” reads the memoir’s second sentence. “Women’s clothes were always much more stimulating to my imagination. That summer day, in 1933, as my back was pinned to the dining room wall, my eyes spattering tears all over the pink organdy full-skirted dress, my mother beat the hell out of me, and threatened every bone in my uninhibited body if I wore girls’ clothes again.”

The wonderful documentary about Cunningham is currently available on Amazon Prime. I was lucky enough to catch Cunningham at work on the streets of NYC, once at the Union Square Greenmarket and another time during Summer Streets. Watching him snap away with his camera in that blue coat of his, bicycle propped nearby, was thrilling for me, like watching a superhero dispatching bad guys on the streets of Metropolis or Gotham.1

  1. Almost as thrilling was watching Maira Kalman sketching people at a MoMA cafe. We usually only ever see the output of artists, so watching them actually at work is a special thing.