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  • Published: 3 December 2019
  • ISBN: 9781529110616
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 256
  • RRP: $24.00

Fashion Climbing

A New York Life

An enchanting memoir, as vibrant and charming as Breakfast at Tiffany's -- by the legendary New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham

An enchanting memoir by the legendary New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham

*A Financial Times Book of the Year 2018*
*The New York Times Bestseller*

‘I took to New York life like a star shooting through the heavens…’

Bill Cunningham’s first love was fashion but the big city came a close second. He left for New York aged nineteen, losing his family’s support but enjoying the infinite luxury of freedom. Living on a scoop of Ovaltine a day, he would run down to Fifth Avenue to feed on the spectacular sights of the window displays – then run back to his tiny studio to work all night.

Working as ‘William J’ (to spare his parents’ blushes), Bill became one of the most celebrated hat designers of the 1950s, creating elegant town hats for movie stars and playful beach hats for the summer set. Bill’s mission was to bring happiness by making beautiful things – even if it meant pawning his bike to fund fancy-dress outfits for all his friends.

When women stopped wearing hats and his business was forced to close, Bill worked as a fashion journalist, touring the couture houses of Europe. But New York remained his home, and it was as a street photographer of the fashions of the city that he became well known, in a job that would last almost forty years.

Fashion Climbing is the enchanting memoir he left behind, capturing the madcap times of his early career and the fashion scene of the mid-century.

Written with the spark and wit of Holly Golightly, and brimming over with Bill’s infectious joy for life, it is a gift to all who seek beauty, whatever our style or status.

  • Published: 3 December 2019
  • ISBN: 9781529110616
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 256
  • RRP: $24.00

About the author

Bill Cunningham

Born in 1929 in an Irish suburb of Boston, Bill Cunningham dropped out of Harvard and moved to New York City to pursue a career in fashion. In 1948, he started his hat design business, ‘William J’ ; his hats were featured in Vogue and Harper's Bazaar and worn by Marilyn Monroe and Jacqueline Kennedy. In the 1960s the business closed and he became a fashion journalist and photographer.

In 1978, he joined the New York Times. In later years, Cunningham could regularly be seen on his bicycle, in his French workman’s jacket, photographing fashion trends for his columns ‘On the Street’ and ‘Evening Hours’. He was the subject of the acclaimed documentary Bill Cunningham, New York (2010) in which Anna Wintour confided that ‘we all dress for Bill’.

Bill Cunningham died in 2016, aged 87. He had always lived modestly, amidst ‘William J’ hatboxes and the filing cabinets housing his photographic archive. The prepared typescript of Fashion Climbing was found among his effects.

Praise for Fashion Climbing

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, Editor in Chief, Rookie

The New York Times’s beloved street-style photographer died two years ago, leaving behind a delightful memoir of his early years, which tells of his escape from restrictive middle-class Boston to a Manhattan career as a milliner. His love of beauty may not have made him rich — he chose an ascetic existence — but it sustained him for a lifetime.

Horatia Harrod, Financial Times, *Books of the Years*

Peppered with delightful colloquialisms...the text bears the signature voice that endeared him to readers... Yet, despite an ample dose of whimsy, there’s also a backbone to this cosy memoir... Fashion Climbing celebrates one of the industry’s fiercest advocates of sartorial joie de vivre, who established himself on the fashion ladder “not with refined dignity but with an angry howl”.

Lauren Sarazen, AnOther Magazine

Fashion Climbing is the captivating glimpse through the keyhole of this dizzying, dazzling world, and captures the buzz and bluster of a fashion life lived to the full

Red Magazine

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, International Editor at Large, Vogue

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


A thing of beauty ... Full of acerbic wit, and a Holly Golightly tone

Sophie Jean-Louis Constantine, Elle

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... I can only hope there’s another installment lurking in his archives to give us further insights into the much-missed Bill

Simon Doonan, New York Times Book Review

An unexpected gift... Behind the boyish enthusiasm and well-scrubbed good looks, he could be a cool observer of the passing scene

Dwight Garner, The New York Times

Cunningham's memoir is a charming ode to being true to oneself


Enjoy the glorious, glamorous ride

Lucy Scholes, Independent

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


Fashion Climbing… [is] a fascinating portrait of the changing world of fashion as seen by someone at its centre


Surprising and sprightly... A front-row seat on the mid-century fashion world... 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

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

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

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

Annie Bostrom, Booklist

Fashion Climbing… charts the risks of his fascination with femininity and exposes a tension between written self-exposure and other kinds of public performance… Fashion Climbing sometimes reads as a picaresque tale, but it is a drama of creative survival and its strategies, vividly felt… In fact, [Cunningham’s] language is one of the great, idiosyncratic pleasures of Fashion Climbing

Lisa Cohen, London Review of Books

Bill Cunningham, reveals a life fuelled by a very specific and rigorous kind of love — the love of beauty and of “exceptional surfaces”… Cunningham’s memoir depicts a life that is fulsome and mirthful but also oddly austere… For Cunningham, however, beauty was worth every sacrifice… Fashion Climbing: A New York Life is a joy to read

Susie Boyt, Financial Times

This is a fun read… it is endearing…an amusing look at America trying to find its fashion feet

The Chic Geek

Heartfelt and witty, even those who couldn't care less about clothes can find something to relate to here

Reader's Digest

If you're after more fashion truth-telling, then Bill Cunningham's your man… As well as a wonderfully natural style of prose that brings him briefly back to life, the memoir is telling for the way he rips apart the smoke and mirrors of the fashion industry, and how the business of looking good is built on plenty of bad behaviour

André Leon Talley, Culture Whisper

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