Thursday, August 30, 2018

In the Market Report by Marilyn Kirschner

 It’s All About Menswear These Days

Thom Browne
Photo courtesy Thom Browne 

On August 28th, there was an announcement that the Italian luxury house Ermenegildo Zegna Group, the largest menswear brand in the world, acquired a major stake — 85 percent — in Thom Browne. The designer's New York-based namesake label (predominantly made in Italy), was bought by the Italian men's fashion house at a valuation totaling $500 million. Browne, who launched with a menswear line in 2001 (his women’s collection came 9 years later) is the sole other shareholder in this agreement and will still independently run his namesake brand as chief creative officer alongside CEO Rodrigo Bazan, who joined Thom Browne in May 2016. With the Ermenegildo Zegna Group resources, Thom Browne feels his namesake brand will be “really able to grow and do everything, and anything [we] want to do” and “to build something strong that will outlive all of us.” For Browne, the Zegna Group represents “true quality, one of the most powerful things in the relationship. We are always making things the best that they can be and the same is for Zegna as well — it’s the perfect relationship.”

Thom Browne Resort 2019
Photo: Vogue.com

Perfect indeed and the fact it seems like a match made in heaven, or in this case, match that is ‘tailor’ made given that both companies are synonymous with impeccable hand tailoring and they approach fashion, luxury, quality, and craftsmanship in much the same way. Thom has always felt that fashion moves too fast and changes too quickly. His consistent vision from the beginning, for both his men’s and women’s collections, was to take very classic ideas and good old American sportswear and show them in a fresh new way. He will routinely propose both shrunken and elongated silhouettes, severe black and white along with shades of gray, pastels and strong color, and accessorizes with everything from platform sneakers and flat lace-up oxfords to natty wing tipped towering high heels. And of course, his fabulously and witty handbags. His shows were always the highlight of New York Fashion Week until he decamped to Paris in October 2017.

 Menswear suiting from The Row Fall 2018 Ready-To-Wear
Photo: Vogue.com

Just one day before, it was announced that Mary Kate and Ashley's The Row will be launching menswear and it will be available in stores and online in October. In a press release provided to Fashionista.com, the New York-based company announced that The Row's men's offering "echoes the dedication to craftsmanship, exceptional fabrics and fine tailoring already present in its womenswear and accessory collections.” This is hardly a stretch considering that the name of the luxurious, minimal label is taken directly from Savile Row and the designing twins dabbled in menswear previously, having introduced a menswear capsule collection a few years ago and a retail menswear capsule in 2016. The award-winning brand is not only a beloved fashion favorite among savvy It Girls (with money to spend) but highly discerning men. Couturier Ralph Rucci counts himself as a fan.

 Haberdashery takes center stage at Ralph Lauren's 40th-anniversary show
Spring 2008 Ready-To-Wear - Photo: Vogue.com

Of course, it’s virtually impossible to talk about impeccable tailoring and menswear without mentioning Ralph Lauren, who will celebrate his label’s 50th anniversary with a special event on September 7th during New York Fashion Week. The fashion show and dinner will take place at Bethesda Terrace in Central Park and will benefit the Central Park Conservancy. His 40th, in 2008, was naturally, a fashion spectacle that included a runway show and black-tie candlelit garden party for 400 in the Central Park Conservatory.

There is no question that there is an inundation of androgynous fashion throughout the market. Many designers are empowering women with a new kind of ‘armor’ for the workplace and reaching out to a generation of young women, many of whom may have never been seduced by a pantsuit or a great jacket. This is no doubt a reflection of our times, and a resurgence in feminism which was jump-started by the #Me Too movement. It is no longer about an overtly sexualized feminine silhouette or baring too much skin, and the notion of what is beautiful and ‘sexy’ continues to be redefined by the women themselves.

 Gaia Repossi
Photo: Harper's Bazaar

Gaia Repossi, the 32-year-old creative director of her family’s namesake jewelry house, who is Italian but lives and works in Paris, captured this mood perfectly with an article for the September issue of Harper’s Bazaar, “Ageless Style: French Chic.” As she put it, “Nothing dazzles me more than a woman’s wardrobe whose codes are borrowed from a man’s. What I like and what interests and feels modern to me, is an accumulation of jewelry with men’s tailoring. A restrained palette can be disrupted in a way that surprises with shine, accents of light, volume, or the materiality of jewelry. This contrast in character, which seems to affirm a modern woman-a woman who questions inherited codes of femininity and who refuses to be an object- is what I find most feminine”.

                   Ageless fashion icon Francois Hardy wearing a tuxedo                   

I have long been a proponent of menswear. Classic menswear codes are versatile, failsafe, timeless and ageless (they literally work across all generations) and they are as valid for day as for evening. Like the color black, menswear creates the perfect blank canvas with which to build a look and personalize. If you want to take the menswear concept literally and wear a brogue or oxford, great! If you want to feminize by adding a high heel or statement jewelry, that’s great too.

 Meghan Markle wears a Judith & Charles mini tuxedo dress to the theatre

Coincidentally, on Wednesday evening Meghan Markle looked modern and sensational attending a party for the show “Hamilton” in London wearing a Judith & Charles black wool abbreviated tuxedo dress accessorized with high heeled pumps. It was the perfect mix of masculine and feminine.

It’s hardly surprising that menswear, menswear fabrics, Savile Row tailoring and power suits just happened to top the list of ‘what’s hot’ among a select group of fashion insiders surveyed by WWD for a special article, “What to Watch: Hot Fall Trends, What’s Over, What’s Coming”, August 27th . Seven editors interviewed retailers, influencers, and stylists in a quest to find out what they saw as the most significant trends for fall, what’s entirely over, and what directions they sensed would reign in the future.

Giovanna Battaglia
Photo: courtesy www.abitofsass.com

Among the other items that made the hot list were statement coats, cowboy boots, the 80’s, sequins, shearlings, cozy knitwear, metallics, minis, faux furs, cowboy boots, and animal prints, although the only one who suggested letting loose and wearing leopard, tiger, zebra head to toe was Neiman Marcus’s, Ken Downing. I adore Ken, but really, I think a little goes a long way, and the only way that works is on a runway or maybe if you are Giovanna Battaglia lol!

Black leather by Richard Quinn available at Noir, Bergdorf Goodman

They were also in agreement that it’s all about a pulled together look (even streetwear is becoming more formalized), comfort is key (kitten heels and flats in all their guises looks much cooler than wearing heels all day, every day), off the shoulder and the cold shoulder should be given the cold shoulder. And while some thought pink still had a life, some didn’t, though they mostly agreed that pastels have pretty much had their day (neon anyone?). Interestingly, Linda Fargo was the only one who really singled out black and as always, she is putting her money where her mouth is. Noir, a boutique within the store (curated by Linda and entirely devoted to a selection of fabulous black pieces) will open on September 6th.

Another retailer whose sentiments I truly agreed with is Averyl Oates, managing director, 10 Corso Como, New York:

“The customers are the ones leading the trends now and the biggest trend, if there is one, is attitude, and creating your own style, and how you put yourself together. Because of this there are more ‘micro-trends’ happening simultaneously than ever before. With easy access to a diverse range of fashion, people are being incredibly creative and breaking traditional molds — mixing luxury with high street, vintage with streetwear, etc. Comfort is also so important — you can see it in the massive sneakerization of America, and the general dominance of streetwear in the retail space from affordable fashion right up to, and perhaps even most prominently, the luxury sphere. Headlines pronouncing streetwear as the new luxury are never-ending. It’s pretty commonplace to see hoodie/sneaker attire in fancy restaurants now.”

The article ended with a single comment from a reader who had a similar train of thought: “The only people who follow trends are customers with no sense of style and need to be told what to wear and waste their money. Then next season your "color" is outdated. What a joke! Also, designers that "dictate" trends are boring designers that have no originality and are as well TOLD what to do. Trend forecasters are so useless. It's too funny to hear people use the word trend. Find your own style, buy a few high-end pieces like shoes, accessories that will go for MANY looks you have year after year. Stop being fed garbage. I love designers that NEVER follow trends but get knock off for their good ideas”.

I personally hate the word "trend" and I hate the notion of trends. I’ve lived long enough to know that it all comes back as fashion is so cyclical. And who cares if it doesn’t come back? There is validity in all styles; it just depends on the context it’s put in and the sense of appropriateness applied to an occasion. It’s all about attitude and the way clothes are worn. It’s ridiculous to tell a tiny, small-boned woman that it’s all about oversized fashion, when she might look and feel better in something more fitted.




- Marilyn Kirschner

Monday, August 27, 2018

New York Evening Hours by Lieba Nesis

Prostate Cancer Foundation Gala Takes Over the Hamptons

Lindsey Graham and Mike Milken
All photos Lieba Nesis - click images for full-size views

The Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF), a nonprofit organization dedicated to funding groundbreaking research programs, hosted its annual Hamptons shindig at The Parrish Art Museum on Saturday, August 25, 2018, with cocktails beginning at 6:30 PM.  PCF was started by Michael Milken in 1993 and has raised more than $660 million for the development of lifesaving drugs. The pricey $2,500 tickets did not deter Milken's friends from attending the sold-out evening boasting upwards of 300 people.

The dinner

The four days of festivities included a Thursday night dinner, weekend tennis matches which contained both professional and amateur tennis players and a Saturday evening happening. Anyone who has attended a Milken night knows the drill: he gives multiple quizzes to the audience; holds a five-minute fundraising portion, and finishes with a lively performance.

Dr. Jonathan Simons and Christine Jones

Milken and superstar doctor Dr. Jonathan Simons have studied the most efficient methods for curing cancer which include the utilization of The Young Investigative Program giving recent MD's and Ph.D.'s the opportunity to conduct critical research.  These 300 scientists have discovered more than ten miraculous drugs reducing the incidence of male mortality from prostate cancer by one million in the United States and four million worldwide. Milken received six contributions to sponsor these young investigators for $75,000 a year for up to three years eventually raising more than $4 million.

Bonnie Pfeifer Evans

He also asked for a moment of silence to honor John McCain whom he noted had joined him more than 20 years ago to raise money for cancer research. PCF is helping other heroic war veterans through its new program which provides veterans with precision oncology diagnostics giving them the same treatment as the CEO of a hedge fund serviced by Sloan Kettering.

Marcia Allen, Shaliece Marie and Timothy Cherotti

Simons remarked that at least 14,000 veterans would benefit from the funds raised this evening for the next 24 months with a total of $32 million raised to date during the past 19 years in the Hamptons.  Milken estimated the value of the drugs discovered at a staggering $84 billion in today's marketplace.  To say that Milken and Simons have had a high rate of return on investment would be an understatement.

Steve Mnuchin and Louise Linton

Many of Milken's influential friends joined for the evening including Steve Mnuchin and Louise Linton, Leon Wagner, Ken and Maria Fishel, Artie Rabin and family, Mitch Modell and dozens of others. Superstar tennis coach, Nick Bollettieri, who trained Venus and Serena Williams, Andre Agassi and Jim Courier to name a few

Ken and Maria Fishel

-  was also in attendance and said that while a champion tennis player comes and goes making an impact on people's lives is something that lasts forever. He recalled a young Anna Kournikova coming to his Academy and how he wishes he could have convinced her mother to change her forehand as she might have been a more successful player.

Nick Bollettieri in tennis shorts

While Bollettieri joked that he was on his eighth wife, he said that giving boys and girls an opportunity to achieve was of utmost importance to him and his wife who adopted two Ethiopian sons. Bollettieri recalled Agassi telling him "I can't" with Bolletierri responding "you will" and Agassi going onto winning a world championship two weeks later. Bollettieri was similarly hopeful that a cure for cancer "will" be available in the very near future.

Jason Rabin, Cuttino Mobley, and Artie Rabin

After a healthy meal of salmon and vegetables was served guests were treated to the tunes of the legendary John Fogerty who at 73 years old has the energy and enthusiasm of a teenager. He wowed the crowd with hits "Have You Ever Seen the Rain" and "Bad Moon Rising" in a high-energy 45-minute performance. At 10:45 PM guests began heading home anticipating another full day of activities in the ongoing fight to eradicate the scourge of cancer.




- Lieba Nesis

Friday, August 24, 2018

In the Market Report by Marilyn Kirschner

Getting Right to the ‘Point’!

Balenciaga Velvet  pointy-toed flats embellished with golden BB, $850
More info/purchase

The legendary uber stylist Grace Coddington once remarked that it’s “all about hair and shoes”. There is no question that shoes are the punctuation mark for getting the proportion right. And sometimes, a quintessentially pointy toe is just the perfect thing to do the trick. But when it’s attached to a stiletto heel, the result can be aggressively sexy. If that’s what you are going for, fine! If you prefer something chicer and more elegant, and you don’t want to be tortured by uncomfortable shoes, a better option would be pointy-toed pancake flats and kitten heels which easily transition from day to evening. They also have the added benefit of elongating the foot and leg.

Fortunately, the market abounds with great choices including a number of Balenciaga’s iterations which come in a variety of materials and fall-perfect patterns. It should not be surprising that Demna Gvasalia’s are the most dramatic, given that he is the "King of Extreme" and has endorsed extremely pointy-toed shoes and boots since taking over the creative helm of the iconic label. He has even appropriately used the word ‘Knife’ in their description. OUCH!

These are 10 of my favorites (click images for full-size views):



Balenciaga cream and black Knife checked pointy-toed BB slingbacks, $1050. More info/purchase



Balenciaga leopard printed BB pointy-toed slingbacks, $1050. More info.purchase



Balenciaga black and white tweed pointy toe half d’Orsay kitten heel pump, $1190. More info/purchase



Balenciaga BB black and cream wool checked kitten heel ankle boot, $1450. More info/purchase



Balenciaga hot pink satin Knife Bow slingback mules, $795. More info/purchase



Leave it to Zara to get into the act with their black and white tweed ballet flat which bears somewhat of a resemblance to Balenciaga, $45.90. More info/purchase



Proenza Schouler eyelet-embellished black and white leather and suede point-toe flats, $770, More info/purchase



Malone Souliers Maureen metallic leather-trimmed satin point-toe flats, $583. More info/purchase



Because I love the timelessness of menswear and I adore oxfords and brogues, one of my personal favorites are these black and white Michael Kors Mullens Spazzaloto leather oxfords. With their modern, sleek lines, and exaggeratedly tapered toe, they are a perfect mix of masculine and feminine, $695. More info/purchase



Roger Vivier crystal embellished striped satin point-toe flat, $1650. More info/purchase

The best quote regarding flats was made by Roger Vivier’s brand ambassador, Ines de la Fressange in her book “Parisian Chic: A Style Guide Guide”. Yes, at 6 feet tall she towers over everyone in her stocking feet never really needing a high heel, but I still agree with her observation:

“Many women think they look better in heels but this is quite wrong. Just ask any man. No man would ever say, “I’d love you more if you were four inches taller!” Nothing looks worse than a girl tottering around on unmanageable heels! So she wants to look sexy? The key to sex appeal is a feline walk, not a precarious wobble.”

Meanwhile, a picture of Madonna wearing pointy-toed mules arriving at Newark Airport appeared in Wednesday’s New York Post:


 She was so eclectically dressed, she looked as though she could have walked in a Gucci show, but my takeaway was that it is unfortunately what happens when you take the runways too literally lol!





- Marilyn Kirschner

Thursday, August 23, 2018

New York Fashion Cool-Aid by Laurel Marcus

Fashion Week Store Tours: Retail Strikes Back

All photos Laurel Marcus
Click images for full-size views

Remember when NYFW's "Fashion's Night Out" was a thing? Yeah, me neither. For a melding of fashion week and retail try on a behind-the-scenes story-telling experience. Fashion Week Store Tour (FWST) which promises to be the newest adjunct event, is launching here from September 5-9. I was invited to attend a mini sample tour yesterday through SoHo -- tours will also be available at the Oculus, Madison Avenue, and Time Warner Center. "Retail is becoming an extension of Fashion Week," explained branding PR maven Amy Rosi who along with Dan Hodges, Founder, and CEO of Consumers in Motion, were our gracious hosts.

3x1 atelier

In a slightly abbreviated tour (ours was 90 minutes while most are two hours) we were introduced to fashion professionals at The Line, The Webster and denim brand 3x1 and got to hear a bit about the DNA of each brand or company, how they leverage their creativity and retail platforms and how they use the latest technologies to drive demand for their brands. Retailers such as Rebecca Minkoff (who is currently renovating her store to open in time for NYFW where she will host events), Eileen Fisher, YEOHLEE, Stella McCartney, Prada and Kate Spade as well as the stores that we visited will be part of the SoHo experience. Over 50 stores have been selected including each of the venues -- each locale focusing on design, merchandising, store experience, technology, customer service, and sustainability.

Coffee talk at Nespresso

After a quick meet and greet at Nespresso on Prince Street where we were plied with sufficient caffeine -- ready then to travel down Greene Street. In the elevator ride up to The Line (76 Greene Street). I had no idea what to expect from this "secret insider hideaway" and was pleasantly greeted by a furnished SoHo apartment. Like the rug? You can buy it! Ditto for the chairs, couch, items on the table, wall art, clothing, shoes, jewelry, bath products -- well, you get it.

Curated closet at The Line

"From home goods to clothing to beauty -- from a toothbrush to a large piece of furniture this is truly a lifestyle concept store. We also change the look of the apartments (there's another one in West Hollywood) from season to season," said store guide Allie.  If you want styling, consulting, wardrobe services, or interior design help The Line (which is online as well) will not only show you what's featured in the store but will expand to other items of brands that they carry. The Line has been open for five years but only open to the public for two, so this experience may not be on your radar. Prices range from about $7 (perhaps for that toothbrush above) to about $40,000 for a unique piece of art, so they trend towards the luxury end of the market.

The Webster storefront

Next stop: The Webster (29 Greene Street) which was familiar to me from their Miami South Beach flagship location which opened in 2009 bearing the name of the original building. Laure Heriard Dubreuil (LHD to those in the know as well as in her private label clothing) opened her six-floor store here last November. There are five shopping floors, one for men (one is to become a hair salon in time for NYFW) -- the top floor is for VIP events and appointments and includes awesome outdoor space.

Windowed 2nd floor at The Webster

We are told that Jimi Hendrix played here in this building so there's "really good energy." The floors are really just two smallish rooms with a long hallway connecting them -- the same marble flooring and wallpaper is used here as in Miami. The high-end luxury brand boutique features an extremely curated selection -- I usually think of these type of places as a "museum for clothes." During NYFW there will be several events including one with a famous Russian facialist. The store generally sponsors both "serious, classic events as well as more fun events featuring a DJ."

3x1's Patrick and Rebecca, Dan Hodges, CEO, Consumers in Motion

Our last stop for the day proved to be the most interesting. 3x1 (15 Mercer Street) is a denim startup created by Scott Morrison (it's his third after Paper Denim & Cloth and Earnest Sewn, hence the name) and was started rather inauspiciously a few weeks before 9/11. Morrison created the concept of a brand which is made in-store -- "the denim wall is not only a merchandising display but a living breathing unit," according to store guide Patrick. "Someone gets on a ladder to actually get a roll of denim.

The denim wall

We buy fabric (Japanese raw selvedge) at about 50 yards at a time due to our relationship with the mills. Most companies would have to buy more." It takes about three yards of selvedge per jean on average and there are three basic fits for men with varying rise and leg opening width.
"Women's ready-to-wear flips a lot more frequently -- there are different fits, washes. We also make bags with the extra fabric," as he indicated the case; or even do a run of shorts if enough fabric remains.

Customization table

The customization table is on view in the front of the store (here's where you can pick the thread stitching colors and other embellishments for an upcharge of $125-$225) on top of the basic ready-made prices --women's jeans are between $200-$350; men's jeans are $285-$500. The atelier where the cutting and sewing takes place is towards the back surrounded by window walls. If you really want denim to fit you like a glove, invest in a "Bespoke" pair -- a pattern is made from your measurements for a one-time charge of $1,500 and takes four weeks to make.

Table spread at 3x1

Patrick also gives us a tip -- did you know that lifting the pocket placement just a half an inch can mean the difference between a perky butt and a saggy looking one? There's news you can use as "everyone wants their butt to look fantastic." Men's jeans are only made in one extra long 36" length but can be hemmed in store with same day tailoring. Prototypes are also tested in store on a fit model. The only thing not done right here on location is fading and ripping -- the jeans are sent to LA to go through an extra process. "This store is part Disneyland/part serious business," adds Patrick. "It's on the list of 50 things to do in New York!"

For more information or to book an appointment for a tour go to fashionweekstoretours.com .




- Laurel Marcus

Friday, August 17, 2018

Special Report by Marilyn Kirschner

Bill Cunningham's Memoir

More info/purchase
Copyright 2018 by Bill Cunninghham Foundation LLC
Photos by Anthony Mack and Bill Cunningham

Diane Arbus once observed, “Photographing someone was a considerable amount of attention to pay a person.” So by all accounts, I had a very special, intimate relationship with Bill Cunningham. He photographed me over the course of five decades, beginning in the early 70’s (when he covered fashion for WWD) up until his passing on June 25th, 2016. I appeared in his “On the Street” and “Evening Hours” columns about 100 times (yup, I actually attempted to count!) He devoted an entire 18 picture column to me in 2001. He has photographed me with my husband and with my sister and often sent me highly personal, complementary, handwritten notes scribbled on photos (some of which he took of me) and postcards praising me and thanking me for “bringing him joy” with my individual style. When my father was terminally ill, he made a point of writing a touching and heartfelt note. I felt as though he knew me; he sure as heck knew my clothes lol! But like everyone else (in his orbit or not), I actually knew very little about him because he was famously private and guarded and he wanted to keep it that way while he was alive.

Bill Cunningham
Photo: Scott Schuman, The Sartorialist
Click images for full-size views

Bill has now been gone for over two years but with the release of “Fashion Climbing, A Memoir with Photographs” (published by Penguin Press to be released on September 4th) he has come back to life. His memoirs were typewritten in the late 70’s according to John Kurdewan, a production artist at The New York Times and Bill’s assistant for 10 years, and locked away in a file cabinet. It covers the years he worked in fashion before becoming a photographer, beginning at the age of 4 and ending in this 30's.

I always wondered what made Bill tick and this book has provided a window into his soul. It was interesting to see the way a wildly imaginative child who lived and breathed for fashion and glamour would morph into the most celebrated and iconic photographer and documentarian of fashion, style, and society of our time.  He admitted, “I could never remember a thing the priest said during Mass but I sure as hell remembered what the ladies, who wore the interesting fashion, had on.” Simply put, clothes were always everything to him. His inherent creativity and passion for fashion began at a very early age, and he was acutely aware of fashion’s potential to invent and transform. Bill understood the pleasure, and the importance, of being oneself. Individuality and uniqueness were always intoxicating to Bill, and he always sought out individuals who had their own individual unique approach.

By the way, the title is perfect because if anyone knew about fashion climbing, it was Bill, who has chronicled more than his share of fashion and social climbers in his life (he actually referred to himself as a “fashion climber” in the 50’s). In a chapter, “On Society,” he dishes about high society’s old and new guard and commented “85 perfect of the guests at those fabulous parties don’t go to enjoy themselves but to rub shoulders and climb and show off their wealth. These poor devils go out on the town not for relaxation and fun, but as a challenge known only to army generals in the heat of combat”. Actually, many went just so they could be photographed by Bill and indeed, at many of the soirees he covered, people not only hated being there, they hated each other. But everyone loved Bill. He was the great equalizer.

It had me at the introduction, with a preface superbly written by Hilton Als. The New Yorker writer and theater critic perfectly articulated what it was about Bill that made him so special and unique. He hit the nail on the head with his astute observations. Among them: “You wanted to aid Bill in his quest for exceptional surfaces, to be beautifully dressed and interesting for him, because of the deep pleasure it gave him to notice something he had never seen before.” “The Bill Cunningham exchange had to do with what he inspired in you, what you wanted to give him the minute you saw him on the street or in a gilded hall. His gift to the world was his delight in the possibility of you. And you wanted to pull yourself together - to gather together the existential mess and bright spots called your ”I” the minute you saw Bill’s skinny frame bent low near Bergdorf Goodman, his corner on 5th avenue and 57th street”.

I found it charming, honest and highly entertaining as Bill went into detail about wild costume parties, eccentric offbeat neighbors, and other colorful characters, society swells, and essential fashion figures he met along the way, reenacting important fashion moments of his life. He was honest about where he got his best education, and it sure wasn’t Harvard where he lasted for months and dropped out in 1948. And it wasn’t at NYU where Bill enrolled to take some classes. He admitted that he routinely played hooky and went to the opera on Monday night where he studied the gowns and jewels that the older women were wearing.

After school jobs at Jordan Marsh that made his school years livable and at the newly opened Bonwit Teller in Boston, where he was a stock boy for designer clothes, he learned about cut, fabric, and design. He considered selling to be a “lost art” that didn’t get enough respect. A stint at the New York Bonwit Teller sealed the deal about his desire to design and move to the city of his dreams permanently. He was also a fashion consultant for Chez Ninon, who he thought made the most “ravishing” yet rather simple, understated clothes (Jackie Kennedy was a loyal client). He formed a strong bond with Nona Parks and Sophie Shonnard, the two society women who ran it, took him under their wings and served as mentors.

Editta Sherman photographed by Bill Cunningham

That was also the time he became entranced with hats. He gatecrashed the big balls and made fancy masks and headdresses in feathers and flowers for the society women to wear with their ball gowns. This was the beginning of “William J.” his delightfully whimsical hat line that took inspiration from everything around him including art, nature, and history. Unsurprisingly much is written about his millinery days designing under his eponymous label (his last name was left off because he didn’t want to “shame” his family, who were less than supportive).

Whimsical hat by Bill Cunningham

His first shop was in a brownstone on West 54th Street in 1954, and he showed his first formal collection at that time. The chapter devoted to his Southampton store ends with him having to close up shop because hats have fallen out of fashion. At the same time, he got a fateful call from a woman at Women’s Wear Daily. She was trying to set up a lunch with Bill and John Fairchild, the irascible publisher and editor of the ‘fashion bible.’ John explained he wanted Bill to write about fashion but Bill insisted that he was no writer and could hardly spell his name (he once received an award for “The Century’s Worst Speller”). He proceeded to tell Mr. Fairchild about a fabulous party filled with superbly dressed women he attended the night before and his descriptions were so captivating, John ran back to his office and immediately substituted what had meant to be the next day’s cover story with Bill’s exuberant party coverage.

A trip around the country proved an eye-opening experience, and it was then that he got the bug to capture how real women dressed. Eventually, he began to work full time for WWD, writing about the fabulous events he went to and chronicling what the best-dressed women were wearing. He had a few strict rules, however. He said he was only interested in women who appeared elegantly dressed because of their fashion and not WHO they were. “I always picked a woman for her appearance first and then asked her name. I felt my job was fashion, not discovering someone’s background.”

As a writer, he was completely honest regardless of the consequences, and he was afraid that he would be forced to give a bad review to a designer if they copied Paris or if the collection was not up to par. And that was the case with one particular Marc Bohan for Christian Dior collection that was disappointing, and an inferior collection of Pierre Cardin reproductions reinterpreted by Bonwit Teller for their junior department which led to Bill getting punched in the eye by Bonwit’s president, Mr. Smith when he showed up for another show at the store.

When Bill got an invite to attend a Norman Norell black tie showing, he was so nervous about having to give it a bad review that he walked from his Carnegie Hall studio to Norell’s 7th Avenue showroom clutching rosary beads and saying Hail Mary’s praying that he wouldn’t see copies. Thankfully, he didn’t, and he was not disappointed with the fabulous show of this iconic American designer. Bill also hailed the designs of James Galanos as being “the most creative and most beautifully made in America for some time.” He goes into delicious detail about the torture and discomfort of attending a Courreges show in Paris, even though he considered Andre to be “the most daring and creative designer at the time.” I laughed with glee reading his description of the “grand Mademoiselle Coco Chanel (“the delicious eighty-year-plus Witch of the West” whose collection “looked a bit tarnished, and seemed to squeak for the need of new oil.”

Bill was a keen observer and noticed everything. At one Chanel show he attended, he said there were so many editors in the front row wearing a “uniform” of the Chanel suit (with the cap toe pumps and gold chains) he chided, “there were so many original Chanel suits I wondered if they would be the eternal robe for the hereafter.” OMG!

Yes, the book is often laughing out loud funny. I could not contain myself when Bill talked about the time in the late 40’s when he was just starting his hat business and was looking for a space to set up shop. He went to the chic midtown Hattie Carnegie store and presumptuously asked the snooty shop clerk if he could rent the two top floors which he thought were empty. She told him that Hattie would be happy to meet him and gave him a card with an address but when he arrived, much to his surprise, it was Bellevue’s insane asylum!  That hardly deterred him.

Bill dressed in a fanciful costume

I laughed when he described his first trip to the European collections in 1963, taking a deluxe train from Rome to Florence which was delayed in the mountains of central Italy because of a blizzard. He went into hilarious detail about the Rome editor of Harper’s Bazaar screaming her head off and frantically waving as the train left for parts unknown. She was leaning out of the train window hollering back and forth, “her body wrapped in a black alligator coat lined in thick white Mongolian lamb with a foot tall black chiffon turban towering on her head passing her case of jewels out the window to the porter as her train unexpectedly pulled away from the station”. And then there was the time he dressed up as an enormous lobster to attend the Beaux Arts Costume gala in Paris. The head was so big, he couldn’t fit into a cab, and he caused quite a scene at the elegant Parisian hotel where he was staying.

Bill on ice skates 

It was also quite poignant, particularly that he mentions the time (it was in 1933, and he was 4) when he wore his sister’s prettiest dresses and his mother “beat the hell” out of him. She “threatened every bone in my uninhibited body if I wore girls" clothes again,” he said. He spoke about the difficulty he had growing up in a middle-class Irish Catholic household with parents that hoped Bill would be a priest -- although his attraction to feminine fashion did nothing to help their hope as he put it. They did their best to thwart his creativity, “cure him of his artistic, fashionable life,” and “straighten” him out. He was very outspoken about how important he felt it was for parents to nurture their children’s natural gifts and talents and not fear that their artistic sons would be perceived as “sissies.”

Bill was a paradox and a contradiction in terms. He loved the high life and could be a snob, but he was also humble. “Wallowing in luxury gives me the shame of overindulgence, and as much as I am drawn to all of it, I have the strongest desire to escape to the discomforts of the poor.” While he loved wild flights of fancy he was very grounded and most interested in how real women wore clothes for their everyday lives. Bill was self-effacing yet highly confident. He was nobody’s fool and could be quite critical. He had some choice words for designers who created unwearable fantasies or were simply copycats. He took issues with stores and manufacturers who had minimal ethics in business. He poked fun at members of the fashion press (he hated the “phoniness” and “puffed-up egos”) and called out fashion editors of elite magazines who were dictating what women should wear. And he berated his customers claiming many had no imagination and only wanted safe, boring designs that would be deemed acceptable by society.

Bill tackled the issue of anti-Semitism, which he was staunchly opposed to, In the 1960’s he noted, “sometimes all the anti-Semitic talk that filled my salon made me wonder if another Hitler could rise. Since my earliest days in fashion, all this damned side-of-the-mouth talk has made me ashamed of what high fashion is used for”. He hated discrimination of any kind, and he said his shop was always open to everyone. He made a point of saying that if he were to open a shop again, it would be in Harlem where the women really had style and knew how to wear hats!

He wrote the way he spoke with boundless enthusiasm, animation, and passion. I could almost hear his voice, tinged with that proper Bostonian accent, and I could see the gleam in his blue eyes as he talked with delight about his lifelong passions that could never be dampened. He was eternally optimistic, preternaturally cheerful, and knew how to turn lemons into lemonade. Nothing fazed him, nothing could bring him down, and he was always resourceful.

Bill's army days in Paris

When he was drafted into the army during the Korean War, just at a time when his hat line was taking off, instead of seeing it as a setback, he viewed it as a great way to get to Paris. During his stint at basic training, he covered his helmet with a “dazzling gardens of flowers and grass”. And by a sheer force of will, he used his tour of duty in Europe as a way to further refine his eye and get his couture education by finagling his way to Paris as a tour guide for groups of soldiers. It was at this time that he first visited the couture houses (Schiaparelli, Jacques Fath, Dior, Givenchy). Bill even managed to find a little factory near where he was stationed where he could make hats which he brought to Paris to sell. Only Bill!

Bill as a young man

While most of us only saw Bill in his signature uniform and an occasional jacket and tie for a formal occasion, he was quite the clothes horse -- pictures of him as a young, very good looking young man dressed in fabulous costumes and well-tailored suits fill the book. He admits that his early jobs were a way to make money so that he could buy clothes. He mentioned a period when he “covered himself in outrageous bright shirts and ties” and bought the first fake-fur lined trench coat with the “biggest fur collar he could find.” It nearly “drove the family crazy with shame” when he wore it on the first cool day of September. As he admitted, “Clothes were everything to me, and I think I spent seven days a week deciding what I’d wear the next week.”

The Bill we knew at 87 was the boy we read about at the age of 4 and vice versa. He never lost that unbridled enthusiasm, enormous energy, passion, and childlike wonderment. The life he fantasized about in New York, a city he referred to as the most glamorous city in the world, filled with beauty, elegance, chic, and constant visual stimulus, was a dream that came true and he never took any of it for granted. He was never jaded, and he appreciated it all, and that is precisely what came through loud and clear, not only in his memoirs but in his weekly columns for The New York Times.

Reading the book made me reminisce about Bill and inspired me to look over the pictures he took of me through the years which I have been fortunate to save. They brought back fond memories of my wonderful encounters with Bill through the decades, and it was like taking a walk down memory lane and seeing my life flash before my eyes. I could not only trace the way styles have changed, (my style included), but I could see myself age. When our paths first crossed, he would always call me “child” as he was known to do. I was in my early 20’s, and he was old enough to be my father, so that was not a stretch. But he continued to refer to me like that decades later, even though he knew my name. At some point, when I realized he stopped calling me “child,” I laughed to myself, “Boy, I must REALLY be getting old.”

Marilyn Kirschner on the left photographed by Bill in 1972

They say you always remember your first time. And I certainly remember the first time Bill took my picture. I was a young assistant fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar and was walking into Henri Bendel on West 57th Street. A small, thin man in a blue French workman’s jacket pointed his camera at me, and I had no idea who he was or why he was photographing me. Shortly after that, on Thursday, February 17th, 1972, my picture appeared in WWD. The caption read, “On the Streets of America” and there were images of women in Denver, Miami, Dallas, and New York. I was among 8 women photographed in New York by Bill wearing fur trimmed and fur coats.

Marilyn's full-page spread "The Color of Money" circa 2001
 by Bill Cunningham for his column

I especially remember the time he devoted an entire column to me in his “On the Street” section. There are only a handful of people (Anna Wintour, Anna Piaggi, Iris Apfel, Patrick McDonald among them), who had that honor which made it particularly special. It was on Sunday February 11, 2001 (the first day of New York Fashion Week for fall/winter), and it was called, “The Color of Money (In the Bank)”. There were 18 pictures of me, all in color. 17 years later my style has certainly evolved but yet when I look at the pictorial, I still marvel at how Bill so adeptly captured my “essence” with his selection of outfits that were very representational of who I was at that time: the colorful Puccis, the chic black and white, the tweeds, the graphic furs, the fur trims, the snakeskin, the leopard, the trenches; all of them timeless classics.  He was not only a great photographer, but a superb editor.

At that time, I was religiously collecting vintage and shopping at the 26th Street flea market and at vintage and thrift stores. Bill was especially taken with the fact that some of the great things I scored were unbelievably low priced. I am an equal opportunity shopper, not a label snob, I love to mix high and low, and I did it long before it was mainstream or popular. And Bill was the original high/low guy. While he loved and appreciated fashion at its highest, most indulgent level, he was quite pragmatic, respected the value of a dollar, and he absolutely loved when women could “outsmart” the system. As he was fond of saying, style and taste had nothing to do with how much money one spent. In fact, in a chapter called “On Taste” in his memoirs, he remarked, “It’s a ridiculous belief that money brings taste; it definitely doesn’t. As a matter of fact, it often merely allows one to enjoy bad taste with louder vulgarity”. Brilliant.

Marilyn posing in riding gear (top left and right)  for article photographed by Bill Cunningham

Not long after, I saw him at a Costume Institute press preview, and he approached me and asked if I had anything that was equestrian. I described a few things in my closet that I thought were outstanding (including a Ralph Lauren riding jacket and a Yohji Yamamoto tan jacket with a fantastic back, from his ‘Dior’ inspired collection). Bill emphasized that he never did this kind of thing but was working on a spread and needed a few more great shots and asked if he could photograph me in my ensembles. He arranged to meet me at my building the next day, and he took some pictures outside. Both outfits subsequently appeared in his “To Horse, or Not” spread, December 9th, 2001.



Marilyn's 2002 "Masters of Fashion" video interview with Bill Cunningham

Bill was highly professional, and he knew how to return a favor. One way he did so was by giving interviews (a real rarity). 12 years before Fern Mallis interviewed him for her 92 Y Street series in 2014 ( he was doing her a favor, after spilling red wine all over her dress), Bill agreed to sit down with me in 2002 for a highly personal 50 minute video streamed interview for our "Masters of Fashion" series: see video interview above.

It was one-on-one; he was very forthcoming and informative. My questions were mainly geared to the present and future, but I did ask Bill what initially fueled his passion for fashion. He really didn’t remember except he always had an enormous interest. In the 30’s, he was always saving money and buying dresses for his mother, whose clothes he didn’t like. “I always thought it was a lovely art form to see beautifully dressed people. I’m interested in people who look great and have style.”

Anna Wintour may have said, “We all dress for Bill” but actually, I would say that we all dress for ourselves, but it was an added bonus when you caught the eye of the revered, highly regarded and iconic figure who had such a discerning eye and an encyclopedic knowledge of fashion. And it was very cool when he recorded it for posterity. And that is what we all miss because yes, there is and will never be another one like him.

Upon Bill’s passing Hilton Als wrote an article in The New Yorker, and made the observation, “I think that the sadness some people feel over his passing will center on what they find missing from their lives —Cunningham observing their lives, like a couturier who knew every line and counter of his clients’ bodies, and what those lines and shapes said about his clients’ lives. What the world will miss, of course, are all the missed opportunities that might have stayed that way if he hadn’t gone out there, day after day, to find them.”

Bill’s relationship with the street was an exceptional one -  he hit the streets with his camera, as an "Rx" for the blues. Of course, that worked both ways. I dare say that it was impossible to have an encounter with Bill where I did not leave more knowledgeable, with a smile on my face, feeling somehow better about myself and about the world.





- Marilyn Kirschner