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Fashion Climbing: A Memoir with Photographs…

Fashion Climbing: A Memoir with Photographs (2018)

by Bill Cunningham

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I still miss Bill's street fashion reports on the NYT ipad version - I'd also enjoyed the documentary about him and his later life as a street photographer. This memoir that was discovered in his effects details the troubles and joys of his youth, discovering his eye for beauty and fashion. With luck and determination he was able to devote himself to observation and creation in post-war NYC as a milliner then as a journalist. He enjoyed himself and endeavored to spread joy and appreciation of beauty for as long as he lived. There are a couple of odd essays tacked on at the end, don't mind those... I would've like some more attribution to the people in the few photographs. ( )
  cindywho | May 27, 2019 |
Fashion climbing by Cunningham_ William J - Als_ Hilton
Enjoying how this young man grew up loving lavish clothing and ended up working in Boston. Like hearing of training where it involved other trades but he found useful in fashion.
Like hearing how he traveled the world and picked up so much knowledge to help with his imagination when it came to designing.
I received this book from National Library Service for my BARD (Braille Audio Reading Device). ( )
  jbarr5 | Nov 28, 2018 |
Born during the Depression to an Irish-American family with conservative values, Bill Cunningham’s penchant for fancy clothes and beautiful décor was discouraged- discouraged to the point of receiving a brutal beating when his mother caught four year old Bill wearing his sister’s organdy party dress. His interest- passion- couldn’t be kept down, however, and he devoted his entire life to fashion in one way or another. He worked in boutiques as a teen, became a sought-after hat designer in the 50s (who was put out of business by the fact that, come the 60s, no one was wearing hats anymore), crashed every high-profile party, became an on-the-scene fashion photographer- working for the New York Times at one point, and basically celebrated the beautiful. More than fashion, he was interested in style- the clothes and the hats and the jewels had to be worn with originality and elan.

The manuscript for ‘Fashion Climbing’ was found, neatly typewritten and put away, after his death. The memoir covers the years before he became a photographer. Even though he had his share of starving times he was always cheerful and greeted the world as a place of delight. He wasn’t all sweetness and light, though; parts of the last chapter ‘On Taste’ where he makes it clear that most women don’t have style, and that to carry of wearing high fashion one needs not just great posture and manners but ‘generations of good breeding’; after all, one ‘can’t slipcover a pig and expect it not to grunt’. Oddly, this opinion is in the same paragraph where he tells us that one of the day’s most elegant women was a prostitute not long before!

It’s a short book and a fast read, interesting to someone who loves fashion history. A number of black and white pictures (more would have been great!), of Cunningham and various fashionable women- these are not fashion show shots. Four stars. ( )
  lauriebrown54 | Nov 5, 2018 |
It was okay. Bill Cunningham was a well-known photographer of people and fashion for the NY Times. This memoir (published posthumously) recounts his life up to that point. He grew up in a strict Boston Catholic home where his predilection for dressing in women's clothing or home decorating was appreciated. He stayed true to himself and persevered, find work as a teenager at Jordan Marsh and Bonwit Teller in Boston. He developed mentors who saw his potential, eventually moved to NYC to work at Bonwits and subsequently forged a life for himself as a millinery designer, opening up his own salon. Mr. Cunningham appears to have remained a "normal" human being who found himself, by virtue of his work, in the midst of High Society and Big Money. Some of the stories are witty, some are just pathetic. It was an interesting book by a man who lived an interesting life. ( )
  bogopea | Oct 18, 2018 |
In this memoir (discovered after his death), Bill Cunningham recounts the childhood beginnings of his interest in women’s fashion, his perseverance to success as a milliner and then fashion journalist -- and, in the process, traces how “fashion climbing” became the social climbing of the mid-20th century and beyond.

And he does so in the most exuberant voice I’ve ever encountered! He doesn’t leave out the hard times or difficult people, but this is overwhelmingly a positive, enthusiastic and outright FUN tale of perseverance and success in the early- and mid-1900s. The passages I pulled to quote are 150 pages apart, but I realize now that they’re the designer and customer views of the same advice -- to be true to oneself:

The most difficult thing in designing is the long, hard years it takes designers to free themselves of others’ influences.

Most people acquire style for status, which never truly satisfies the personal desire to be your real self.

It’s an inspiring read for anyone interested in fashion or any creative field.

(Review based on an advance reading copy provided by the publisher.) ( )
1 vote DetailMuse | Aug 28, 2018 |
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The iconic "New York Times" photographer presents a sophisticated, visual account of his early education in New York City's high-fashion circles. For Bill Cunningham, New York City was the land of freedom, glamour, and, above all, style. Growing up in a lace-curtain Irish suburb of Boston, secretly trying on his sister's dresses and spending his evenings after school in the city's chicest boutiques, Bill dreamed of a life dedicated to fashion. But his desires were a source of shame for his family, and after dropping out of Harvard, he had to fight them tooth-and-nail to pursue his love. When he arrived in New York, he reveled in people-watching. He spent his nights at opera openings and gate-crashing extravagant balls, where he would take note of the styles, new and old, watching how the gowns moved, how the jewels hung, how the hair laid on each head. This was his education, and the birth of the democratic and exuberant taste that he came to be famous for as a photographer for The New York Times. After two style mavens took Bill under their wing, his creativity thrived and he made a name for himself as a designer. Taking on the alias William J.--because designing under his family's name would have been a disgrace to his parents--Bill became one of the era's most outlandish and celebrated hat designers, catering to movie stars, heiresses, and artists alike. Bill's mission was to bring happiness to the world by making women an inspiration to themselves and everyone who saw them. These were halcyon days when fashion was all he ate and drank. When he was broke and hungry he'd stroll past the store windows on Fifth Avenue and feed himself on beautiful things. 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.… (more)

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