Bill Cunningham – 1929-2016

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Fashion photo-journalist Bill Cunningham, pictured here pointing his camera while wearing his signature French workman’s jacket, tried to be an inconspicuous observer of New York fashion, but he was as well known to New Yorkers as the naked cowboy. He passed away yesterday at the age of 87. I never met the man, and yet I feel like I lost a friend.

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Although not in the Facades book, this is one of the many photographs Cunningham took of his friends dressed in period clothing around New York

I first became aware of Cunningham when I found a copy of his book Facades for a couple of dollars in a used book store in the early 1980s. The book of fashion photographs documents historic styles, as modelled by his friend Editta Sherman, in front of period buildings around New York. The photographs were taken between 1968 and 1976, when New York was crumbling into disrepair, and was published in 1978. It was a precious addition to my library that I looked at often, and it even became an inspiration for my exhibition Street Style at the Waterloo Region Museum in 2014.

Marilyn Monroe photographed by Bill Cunningham wearing a Cunningham hat

Marilyn Monroe photographed wearing a Cunningham hat

Cunningham began his fashion career as a milliner in the 1950s, turned to journalism, including W magazine, but left after an argument with publisher John Fairchild over who was the more important designer of the time – Yves St. Laurent or Andre Courreges. In 1967 Cunningham began taking pictures of Hippies, which lead to his photography for the book Facades. In 1979 he began working for the New York Times as a freelance fashion photographer and only after being hit by a truck in 1994 did he agree to become a member of the staff for health insurance benefits (Cunningham treasured his freedom over financial success.)

He lived in a rent controlled artist’s studio at Carnegie Hall most of his adult life. The 2010 film Bill Cunningham’s New York documents his daily work as the city tries to find rent controlled premises to relocate the last tenants of Carnegie Hall, including Cunningham and his long time friend and muse Editta Sherman, who died at the age of 101 in 2013. Despite the upheaval, Cunningham was one of those people for whom the glass was always half full, and in his weekly On-The-Street reports for the New York Times, he always brimmed with enthusiasm for whatever style he captured on film.

What surprises me…

Queen Maxima of the Netherlands was in Germany two days ago wearing this grey coat. Many noticed that some of the star designs on her coat resembled swastikas, which lead to criticism of the Queen. What I find surprising about this whole brouhaha is that:

  1. The crosses are largely made up from cheap hardware hooks and screws
  2. Judging by the picture that shows the edge of the coat sleeve, the coat is badly finished or shows considerable wear
  3. That a Dutch queen would wear something by a Danish designer (Claes Iversen) rather than something by one of the many talented Dutch designers
  4. That there are enough people in Germany to create a stink over an obviously unintentional oversight
  5. That there was an oversight – Come on! someone didn’t notice the resemblance?
  6. That people still confuse the Nazi swastika with the Buddhist symbol of rebirth/eternity

Rosy the Riveter dead at 92

Rosy the Riveter by Norman Rockwell, Saturday Evening Post cover, May 29, 1943

Rosy the Riveter by Norman Rockwell, Saturday Evening Post cover, May 29, 1943

Mary Doyle Keefe was 92 when she passed away today. Keefe was 19 when she was paid $10.00 to pose for two mornings in Arlington, Vermont for the artist Norman Rockwell. Working as a telephone operator, Mary had no idea that when her image was printed on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post, on May 29, 1943, that she would become a wartime symbol of the American woman on the home front.

Image often incorrectly cited as 'Rosy the Riveter'.

Image often incorrectly identified as ‘Rosy the Riveter’.

“Other than the red hair and my face, Norman Rockwell embellished Rosie’s body, I was much smaller than that and did not know how he was going to make me look like that until I saw the finished painting.” Keefe said in a 2012 interview with the Hartford Courant.

Rockwell’s “Rosie the Riveter” is often confused with the popular image created to sell war bonds of a woman flexing her arm with the slogan “We Can Do It.”

Lauren Bacall’s shoes

Rene ManciniLauren Bacall’s passing today reminded me that although the FHM doesn’t have a lot of famous people’e clothing, one of the celebrity items we do have is a pair of shoes from the personal wardrobe of Lauren Bacall from about 1956. These navy blue kid leather shoes with almond shaped toes and slim, stiletto heels are about a size 9 but very narrow and look like they were worn a half dozen times at most. There is no sizing on them because they are custom made by Rene Mancini – the Parisian shoemaker who takes credit for designing the classic Chanel pump with black toe cap in 1957.

Passing Legend – Deborah Turbeville 1932-2013

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Deborah Turbeville, Bow Ties, Italian Vogue March 2009

My friend Maggie emailed me a couple of days ago to let me know Deborah Turbeville had died. I admit I didn’t recognize her name at first but I immediately recognized her work. Turbeville was one of the photographers that changed the face of fashion photography in the 1970s. Her work had a ‘decaying sensuality’ to it, as Maggie put it. It was haunting, feminine, nostalgic, and beautiful.

Born in Massachusetts, Turbeville moved to New York in the early 50s and worked for designer Claire McCardell and as an editor at Harper’s Bazaar before turning her hand to fashion photography. More can be read about her work and life at the New York Times online, and Style.com.

Offbeat Fashionistas – Doris Day

Everyone thinks of Audrey Hepburn or Jackie Kennedy when listing fashion leaders, but I think there are others that get forgotten like Doris Day. Whether she’s wearing Irene, Jean Louis or someone else, Doris Day’s early 1960s style is always identifiable for its chic yet demure sexiness. I recently found this clip from her film That Touch of Mink with Cary Grant from 1962, and a promo of her clothes worn in Midnight Lace from 1960: