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Bill Cunningham & Missoni

How One of Fashion’s Most Beloved Photographers Was Also One of the Missoni’s First Fans

Did you know that Bill Cunningham, the blue-coated bicycle riding grandfather of street style photography, used to be a writer? Most fans of Mr. Cunningham are familiar with his iconic on-the-street snaps that were published every week in the New York Times, from 1989 to his passing this year. What people may not know, though, is that for a period in the 1960s and -70s he was quite the prolific journalist, filing stories about fashion for the likes of the Chicago Tribune and Women’s Wear Daily. His articles were generally run-downs of the newest offerings from the runways of Paris and London – which designers were shortening their skirts and what cuts we should look out for in the fall. He also made predictions: who would stick around and who would be forgotten in the annals of fashion. As to be expected from the man whose eye would come to define New York street style, he was usually spot on.

In the September 18, 1972 issue of the Chicago Tribune Cunningham devoted an entire page of the paper’s fashion section to the Missonis newest collection. Decisive in his appraisal, the first line of the piece announces, “You need not look any further than the Missonis of Italy to see the most beautiful knits in the fashion world.” The rest of the article is just as effusive, stating: “Only the Missonis’ collection is worth being called a collector’s item, which would be fit for a museum in years to come.” He goes on to breathlessly describe the new collection, marvelling at the technical ingenuity and the modernist approach to cut and style. The piece not only illustrates the Missonis’ genre shattering conception of knitwear, but Cunningham’s own dedication and astute understanding of fashion and personal creativity.

Cunningham followed the Missonis as their notoriety grew and they became household names for those in the fashion business. He wrote about them again in 1973, describing their newest offering as “another smashing knitwear collection, whose colors and patterns are becoming legendary.” And, as the decade progressed, proclaimed: “Knitwear is the fashion of the 1970s… and the truly memorable knits are those of the Missonis in Italy.” He found the irreverence and artistry of Missoni knitwear to be an avatar of the social evolution that was going on in the 1970s, and easily pinned their values to those of the generation’s youth. One of his more memorable articles even describes young men, unable to find Missoni menswear in America, buying out the women’s section in Bloomingdales. They preferred the tight rayon knit of Missoni t-shirts that season to anything they could find in the men’s department.

In Bill Cunningham’s long and prolific career, he came to represent fashion at its most joyful and spontaneous. Together with a similar approach to creativity and life, he found a kindred spirit in the Italian knit makers he wrote so passionately about.

 

Photo by Mattia Iotti