Bill Cunningham, the iconic street and social photographer for the New York Times solidified my life in New York City. I was at a MAO fashion show. Heatherette? I can’t recall, but I wore my most coveted Westwood suit, thrift store Pucci (for Saks!) tie and I was marching down the runway looking for my seat holding firm to my tweed man bag, which I had bought at the then new H&M. Of course I was sporting a custom Rod Keenan hat. Or was it borrowed from the studio that morning over coffee? The outfit was complete with my Westwood overcoat thrown over my shoulders. Quite the balancing act keeping all of these accessories in place on the windswept streets of Manhattan, let me tell you.
I saw Bill sitting in the front row and I knew not to look at him. Never look at Bill! I am not sure if someone told me that or I just learned like a cat learns from its clowder. I was so excited I thought confetti would blow through the top of my hat, but after he clicked, and I sashayed by, that was it. Until Sunday.
I got the call on Sunday morning from Patrick McDonald. "Congrats doll you made the Times!” It was exhilarating. I felt like I had finally made it. So much so that I used it as the closing chapter of a book I was working on about my time in New York and Harlem (since unfinished). I was one of those people I had poured over every morning for years flitting about parties and the concrete runways that make New York so divine. What made it even more special is that I had made it with two dear friends, Patrick and Rod. There we all were, doing it up in Bill's column.
Several weeks later I had gone back to Atlanta to spend time with my family. I pull up to mom and dad’s house and dad is rushing out the front door of the house, waving The Sunday Styles section in his hand shouting, “You made it! You made it!”
While I had indeed thought I had made it, I also assumed that was a one in a million moment to be a part of Bill’s sacred column. Lucky for me I was to grace those paper pages many more times for the next ten years. Most of my photos are from events at the Frick where we would do it up Edwardian style for various balls and Gatsby glory for garden parties. But as I rose in the fashion industry, I got to know Bill. I am not going to fake that we were buddies, or that he knew my name. I know that for a fact because later on when he started shooting me more often he would just hand me his scrappy notepad and worn down pencil always with a smile and a quip such as, “You kids look great!” Then he would read what I wrote down ( I would write down my name as well as whoever else was in the shot), study it, make some notes then give us that big beautiful toothy grin and scramble away to the next shot.
I always felt like I was honored to get to know Bill more than most because of his close friendships with Patrick McDonald and the Frick’s flapper in residence, Heidi Rosenau. He would come to anything either of them suggested and he always adored being around true eccentrics. So while we never sat down for tea, he would always come up to our little posse to banter back and forth with Patrick and Heidi on their outfits: who made them, what year were they from, how they draped on the body, the color, the texture. Bill adored fashion.
Bill will be missed by many and I can’t imagine there will ever be another photographer in this industry so dedicated to his passion.
You are missed dear man.