A posthumous memoir encapsulates the momentous life of an eccentric fashion icon.
Though he was known as the man who walked the streets of New York with a camera in hand, capturing the idiosyncratic fashion of the city’s citizens, Cunningham (1929-2016) grew up in a “middle-class Catholic home in a lace-curtain Irish suburb of Boston.” To the horror of his parents, fashion fascinated Cunningham—he would secretly put on his sister’s dresses—and he refused to give in to the expectations his family had with regard to what he should pursue, both personally and professionally. “I never go down the street or enter a room without automatically deciding what the woman should wear,” he writes. “It’s probably the reason for the heavy development of my eye toward fashion.” As a late teen, Cunningham left for New York, officially anchoring himself in the city that would become his life fuel. He started working as a hat maker, serving some of the city’s elite, and eventually opened up his own store. This was 1950s New York, when the love of haute couture and excess was praised above the opposing rising bohemian values. “Designing a fashion collection,” writes the author, “is like growing antennas that reach high into the unknown and hopefully higher than any other designer’s. It’s a long time growing them till inspiration begins to tickle and outrates that of your competitors. With each new collection my antennas grew longer, starting in 1948, and reaching their highest by 1960.” In addition to the charming narrative, the book features photographs of some of the author’s designs and social sphere, and he offers readers a reminder that characters like him still might roam NYC streets. Cunningham’s writing is authentic, irreverent, and quintessentially New York—even though he made numerous jaunts to foreign countries to visit the fashion capitals of the world.
A lively tale of a life in style and a delightful homage to the days before women stopped wearing hats.