One crazy funny-but-true story about the iconic luxury store Bergdorf Goodman is the number of devoted shoppers who want their ashes scattered inside. Of course, you have to do it on the sly. Their dedicated spirit may haunt the store’s interior, but in my mind the outside sidewalks belong solely to the late fashion photographer Bill Cunningham.
Cunningham, who died in 2016 at the age of 87, was for decades a fixture on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street. He knew it was where the stylish met the fashionable. I would often see him crouched and squinting in his signature blue jacket as he hunted street trends with his Nikon. Now every shot from that location, like this one on pattern-mixing, feels haunted by his legacy.
His single-minded desire to record New York’s elegant and outlandish is shown in the 2010 documentary, “Bill Cunningham: New York” and his recent posthumous memoir: Fashion Climbing: A Memoir With Photographs (Penguin, 2018).
Even though he looked angelic, he could be tough when necessary, as I discovered.
After I was hired at Women’s Wear Daily, I was excited to learn that Bill Cunningham had started his writing career at the paper. Our commonality was only in my mind, though.
One of my earliest WWD assignments was to “cover” a big New York society party. I had to get all the photographed local celebrity’s names spelled correctly and write a column. I was green and new to the scene. We were tucked off behind ropes, and all the photographers were firing rapidly away.
Bill Cunningham was shooting next to me for The New York Times.
“Who’s that?” I asked him as the first beautiful socialite walked by. He told me, quickly. I wrote it down. “Who’s that?” I asked, as the next woman passed.
He paused and glared at me. “Get your own names,” he snapped.
It was a quick lesson in the competitive nature of journalism, down to and including party reporting. And from then on, I did.