5 Things I learnt from reading Bill Cunningham's Fashion Climbing

I took to New York life like a star shooting through the heavens.
— Bill Cunningham
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The late fashion photographer Bill Cunningham’s outlook on life is something to be revered and replicated by all of us. He was the ultimate optimist, giving life everything he had even to his family’s displeasure. He looked for beauty in the world, especially in fashion and found joy in how stylish women put themselves together.

His secret memoir, Fashion Climbing, was published last year. It is filled with 40 years of stories about New York City, the society and the fashion industry. Cunningham was best known for his regular column On The Street in The New York Times, where he photographed and wrote about stylish New Yorkers from 1989 until 2016. 

Fashion Climbing is an absolute joy to read. While the book is about Cunningham’s life, love of fashion and New York Society, it has an optimistic tone about it which is both uplifting and contagious. I daresay his outlook was innate, however with some work, it’s a mentality anyone can develop.

5 Things I learnt from reading Bill Cunningham's Fashion Climbing

I underlined so many quotes while reading this book. Here are a few of my favourites about fashion, family, life and creativity:

lessons about creativity

Search for your creativity within yourself, without outside influencer, only then will you be truely happy.

[…] Mr Rudolph gave me some of the best and kindest advice of my life: first, he said, to be an original creator, using only one’s ideas would be the true way to happiness. He gently told me I’d been influenced by everything in the store, and that this was not the makings of a true designer’s signature. He advised me to make six new hats, using only my own thoughts, no matter how bad people might find them. He said they would represent a true “me”. This was to be the hardest lesson, that of throwing off outside influencers and making definite designs of my own.
— Bill Cunningham's Fashion Climbing, Page 34

Lessons about fashion

Fashion is a form of art that comes alive when worn on the body.

So many fashions look effective in stiff photographs, but the second they begin to move you really see the difference between a good dress and a cheap one. A fashion design is only perfection when it comes alive on a woman’s body as a graceful sculpture.
— Bill Cunningham's Fashion Climbing, Page 119

Lessons about FAMILY

Let children forge their own path.

It’s a crime families don’t understand how their children are orientated, and point them along their natural way. My poor family was probably scared to death by all these crazy ideas I had, and so they fought my direction every inch of the way. American society has a lot to understand about the natural creative desires of children. Parents should stop feeling ashamed of the arts, and this trend of thinking men who are interested in ballet, opera, and fields of design are just a lot of sissies has caused more unhappy family breakups.
— Bill Cunningham's Fashion Climbing, Page 28

Lessons about LIFE

The trick to a happy life? Begin each week with something you love.

I believed in starting each week doing the thing you love most. Luckily, my love was flowers. [...] This is a practicing luxury I still indulge in, and one that makes all my weeks happy.
Monday shouldn’t be drudgery. More people should start off doing what they enjoy most.
— Bill Cunningham's Fashion Climbing, Page 80
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From Bill Cunningham’s love of style to my love of style. Here are wardrobe favourites I am wearing in this post, showing that you don’t have to go overboard to be noticed.

  • High-waisted pants are a love of mine. They elegantly cinch in the waist, and make every outfit a bit cooler. I love this wide leg pair I’m wearing in this post, read about how I found them here.

  • I love a simple cashmere sweater. I wear mine with absolutely everything all year around. While usually they are an expensive item, if cared for well (find out how to here) they last and last.

  • Accessories:

    • A hat is the finishing touch on an outfit I believe. Janessa Leone creates a gorgeous velvet fisherman hat that’s on my wish list.

    • I add a coloured scarf to an outfit or bag when it needs a bit of colour.

    • A cross-body camera bag is the ideal shape for an everyday handbag.

      Lei xx

Photography by Lauren Drzewucki