An enchanting memoir by the legendary New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham
*A Financial Times Book of the Year 2018*
*The New York Times Bestseller*
‘I took to New York life like a star shooting through the heavens…’
Bill Cunningham’s first love was fashion but the big city came a close second. He left for New York aged nineteen, losing his family’s support but enjoying the infinite luxury of freedom. Living on a scoop of Ovaltine a day, he would run down to Fifth Avenue to feed on the spectacular sights of the window displays – then run back to his tiny studio to work all night.
Working as ‘William J’ (to spare his parents’ blushes), Bill became one of the most celebrated hat designers of the 1950s, creating elegant town hats for movie stars and playful beach hats for the summer set. Bill’s mission was to bring happiness by making beautiful things – even if it meant pawning his bike to fund fancy-dress outfits for all his friends.
When women stopped wearing hats and his business was forced to close, Bill worked as a fashion journalist, touring the couture houses of Europe. But New York remained his home, and it was as a street photographer of the fashions of the city that he became well known, in a job that would last almost forty years.
Fashion Climbing is the enchanting memoir he left behind, capturing the madcap times of his early career and the fashion scene of the mid-century.
Written with the spark and wit of Holly Golightly, and brimming over with Bill’s infectious joy for life, it is a gift to all who seek beauty, whatever our style or status.
The legendary New York Times photographer whose extraordinary eye captured high fashion and high society in his columns "On the Street" and "Evening Hours" turns his focus to his early years and early career in this surprising and sprightly posthumous memoir. Cunningham (1929 2016), who grew up in an Irish Catholic suburb of Depression-era Boston, recalls his first brush with fashion at age four when he donned his sister's pink organza party dress. Though reprimanded by his Boston-proper mother, the incident didn't deter him from a lifelong obsession with clothes and couture. After dropping out of Harvard at 19, Cunningham moved to New York, where he worked in carriage-trade retail and then struck out on his own as a high-end hat designer whose often outrageous millinery was inspired by fruit, fish, and fowl. His antics and adventures hiding behind plants at a Chanel show or under a table at a debutante ball, sneaking into the Waldorf Astoria to glimpse Queen Elizabeth give readers a front-row seat on the mid-century fashion world, and the black and white photos, many featuring a dapper, young Cunningham beaming ear to ear, document a fantastical bygone era. For all the book's frivolity, Cunningham is a truth teller in an artifice-draped world: he calls some of the customers who bought his hats "star-spangled bitches... full of conniving tricks to get the price as low as possible" and singles out Women's Wear Daily publisher John Fairchild as a fake who played favorites. The glamorous world of 20th-century fashion comes alive in Cunningham's masterful memoir both because of his exuberant appreciation for stylish clothes and his sharp assessment of those who wore them.