MEMORIES OF WORKING WITH BILL CUNNINGHAM - 1010 Park Place
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MEMORIES OF WORKING WITH BILL CUNNINGHAM

PEOPLE MET HIM FOR A SECOND, AND YOU THOUGHT YOU WERE HIS BEST FRIEND. HE HAD THAT EFFECT ON EVERYBODY.
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If you read my Fashion Friday post last month about the delightful Carol Dietz then you know how fun and fabulous she is, and she’s Diane Keaton’s doppelgänger. As former Art Director for the New York Times, Carol worked with the late Bill Cunningham, legendary photographer and eccentric chronicler of street style fashion, on his “On the Street” and “Evening Hours” columns. As Carol told me, “Bill was a mentor, a father, an uncle… He was everything.”

Carol Dietz and Bill Cunningham… I can only imagine what these two originals were like, together.

IN CAROL’S WORDS: “Bill was so much older than everyone… He taught us old-time manners,” said Carol. “He always wrote us in the art department handwritten notes. He’d leave a note or a card on my desk. Give chocolates on Valentine’s Day, Halloween, Christmas. Very thoughtful and always made a point of thanking people, making eye contact and saying hello. Not many people in the office did that, so it created a very congenial atmosphere at a newspaper where we were all on deadlines.

“As Bill and I became friends, he would take pictures of my outfits, but being an employee of The Times, you could never appear in one of his fashion columns, but he would give me the negatives which was very sweet.

“Bill had been in the Army, stationed in France, so he went to fashion shows in Paris and made friends with some designers. Afterwards he came to New York and designed hats. He was a milliner! Several of his hats went on auction a few months ago. His hats were delightful. He’d design them as “William C.” I bid $300 for one of his hats. I don’t know why I didn’t go higher, because it sold for $400. Really upset me. Then I thought, why didn’t I just buy all of them? So I regret that. I loved him.

“When a friend gave Bill a camera, he said it changed his life.

“He only shot black and white because he couldn’t afford color. One of his first assignments was to go to Central Park to a love-in. He said it was marvelous! There were kids all over the place in their hippie clothes, and he was hooked.

“He would work for The Times and then shoot the nightlife for Details. He worked hard. He didn’t get famous until he was in his 60’s. I met him when he was 63, and he was just taking off, so it’s encouraging to know our careers can go on.

PHOTOGRAPH OF CAROL DIETZ, ©BRENDA COFFEE, 2018.

“I used to keep myself really toned down. Low key. After my mother passed away I lightened my hair, started wearing makeup, bought matching pajamas and became way more, so called “glamorous.”

“I went to Bill and said, “Look at my new coat from Paris!” He pulled out his camera and said, “Okay, Carol. Show me your stuff.”

“So I started moving and every photo was perfect because I was so happy and comfortable, and all of a sudden I knew I could take a good photo and look good, and I never believed that before. Never. Bill never had you pose, but I was having fun, and I trusted him.

BILL WAS A FAMILIAR SITE, RIDING HIS BICYCLE THROUGH THE STREETS OF NYC. HERE IT LOOKS LIKE HE’S TRYING TO AVOID THE PAPARAZZI!

“Up until then my Instagram account was all 50’s photos of me and my sisters, because I didn’t like photos of my self. From then on I’ve only posted modern day photos and started showing my outfits, and I love it. It’s a new side of me I never showed, and now I’m proud of it. If you get me, you get me. I only wear my own clothes. I connect with my clothes. I see too many photos of women who just put on clothes for a show, and they’re not comfortable in those clothes.

“Now I feel in control, comfortable. I’m not so critical of myself anymore. I smile naturally.

“Bill lived in Carnegie Hall, in artist’s residences. When he had to move he invited us to take what ever we wanted. I took an ostrich egg, plus he gave me feathers from when he was a milliner, so I want to create a hat with his feathers.

“As Bill got a little older, he would go home for his little catnap. He was heading out for the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) awards and had a stroke at home. No one knew until the next morning. He was hospitalized. We kept it a secret until somehow it leaked to the New York Post. I tried to visit him. I went to the hospital. They asked, “Are you Anna Wintour?” They wouldn’t let me in, so I sat in the waiting room and said a little prayer. He died a few days later. I took it very bad. (Bill Cunningham died on June 25, 2016.)

“It became easier for me to leave The Times because Bill wasn’t there. He had so much optimism, creativity. People met him for a second, and you thought you were his best friend. He had that effect on everybody. I was blessed to have met him.”

THIS AWARD-WINNING FILM ABOUT BILL CUNNINGHAM IS TENDER AND SWEET, UPLIFTING AND FUN. IT’S EASY TO SEE WHY HE MADE SUCH AN IMPACT ON FASHION AND WHY HE WAS SO BELOVED. YOU CAN RENT IT ON iTUNES OR BUY THE DVD ON AMAZON. Watch it. You’ll be glad you did!

FYI, at the end of the film, Carol Dietz wrote Bill a song she sings for him at his birthday party in the offices of the New York Times. It’s quite a moment…

Although I never met Bill Cunningham, I fell in love with him through Carol’s memories and the film about him. He was a lovely, dear eccentric man. From what I know about Bill, he and Carol have many similarities: They’re wildly creative, a bit shy, a tad quirky, and they see fashion with fresh, clean eyes. No “should or should nots.”

Thank you, Carol, for your personal insight into a man who changed not only the way the media covers fashion, but how we, the people on the street interpret them. His influence will continue to be felt by fashion designers and stylists who understand that clothes live their own life, off the runway.

Love, Brenda

14 Comments

  • Isabella March 3, 2018 at 7:57 am

    Thanks
    I just love reading about him
    a special guy
    I was in the city once and actually saw him on his bike around Bergdorffs, it was a thrill

    • 1010ParkPlace March 7, 2018 at 7:43 am

      That would have been a special treat to see him in the city! Thanks for your comment, Brenda

  • Mona Andrei March 3, 2018 at 8:42 am

    I’ve never met him but so very enchantingly described here.

    • 1010ParkPlace March 7, 2018 at 7:43 am

      So happy you enjoyed the post Mona. Thank you, Brenda

  • Amy Kennedy March 3, 2018 at 9:24 am

    Wow! Fantastic post! Thank you so much! He sounds like a National Treasure.

    • 1010ParkPlace March 7, 2018 at 7:44 am

      “A National Treasure!” What a great way to phrase it. After you’ve watched the documentary about Bill, you’ll know just how right you are. Thanks for leaving me a comment, Amy! Brenda

  • Dr. Margaret Rutherford March 3, 2018 at 6:44 pm

    What a wonderful tribute to a man who gave so much to others, and sounds as if didn’t give up his own values and identity. Thank you Brenda for giving us a glimpse.

    • 1010ParkPlace March 7, 2018 at 7:46 am

      Hi Margaret!! The film about Bill underscores just what you’ve astutely pointed out. He was true to his values and always doing not just what was right, but going beyond. He was a special man. xoxox, Brenda

  • Rebecca Forstadt Olkowski March 4, 2018 at 12:32 pm

    Bill sounds like he was a doll. I’d love to see the full documentary.

    • 1010ParkPlace March 7, 2018 at 7:47 am

      Hi Rebecca, Bill’s smile and humor was infectious. He was funny and never made it “about him.” Such a remarkable man. You’d enjoy renting the film. xoxox, Brenda

  • LA CONTESSA March 5, 2018 at 2:21 pm

    ARE YOU TELLING ME BECAUSE SHE WASNOT ANNA W. that SHE wasNOT ALLOWED IN TO SEE HIM in his final hours?????????????????
    WHO DO YOU THINK HE WOULD HAVE WANTED TO SEE MORE????CAROL OF COURSE They worked side by side for GOD”s sakes!
    This stuff drives me CRAZY!!!!!!!!Reminds me of how they left my 91 year old MOTHER on the FLOOR from 9pm until 2 AM!!!!!!!!!
    I have something to admit.
    I was thrilled with CAROL on INSTAGRAM and she has been following me since the very beginning!
    But I do not know her and so the old family photos did NOTHING for ME……….I must GO back and SEE what she is up TOO as I ADORE HER STYLE!
    SHE IS ALWAYS HAPPY!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    XX

    • 1010ParkPlace March 7, 2018 at 7:54 am

      Elizabeth, Carol’s a lot like Bill. She’s happy, joyous and has that same infectious smile. Yes, do catch up with her on Instagram. She’s become one of my favorite people. Elder caregiving… For the most part, the dementia facility was good to my mother, but the more she disappeared into the disease, the more difficult she became and I suspect, they lost their patience with her a lot…. That’s no excuse for lack of compassion and leaving your mother–and mine–on the floor… xoxox, Brenda

  • Sandra Sallin - Apart from My Art March 10, 2018 at 4:23 pm

    What a tender story. I so loved the video on Bill. I was very touched by his sensitivity. I felt his smile reached right down to his heart. I remember the first time Carol liked one of my instagram posts. I was so honored. Love how Carol is now so happy with herself. I am too.

    • 1010ParkPlace March 13, 2018 at 10:57 am

      Sandra, I think Bill touched most everyone he met, and Carol is one of them. They’re both tender-hearted souls with big bright smiles. I’m happy for her as well. If only everyone could have that kind of an epiphany! xoxox, Brenda

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