Fashion Climbing: A Memoir (Paperback)
On Our Shelves Now
The New York Times bestseller
“[An] obscenely enjoyable romp.” —The New York Times Book Review
The untold story of a New York City legend's education in creativity and style
For Bill Cunningham, New York City was the land of freedom, glamour, and, above all, style. Growing up in a lace-curtain Irish suburb of Boston, secretly trying on his sister's dresses and spending his evenings after school in the city's chicest boutiques, Bill dreamed of a life dedicated to fashion. But his desires were a source of shame for his family, and after dropping out of Harvard, he had to fight them tooth-and-nail to pursue his love.
When he arrived in New York, he reveled in people-watching. He spent his nights at opera openings and gate-crashing extravagant balls, where he would take note of the styles, new and old, watching how the gowns moved, how the jewels hung, how the hair laid on each head. This was his education, and the birth of the democratic and exuberant taste that he came to be famous for as a photographer for The New York Times. After two style mavens took Bill under their wing, his creativity thrived and he made a name for himself as a designer. Taking on the alias William J.--because designing under his family's name would have been a disgrace to his parents--Bill became one of the era's most outlandish and celebrated hat designers, catering to movie stars, heiresses, and artists alike. Bill's mission was to bring happiness to the world by making women an inspiration to themselves and everyone who saw them. These were halcyon days when fashion was all he ate and drank. When he was broke and hungry he'd stroll past the store windows on Fifth Avenue and feed himself on beautiful things.
Fashion Climbing is the story of a young man striving to be the person he was born to be: a true original. But although he was one of the city's most recognized and treasured figures, Bill was also one of its most guarded. Written with his infectious joy and one-of-a-kind voice, this memoir was polished, neatly typewritten, and safely stored away in his lifetime. He held off on sharing it--and himself--until his passing. Between these covers, is an education in style, an effervescent tale of a bohemian world as it once was, and a final gift to the readers of one of New York's great characters.
About the Author
Bill Cunningham, the iconic New York Times photographer, was the creative force behind the columns On the Street and Evening Hours. Cunningham dropped out of Harvard and moved to New York City at 19, eventually starting his own hat design business under the name "William J." His designs were featured in Vogue, The New Yorker, Harper's Bazaar, and Jet. While covering fashion for publications including Women's Wear Daily and The Chicago Tribune, he took up photography, which led to him becoming a regular contributor to the New York Times in the late 1970s. Cunningham is the subject of the documentaries "The Times of Bill Cunningham" and "Bill Cunningham, New York." His contributions to New York City were recognized in 2009 when he was designated a "living landmark."
“This obscenely enjoyable romp fills in part of the Cunningham back story and provides tantalizing peeks in the psyche of the guarded and mysterious Bill. . . . [Fashion Climbing] leaves the readers gasping for more.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Bill Cunningham left behind a memoir. It is, to use one of his favorite words, marvelous.” —The Washington Post
“Cunningham's memoir is a charming ode to being true to oneself.” —NPR
“Fashion Climbing is smart and pure, revealing of a person’s sense of truth, self, business, confidence and wonderment at the world. . . It is tremendously important in fraught times that we remember we can devote ourselves to finding inspiration, pursuing dreams and chasing joy.” —Los Angeles Times
“Legendary New York Times street-style photographer Bill Cunningham left us one final treat: A memoir as sweet, modest and compelled by beauty as Cunningham . . . The midcentury world of salon fashion shows and great society dowagers Cunningham evokes offers a fabulous escape.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“An unexpected gift . . . a Strunk and White of chic.” —The New York Times
“A fun, enthralling look into the unconventional world of a true original.” —Boston Globe
“Bill Cunningham's Is The Fashion Memoir Everyone Will Be Reading This Autumn.” —Elle
“Legendary fashion photographer Bill Cunningham died in 2016, but he’s brilliantly alive in Fashion Climbing, a posthumously published memoir chronicling his early days as a young man in Boston, a soldier in Europe during the Korean War, and a hat designer in glamorous midcentury New York. In addition to having a wild imagination for millinery and an unmatched eye for genuine style, Cunningham writes of his near-psychic ability for knowing where fashion was headed next.” —Entertainment Weekly
“The phenomenal joie de vivre of the legendary New York Times photographer, who died at 87 in 2016, bursts off the pages of this chronicle of the early days of his career. His escapades as a renegade hat designer in New York, an Army private in Europe, a gate –crasher and people watcher in high society are enchanting, his passion for fashion irresistible.” —People
“Delightful.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
"The photographer’s posthumously published memoir is a thoughtful, accessible glimpse inside the fashion world he chronicled for decades. . . . The true treasure of Fashion Climbing is that the man who spent his life holding up a mirror to the world’s most self-important industry, in the world’s most self-important city, turns the mirror around to make a subject of himself.” —Vanity Fair
“[Cunningham's] genuine, undying appetite for beauty radiates from the book’s pages, making it a delight to consume.” —The Cut
"Bill Cunningham's memoir traces a righteous pursuit of beauty. Fashion Climbing, the fashion photographer's posthumous autobiography, is just as fun as you'd expect." —The Outline
“As you read about his journey to the top you'll definitely laugh and, most importantly, learn why it's crucial to always be yourself.” —InStyle, 10 Fashion Books That Deserve a Spot On Your Bookshelf
"As a record of a life fuelled by flair and dedication, a highly original vocation which pitches the author somewhere between Cecil Beaton, Anna Pavlova and a Benedictine monk, Fashion Climbing is a joy to read." —Financial Times
“The glamorous world of 20th-century fashion comes alive in Cunningham’s masterful memoir both because of his exuberant appreciation for stylish clothes and his sharp assessment of those who wore them.” —Publishers Weekly, Boxed, Starred Review
“Cunningham's writing is authentic, irreverent, and quintessentially New York . . . A lively tale of a life in style and a delightful homage to the days before women stopped wearing hats.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Cunningham’s almost unbearably charming memoir—unearthed by relatives after his death, in 2016, and covering his life through the 1960s—sends readers winging through the twentieth century in style….[It]documents his unparalleled eye and appreciation for fashion’s magic, mystery, and illusions; style’s potential to invent and transform. As both the very personal autobiography of an icon and a valuable social history, this wins.” — Booklist, starred review
“Bill Cunningham’s enchanting memoir of his love affair with fashion and the people who created, shaped, analysed, and wore it in the combustible years after the Second World War is a delight and a revelation, proving that his pen was as astute as his lens. This lively, compelling, and invaluable social history tells us as much about the mores of the age as it does about the era’s seismic fashion revolutions and reflects the wonder that Bill saw in creation throughout his life.” —Hamish Bowles
“We missed Bill Cunningham terribly. So thank goodness for this book. Here comes a snap, crackle and pop of a memoir. Humble, sparse and vivacious. Funny! Forthright and elegant. Bill is back and we are grateful.” —Maira Kalman
“As Mr. Cunningham might have said, ‘a real dilly’ of a book—the story of a man who turned a love of beauty into an exquisite life.” —Lauren Collins
“Fashion Climbing has everything you’d want in a fashion memoir (industry politics, elaborate window displays, hijinks at galas), but it’s also a manifesto for living authentically. Just like Bill Cunningham’s photography, this book is anti-snobbery, pro-having-fun-at-all-costs, and awake to the pleasures of being oneself.” —Tavi Gevinson