Pat Cleveland Pays Tribute to Bill Cunningham

Pat Cleveland Pays Tribute to Bill Cunningham

Following an emotional gathering of the fashion industry at the photographer's memorial yesterday afternoon, the legendary model pays tribute to her longtime friend and icon.

Following an emotional gathering of the fashion industry at the photographer's memorial yesterday afternoon, the legendary model pays tribute to her longtime friend and icon.

Text: Pat Cleveland

My take on Bill? Oh my God, such a character.

Carnegie Hall: Antonio Lopez, Bill Cunningham, Ms. Sherman—the Duchess of Carnegie Hall—and Oliviero Toscani all had apartments, but they were really, really tiny. We’d go to Bill’s room and it was like a closet, but big enough to be a studio apartment in 2016. So, he would have all these filing cabinets—that’d be the hallway—full of pictures. And then in the room, there was a wall of mirrors, and we’d sit there—me and Antonio—and Bill Cunningham would take pictures of us lying around the couch. Before you knew it, I’d have my clothes off, doing nudes with these feathered fans, and then they’d give me these masks to wear that he’d make. “Come on sugar, get it, come on, cupcake. Yeah, that’s it baby, lookin’ good.” You know, he had all those funny American expressions from, like, the ’40s. “Yeah, baby, that’s getting good.”

The first day I came out in a Stephen Burrows dress, there was Bill Cunningham standing on the corner near Henri Bendel’s—because that’s where all the movie stars liked to shop. Bill would be standing outside, so when I came out, he’d take pictures of me. And he’d go, “Yeah, baby, that’s it!” It wasn’t strange—because he lived on 57th street—that he went down the block and took pictures of everyone.

He’d always photograph people that you wouldn’t think were fashionable. But then fashion grew into it later. If you were too famous or too rich—you know, a snob—he would not take your picture. All these stars wanted to be photographed, but he’d just turn his back on them, and he’d go and photograph a little black girl with little braids in her hair that no one knew, sitting in the audience. Real people wearing real clothes that they just put together, little scraps of this and that, with good attitudes about who they were. He’d get up in the morning and go out and hunt for people. That’s what makes it happen. I think, mostly, he brought back the spirit of what fashion could be like. “Hey kid, go get it.” That was his phrase. “Get out there, go get it, kid!”

The last time I saw Bill Cunningham, he and Roxanne [Lowit] were taking pictures at my book launch party and they were back-to-back, like one of those movies with Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, in the corner over there by the fire place at the Jane Hotel, taking pictures like they were in cahoots. I mean, it was the most extraordinary thing, and no one got a picture of it. My phone was upstairs because I was all dressed in gold, ready to do my number, so I couldn’t take the picture, but that’s the image I have of him, my last one, at my book party. Friends ‘til the end. That’s loyalty.

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 15: Photographer Bill Cunningham is seen outside Skylight Clarkson Sq during New York Fashion Week: Men's S/S 2016 on July 15, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images)

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