bill cunningham's secret memoir is finally being published

'Fashion Climbing' was only discovered after the beloved photographer passed away last year.

by Hannah Ongley
21 March 2018, 8:25pm

In one of the most quietly captivating scenes in Richard Press’s 2011 film Bill Cunningham New York, the titular photographer reluctantly lets fans into his legendary photo archives — which were posthumously valued at $1 million. Somewhere in that four-decade time capsule of uptown flamboyance was a treasure the cameras never saw, and that only Cunningham’s closest family members even knew existed: a secret memoir. The book, titled Fashion Climbing and comprised of a pair of typescripts, was only discovered by Cunningham’s family after his death in 2016.

“It seems so unexpected,” Christopher Richards, an editor at Penguin Press, has now revealed to Cunningham's former employer, The New York Times. Richards recently purchased the transcripts at an auction and intends to publish the memoir later this year. “[Cunningham] really didn’t divulge anything about his life to his friends and his colleagues. He was so private. I think it was a shock.”

Fashion Climbing will include fascinating excerpts from Cunningham’s early life, including his strict Catholic upbringing. According to the Times, it even features a self-portrait of Cunningham as a fashion-obsessed young boy, captioned with a quote from his mother: “What will the neighbors say?” (Cunningham also touched upon his early childhood in an autobiographical column for the Times, writing, "I could never concentrate on Sunday church services because I'd be concentrating on women's hats.") The memoir also chronicles Cunningham’s time in the Korean War, his move to New York, and his stint as a very esteemed ladies’ milliner. The book provides a rare insight into the mind of one of New York’s most beloved figures, though much of his private life will likely remain a mystery.

“It’s a crime families don’t understand how their children are oriented, and point them along their natural way,” Mr. Cunningham says in one of the memoir’s earliest chapters. “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.”

By the sound of it, the only unsurprising thing about Fashion Climbing is that it’s written in Cunningham’s typical self-effacing style. The photographer, who famously dressed in a classic blue worker’s jacket and dined on bodega sandwiches, was the polar opposite of the polished fashion crowd he was so devoted to capturing.

Fashion Climbing will be published in early September. Expect to see more than a few copies poking out of handbags come New York Fashion Week.

Bill Cunningham
fashion climbing