A look back at Bill Cunningham's extraordinary impact on the fashion industry and beyond
The streets of New York's Upper East Side will feel strangely empty today, without the snapping lens, bright blue worker's smock and bicycle of the world's most famous - not to mention first - street style photographer. 87-year-old fashion industry darling William J. Cunningham died following a stroke on the weekend, sending the industry and broader community into mourning.
A Harvard drop-out turned esteemed fashion journalist at The New York Times, Cunningham made his mark with none of the fanfare and flamboyance the industry expects. Instead, he toiled away quietly; his work speaking for itself and his two simple signatures - his blue shirt and the bicycle he rode to jobs - gradually garnering him worldwide fame.
Before he wrote about fashion, Cunningham made it, leaving Boston for Manhattan to indulge his lifelong love of hats and set up his own millinery, William J. The crème de la crème of New York society made up his clientele - Marilyn Monroe wore his hats - until he was drafted to serve in the Korean War and closed his beloved business.
On his return, Cunningham worked as a fashion reporter for the Chicago Tribune, then Women's Wear Daily and eventually, The New York Times, where he began dabbling in photography. His first subject? None other than Greta Garbo, who he snapped candidly for his inaugural On the Street Column in 1978. Just like that, street style was born.
Cunningham was most commonly spotted snapping the impeccably dressed around Bergdorf Goodman, at charity balls and front row at fashion weeks around the world. "He had such an eye," Carine Roitfeld told WWD over the weekend. "We all dreamt to be featured on his page in The New York Times. It was the page to be on."
See the legendary photographer at work in the gallery above.