ComplexCon returns to Long Beach Nov. 6 - 7 with hosts J. Balvin and Kristen Noel Crawley, performances by A$AP Rocky and Turnstile, and more shopping and drops.
Secure your spot while tickets last!
I still remember what it was like seeing Bill Cunningham up close for the first time ever. It was September of last year and I was at the Prabal Gurung Spring/Summer 2016 runway show in New York. Cunningham, in his signature cobalt blue French worker’s jacket, khaki pants, and black sneakers, was stationed nearby the exit of the venue. He was surveying his surroundings, waiting to photograph the right outfit. Editors, buyers, bloggers, and other attendees at the show strategically walked past him, hoping to get snapped by the forefather of street style photography. Some asked if they could take a photo of him. Others greeted him, genuinely elated at the sight of Cunningham.
In all the fashion shows I’ve attended and celebrities I’ve seen at these events (Amar’e Stoudemire, J.R. Smith, Kylie Jenner, Victor Cruz, A$AP Rocky, Kanye West, etc.), Cunningham is the only person who’s ever left me starstruck. So starstruck, in fact, that I had to snap this photo of him outside of the Prabal Gurung show.
Earlier today, The New York Times confirmed the death of Cunningham, 87. According to the Times, he was hospitalized recently after having a stroke. There has been an outpour of love and support for Cunningham, and rightfully so. He was an inspiration for many. He pioneered street style photography, paving the way for the likes of Tommy Ton and Scott Schuman. His “On the Street” column that chronicled fashion in the Times, which has been described by The New Yorker as “New York’s high-school yearbook,” was a staple for anyone interested in fashion. He was awarded the Legion d’Honneur by the French government in 2008, and named a Living Landmark by the New York Landmark Conservancy the following year. He was loved by even the most notoriously hard-to-please individuals in fashion, including Vogue editor Anna Wintour. “I have said many times that we all get dressed for Bill,” Wintour declared in the 2010 documentary Bill Cunningham New York. “And it’s one snap, two snaps, or he ignores you, which is death.” But, those accolades aren’t what drew me—and plenty others—to Cunningham.
Cunningham, born in Boston, began taking street style photos while writing for the Chicago Tribune and Women’s Wear Daily. In 1978, he published impromptu pictures in the Times featuring legendary actress Greta Garbo. His photographs, which later became a regular series in the Times, has been described by Cunningham’s editor, Arthur Gelb, as “a turning point for the Times, because it was the first time the paper had run pictures of well-known people without getting their permission.”
What’s most compelling about Cunningham is that he made a career taking unexpected photos of celebrities, socialites, and everyday people in the streets of Manhattan. He focused on how each individual expressed themselves through style. He’s been quoted saying, “I don’t pay attention to celebrities. I don’t photograph them. They don’t dress so...interestingly. They have stylists. I prefer real women who have their own taste.” For him, it wasn’t about celebrity names or designer labels. If you wanted to be street-styled by Cunningham, you most definitely had to come correct.
The fashion industry can be pretentious and exclusive. Cunningham was neither of those.
The fashion industry can be pretentious and exclusive. Cunningham was neither of those. Despite being invited to the most elite galas and fashion events, he hated publicity and was notoriously low-key. In Bill Cunningham New York, it was revealed that he didn’t own a television. He lived in an infinitesimal Carnegie Hall studio-cum-apartment, which only had enough room for his file cabinets, where he kept all if his negatives, and the single-size cot he slept on. He didn’t have a kitchen or a private bath (he showered in a shared bathroom). Cunningham possessed a humble and gentle demeanor.
But, above all, he made everyone—fashion’s elite or a regular person—feel special.
I remember Complex social media director Julian Patterson walking into the office one morning more thrilled than I'd ever seen him. When I asked what happened, he said simply, “Bill Cunningham took my picture.”