Facades: Bill Cunningham- A Book Review

For anyone who has a fascination or admiration for one Mr. Bill Cunningham, then I have a book review for consideration. I decided to revisit a vintage book by the name of Facades done in 1978 by Bill Cunningham, introduced by Marty Bronson with model Editta Sherman. This whimsical book, organized by the enduring and iconic late Bill Cunningham, is a feast for the eyes. Fashion, vintage lovers, and red blooded New Yorkers alike should know what this classic is all about.  In 1948, Bill came to NYC to pursue a career in fashion. Before he dawned his bicycle to capture fashion on the streets of this fair city, he opened shop as a Millinery label William J.  After writing for WWD, he fell into his love of photography as a fashion journalist/ writer at the Chicago Tribune and the rest is history.

1900-1903 Flatiron Building. 5th Ave and 23rd. Designed by Daniel Burnham. Editta Sherman in era undergarments.

Facades, came about, as the book itself references; after 8 years of playing around with this labor of love. In the late 60s, he combined his love of cityscapes and began collecting antique and vintage clothing to photograph in front of architecture throughout the city. But what about a muse? We’ll get back to that key element…. Each era outfit was juxtaposed against the architecture and a chosen setting in the city. Both the clothing and building era correct. I find it intriguing that he thought of such a thing, why clothing? Well, I suppose this was the beginning of him sort of creating street style in the wake of the Seeberger Brothers.

As for muses, it was one alluring Editta Sherman who filled those shoes, lover of period clothing, photographer, mother, and artist. The “Duchess of Carnegie Hall”, referencing her home above Carnegie Hall for decades, cuts a great figure for each image which captures clothing from the 1700s-1960s.

“Bill carefully accessorized all the costumes with the proper shoes, parasols, wire bustles, gloves, and jewelry, sometimes even the underwear. When an authentic period hat was missing, out came his collection of felt, flowers, and ribbon, and he completed the picture with a reproduction based on careful research. The richness of Manhattan’s architectural settings was found beyond his greatest expectations. From Egyptian temples to Russian cathedrals, the locations were scouted by bicycle, Bill’s major means of transportation to this day. Success at matching the appropriate costume with the right location came as much from study as from intuition. Each location was carefully documented and dated through the many books available on the subject and through the files of the city’s architectural records”(Marty Bronson, introduction).

This work represents years of fashion and is in retrospect indicative of Bill’s life, talent, and relationship with the city. There is just so much in this book to look through and read, it is best enjoyed from cover to cover. Each image has a detailed description of the location’s history and era Here is a just a little taste…..