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Fashion Climbing: A Memoir with Photographs

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3.63  ·  Rating details ·  865 ratings  ·  173 reviews
The untold story of a New York City legend's education in creativity and style

For Bill Cunningham, New York City was the land of freedom, glamour, and, above all, style. Growing up in a lace-curtain Irish suburb of Boston, secretly trying on his sister's dresses and spending his evenings after school in the city's chicest boutiques, Bill dreamed of a life dedicated to fash
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Hardcover, 256 pages
Published September 4th 2018 by Penguin Press
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Jenni Photos are included, but there are less than a dozen. I think you would be fine listening to the audiobook.

Community Reviews

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3.63  · 
Rating details
 ·  865 ratings  ·  173 reviews


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Jill Meyer
Jul 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
I've often wondered why people write memoirs. (I also wonder why people read memoirs, but that's another review.) Memoirs are different than autobiographies because they usually only cover a time or relationship in a person's life. Memoirs can be boiling cauldrons of emotion if the writer decides to write about every feeling and action. Or they can be as buttoned-up as a winter coat, and give very little hint of personal feelings, while concentrating on what happened. The best memoirs, I guess, ...more
Katie Shepherd
Oct 04, 2018 rated it it was ok
I feel this was only published because of how well regarded Cunningham is now. His history is interesting and deserves attention however it is so much better served by the documentary. The book is chatty and gives some insight into the high fashion world but the prose leaves much to be desired. The best parts come in the first 50 pages. Cunningham's youthful excitement about fashion (much to his family's disgust) as well as his time in Europe with the military and his beginning as a designer of ...more
Catherine ♡
Aug 03, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, memoir
Actual Rating: 3.5

This book was actually quite interesting, and I wasn't sure that it would be for me, since I don't really have an interest in fashion...

But I still liked it - it definitely wasn't very emotional, but I learned a lot about culture and history along the way. There were some smaller anecdotes that seemed to be more personal and focused on personal growth, and I think I enjoyed these the best.

The photos were interesting to look at as well, as they really brought the story to life.
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Alisa
Feb 12, 2019 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: fans of Bill Cunningham
A memoir just as spirited, whimsical, and exuberant as the author. For fans of Bill Cunningham, this is an unvarnished personal view of his early life. Bill grew up in a middle class Irish Catholic home in a suburb of Boston and as a child discovered his love of women's fashion by parading around in his sisters dresses, much to the horror of his family. He was shunned for it, but the irrepressible spirit in him refused to stay hidden. Young Bill embraced his unique and creative energy, and event ...more
Aria
Sep 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
---- Disclosure: I received this book for free from Goodreads. ----

I just loved this book. I read it straight through last night, & it was ever so pleasant when I woke today, thinking of Bill & his life. I am only marginally interested in clothing as an art form & a skillful trade, not so much in what is pushed out in the glossy magazines or sold for mass consumption. Seems Bill was of a similar mind, but he had a burning passion that he followed w/ an honesty likely not since seen

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Annie Rosewood
Oct 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
What an endearing memoir! I have admired Bill Cunningham since I saw his documentary a few years ago and I couldn't wait to read this. I wouldn't describe fashion one of my particular interests, but Bill is such a genuinely lovely and interesting person that I got much more than I expected from reading about his work in the fashion industry. Without sounding too cheesy, this is an inspiring and touching read - raw and honest and Bill's character and spirit really shine through. I highly recommen ...more
Autumn
Oct 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
The astounding adventures of a truly happy and original person who lived solely for their passion. Inspiring! Full of hot tea from the Hamptons in the 50s! Very specific about where you ate if you could no longer afford the Automat! A gem.
Kazen
Sep 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: arc
I'm not a fashionista by any stretch but I like me a good fashion documentary. The September Issue gave me a grounding in this topsy turvy world, after which I gravitated to Bill Cunningham New York . Cunningham was a private person, almost to the point of being a loner, so when I saw his posthumous memoir would be published the first week of September (natch) I snapped it up.

I knew Cunningham as a fashion photographer for the New York Times who did lovely On the Street videos. Treat yourself
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Marie
Oct 21, 2018 rated it it was ok
This is the first time I’ve read a book containing photos without any captions- no explanation of who the subjects are, or the context of time and place. The author obviously loves fashion, but often comes off as a snob.
Ryan
Nov 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
A very fun read - Bill reflects on his time climbing the social ladder as a milliner
Susan
Nov 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I'm kind of amazed that people haven't given this rave reviews because I found it to be a real page turner. And with each page (well, Kindle page), I wished I had met Bill Cunningham, fellow Bay Stater, because if he was as funny and droll in real life as he was on the page, you'd have an entertaining time. The book was like a friend was writing a letter with updates on his life and even though the stories went back 70+ years, it all felt very contemporary to me.
Sara
Sep 23, 2018 rated it liked it
I loved Bill Cunningham so I was interested to read his memoir. But it doesn’t cover his whole life and it lost my attention at various times Can’t reakly recommend it.
Laurie
Nov 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Born during the Depression to an Irish-American family with conservative values, Bill Cunningham’s penchant for fancy clothes and beautiful décor was discouraged- discouraged to the point of receiving a brutal beating when his mother caught four year old Bill wearing his sister’s organdy party dress. His interest- passion- couldn’t be kept down, however, and he devoted his entire life to fashion in one way or another. He worked in boutiques as a teen, became a sought-after hat designer in the 50 ...more
Liz
Mar 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book, not just for Cunningham’s eye for detail and his ability to recreate the fashion world of the 1950s and 1960s, but also for his indomitable spirit; when called up for the Korean War-era draft, Cunningham was thrilled at the possibility he might be sent to Europe and, sure enough, he was. Taking time away from his barely launched millinery career, the designer ended up stationed in Paris, his real introduction to a fashion world still reeling from the Second World War. He astut ...more
D
Sep 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Written during his lifetime, but published posthumously, Cunningham describes his early days in fashion. The intensely private man is always looking outward in snapping photos and spotting trends. While looking inward is something Cunningham may have done, without sharing what he sees there, we can't really know him.
Patti Imhof
Sep 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A delightful read about Bill Cunningham’s beginnings in his world of fashion, style and taste. I admired his photography in NYT style section for years; he captured so much humor along with the fashion. I loved learning where he started!
Silvia
Mar 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
If you want to know what passion for something feels like you should read the first half of this little book. Later, Cunningham offers insight into the world of fashion writing - people doing the writing aren't all that glamorous and 90% percent of them "pet" designers to get more invites.
Leslie W
Nov 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Huge Bill Cunningham after seeing the documentary and following him in the style section of the nytimes. Cunningham is not an expert writer, but his story is still epic. Thoroughly enjoyed.
lisa
Sep 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
"No human being should be afraid of another, although we respect his high position."

Bill Cunningham, or William J, as he was known in his designing days, says this to his first boss while he is being fired, and it seems a pretty apt summary of his philosophy of life. Initially I was very disappointed over the lack of photographs in this book. Despite what the subtitle may lead you to believe, there are only a few photos in the book, and most of them are candid shots of the author, and some of h
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Cflack
Sep 20, 2018 rated it liked it
A charming thin slice of a memoir by Bill Cunningham whose work I remember reading and photos I love going back to the late 1970s when I was still in college. I was never a fashion focused person and didn't read any of the magazines, but there was always a quality to the photos he took and the people he focused on that fascinated me and obviously many others.

I enjoyed the early parts of the memoir talking about his growing up and moving to New York to make his way in the fashion industry - how h
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Liz Pardey
Nov 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
I knew something of Bill Cunningham, the on-the-street photographer who rode his bike around New York capturing stylish women and picking photos for The New York Times. He also attended evening events often with his bicycle helmet on his arm. This was the Cunningham I wanted to read about. The book starts with childhood in Boston and his discovery of life in New York He expressed his creativity and his love of fashion as a milliner, designing and selling William B hats through the 50s, until the ...more
Peppelia
Dec 02, 2018 rated it it was ok
I was so eager to love this book, so my 2 to 2-1/2 star rating is at least partially due to the anticipation-and-disappointment factor. The beginning-to-middle sections were great, especially Cunningham’s military career—surely no one was able to successfully bend their wartime experiences to fit their unique personality as did he! But as the narrative went on, it contained less and less personal experience and more philosophizing about society and fashion. I’m in complete agreement with Cunning ...more
Sara
Jul 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
There's no tell-all here, but I can see why he never published it in his lifetime. This is a memoir of the first part of his life, up until the end of his millinery business and the start of his fashion career. He had an amazing time. He glosses over his personal life, but his social portrait of the workshops, fitting rooms, runways, ballrooms and stylish characters of this time is wonderfully detailed and incomparable. Taste, joy and creative expression were his guiding lights, and he rails aga ...more
Lorri Steinbacher
May 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book is due out in September and what a delight. The street fashion photographer Bill Cunningham started out as a milliner and he tells the story of his early years. (Hilton Als nails the preface, too). If you love fashion, mid century style, or a story about someone who lived his passion every day, you'll want to check this one out. While you're at it, go back and scroll through his NYT archives. I miss him.
Christina
Oct 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: giveaways
This was a nice read about fashion (especially millinery a.k.a. hat making) in the 1950s and 1960s. I really enjoyed reading about the fashion world through William's memoir and respected his climb in the industry. His creativity and drive to being true to himself is inspiring for people of all walks of life.
Sabrina Chapadjiev
Jan 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is really a very wonderful and telling memoir about Bill Cunningham. I've read some other reviews while I was reading it, and was surprised that people said he didn't talk about himself enough. I felt that it revealed, in it's own way, a deep understanding of Cunningham's drive, desire, creativity, compassion and his philosophy.

For those obsessed with him via his NYTimes photo journalism, it doesn't touch at all on that. However, it does reveal his dedication to style, how his eye was infor
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Susan
Oct 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
I don’t think I had heard much about Bill Cunningham nor William J before I read this book, but I don’t know how I missed him. He was quite the flamboyant character in the fashion world. For years in the Forties and Fifties he made hats, outlandish hats, bread-and-butter hats, hats that society women would buy to allow him to buy materials for his next collection. He lived in some tiny rooms in New York City, begging from friends, until he could begin to afford to support himself in the most men ...more
Monica Williams
Sep 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It was one of my life goals to have been featured in one of Bill Cunningham's photographs for the New York Times.(I probably never would have been fabulously stylish enough, but hey a girl can dream) I never did see him in his signature blue jacket on his bicycle, but I always was on the lookout when I was in the City. I love all his pictures and the various themes. One of my favorite parts of reading the paper.
If you are looking for an entertaining first hand account about the 1940s and 1950s
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Terri Durling
May 26, 2019 rated it liked it
I was very intrigued by this eccentric unique New York character who fell in love with women's fashion at a very early age and never stopped in his pursuit of beauty in the fashion industry. Against all odds, his family was very against his chosen career, he rose to become a highly regarded and sought after fashion critique. He was brutally honest to the point of not being invited to some fashion events for voicing his opinions. He started off making hats and lived on the edge of poverty while h ...more
Linda
Nov 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Loved this book. A hoot from start to finish but chock full of wisdom. Bill, I feel like I know him well enough to be on a first name basis, presents his passion for high fashion with a lighthearted insouciance that appeals to my funny bone. Easy to read, easy to put down, but impossible to not pick up and finish. On a personal basis, this memoir provided me with an insight to the world of 1950s department stores and glamour I barely recall. He describes the type of Hats, gloves and dresses I va ...more
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Bill Cunningham, the iconic New York Times photographer, was the creative force behind the columns On the Street and Evening Hours. Cunningham dropped out of Harvard and moved to New York City at 19, eventually starting his own hat design business under the name "William J." His designs were featured in Vogue, The New Yorker, Harper's Bazaar, and Jet. While covering fashion for publications includ ...more
“It’s a ridiculous belief that money brings taste; it definitely doesn’t. As a matter of fact, it often merely allows one to enjoy bad taste with louder vulgarity.” 1 likes
“The country would not have half the trouble with mentally disturbed people it has if parents would accept each child’s God-given personality and stop trying to force what they feel is more suitable for their offspring.” 1 likes
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