Bill Cunningham’s first love was fashion, but the Big Apple came a close second. He left Boston for New York aged nineteen, losing his family’s support, but enjoying the infinite luxury of freedom. Living on a scoop of Ovaltine a day, he would run down to Fifth Avenue to feed on the spectacular sights of the window displays – then run back to his tiny studio to work all night.
Working as ‘William J’ - to spare his parents’ blushes - Bill became one of the most celebrated hat designers of the 1950s, his hats were featured in Vogue and Harper's Bazaar and worn by Marilyn Monroe and Jacqueline Kennedy. Bill’s mission was to bring happiness by making beautiful things – even if it meant pawning his bike to fund fancy-dress outfits for all his friends.
When women stopped wearing hats and his business was forced to close, Bill worked as a fashion journalist, touring the couture houses of Europe. But New York remained his home, and it was as a street photographer of the fashions of the city that he became well known, in a job that would last almost forty years.
Fashion Climbing is the enchanting memoir he left behind. Found after passing away in June 2016 aged 87, it captures the madcap times of his early career and the fashion scene of the mid-century. Written with the spark and wit of Holly Golightly, and brimming over with Bill’s infectious joy for life, it is a gift to all who seek beauty, whatever our style or status.
Left - Fashion Climbing - Bill Cunningham - £16.99
TheChicGeek says, “We don’t have the same affection for Bill on this side of the pond as the Americans, but we know him from the 2010 documentary ‘Bill Cunningham New York’, charting his life as a street style photographer for The New York Times. (I probably need to watch this again soon).
One thing to point out about this autobiography is, it doesn’t touch on his later life as a photographer. It focuses only on his early years, moving from a hat designer to fashion journalist and ends in the late 1960s.
Bill leaves his conservative Irish catholic family in Boston, who tried to curtail his creativity, via a job at department store Bonwit’s and on to New York. Bill finds himself making hats and using his imagination during the heyday of Dior’s ‘New Look’ and America’s obsession with following Paris’ lead.
Bill takes us back to a time when people applauded at fashion shows and not the one handed clap while social media-ing you get today. As delicate a bird as one of his favourite feathered creations, Cunningham projects himself as an outsider purely driven by the love of fashion. He’s exasperated by the social climbing and the following of fashion of women during this part of the 20th century.
This is America at the height of its power. Post war and the golden age of the American dream, this autobiography works through the decades when America peaked and was a powerhouse of fashion consumption and was its biggest patron. Bill must surely be the only man to combine time in the American army while sitting frow at Parisian couture houses.
This is a fun read, and, while it feels exaggerated, it is endearing and is an amusing look at America trying to find its fashion feet. Bill isn’t particularly modest though and wants to continually remind you how individual and original he is. At one point he proclaims he’s ten years ahead of fashion and how nobody gets him. Nobody wants to be ten years ahead of fashion, plus you’d think somebody would have moved into something other than hats faster if you were so ahead of your time.
The hat business dries up and he starts to use his expertise documenting the latest fashion shows and writing fashion articles for WWD. He certainly doesn't have many positive things to say about the fashion press and notes how badly dressed they mostly are.
The book charts his struggle, particularly financially, but you get a feeling his family have more money than he lets on and his uncle sounds very wealthy.
What’s interesting in the book is how things are so different, yet the same. His talk of fashion shows isn’t far off of the circus today. But, fashion has changed and that breathless wait for the next creation from a chosen designer doesn’t ring true anymore. We look, yes, but they no longer have the power with people following sheep-like.
For many, at this time, fashion is a vehicle for social standing, climbing and showing their wealth and his eyerolling at those who just use clothes for these purposes isn’t disguised. He wants them to just enjoy it for what it is, but, you can only do this if you understand fashion, and very few people truly do.
This is the Mad Men New York of parties in hotel ballrooms, social gatherings and peacocking. This is America at its most formal, yet still shows how conservative they are and yet with all the money. They would never buy anything that original or daring and that still rings true today.
This is a lite and inspiring read for anybody who gets excited about vintage fashion, women with cinched in waists and full skirts, Parisian fashion salons of the 1950s and bouji New York beach resorts."
Read more ChicGeek Fashion Book Reviews here
For those of us who want to express our taste, get something different and also, possibly, invest, vintage is the place to be, right now. I love a rummage around a vintage store or on eBay, but finding something decent, that fits, is tough, but that’s part of the fun and makes something good all that more special. Book -
One of the easiest ways of finding something special is to look at a specialist online auction and Kerry Taylor Auctions in Bermondsey is probably the best specialist fashion seller in the UK. Admittedly, it is reflected in the prices, but they aren't crazy, especially when you compare them to today's designer prices. I always have a look at their online catalogue, not only to look at what is in the sale, but also for style ideas from the past.
Here are TheChicGeek’s picks of the sale and why:
TheChicGeek says, “While I probably wouldn’t get into this dress… it’s the 1960s & 1970s optical prints that are all the rage at the moment. Just look at Dries Van Noten’s Verner Panton inspired collection for SS19 to understand how fresh these are looking right now. I'd love this print in a shirt.” See Thom Yorke in Dries Van Noten SS19 it here
Lot 202 : A Pierre Balmain couture printed organza evening dress, 1972
A Pierre Balmain couture printed organza evening dress, 1972. labelled and numbered 154665, boldly printed with 'target' medallions.
Estimate: £300 - £500
TheChicGeek says, “Vintage Tommy Nutter is very hard to come by. These aren’t particularly exciting, but, it’s the shapes you’re buying into: huge, exaggerated lapels and flared trousers. I particularly like the multiple vents on the back.”
Book - You need to read the House of Nutter here
Lot 252 : Two Tommy Nutter gentleman's wool suits, 1975-76
Two Tommy Nutter gentleman's wool suits, 1975-76. un-labelled, of similar design, the first in sage-green, the second beige, both jackets with exaggerated lapels, inverted pleat detailing to front pockets and rear; together with an original 'Nutters' hanger and photocopy showing the original owner.
Estimate: £300 - £500
TheChicGeek says, “These are a fashion museum piece, so I’d expect them to go for much more than the estimate. The late 1960s sci-fi/retro-future styles still fascinate and these are one of the iconic eyewear styles of that era.”
See more inspiration from 2001 Space Odyssey here
Lot 267 : A pair of Courrèges cream plastic 'eskimo' sunglasses, 1964
A pair of Courrèges cream plastic 'eskimo' sunglasses, 1964. signed along one arm, the solid lenses with horizontal slits, in a Courrèges plastic glasses case.
Estimate: £200 - £300
TheChicGeek says, “While this isn’t an original Pearly King outfit, and more a stage costume, the allure is the style’s place in London’s working class street culture. While an original East London ‘Pearly’ suit would be the dream, it would be hard to find one in as good condition as this one.”
Lot 381 : A good 'Pearly King' outfit for 'The Yorkshire Coster', English, circa 1910
A good 'Pearly King' outfit for 'The Yorkshire Coster', English, circa 1910. of dark grey herringbone tweed and covered entirely with pearlised buttons, comprising jacket, waistcoat and trousers with buttons by 'Scarboro Etches'; together with an original photograph and pocket map of London. Provenance: The Castle Howard Collection, ex lot 210, Sotheby's, 7th October 2003. This suit belonged to William Wedgwood Fenwick (1886-1960) who was born in Scarborough to Methodist parents. He wanted a stage career and went to London where he trained as understudy to the performer Albert Chevalier. Eventually due to pressure from his family he returned to Scarborough where he opened a draper's shop. He used to entertain friends wearing this suit.
Estimate: £350 - £500
TheChicGeek says, “Pre-20th century items have a preciousness knowing that the majority of clothing or accessorises fell apart through wear and never made it through the decades of time. These pairs of braces are really cute and show the whimsy in menswear going way back into history. These are pure dandy and would be fun to wear, if the condition allows.”
Lot 419 : Three pairs of men's braces, mid-late 19th century
Three pairs of men's braces, mid-late 19th century. comprising: petit point pair with motifs including matadors, galleons, native figures with feathers; another pair embroidered with forget me knots, both with elasticated and leather straps; a woven blue and white Edelweiss patterned pair; and a single poor condition petit point panel.
Estimate: £250 - £400
TheChicGeek says, “This is giving me pure Gucci vibes, especially the yellow one. Saying that, Michele’s probably already ticked these off his list of references and he’s already ransacked Northern India from the first half of the 20th century for SS17!!!!”
See more about this AW18 season’s trend of Balaclavas here
Lot 464 : Two quilted hats, Ladakhi, Northern India, first half of the 20th century
Two quilted hats, Ladakhi, Northern India, first half of the 20th century. the first of golden-yellow silk damask; the second in black velvet with fauna stems stitched in gilt thread; both lined in red cotton. This style of hat is worn sitting high on the crown of the head, with the flaps curving outwards, during festivals.
Estimate: £100 - £150
With the Russian World Cup coming, or should that be looming?! We're going to get all nostalgic for Panini stickers and short-short football kits. Retro sportswear shows no sign of slowing down in fashion circles and anything branded, or with brand's old logos, is as popular as ever.
Credits - Loafers - Base London, Jeans - Raey, Top - Vintage
The silk pyjama shirt has become a fixture in our wardrobes - it was one of the most popular men’s items in the recent Erdem X H&M collaboration - Read 'The Return of The Sexy Shirt' - and it was inevitable, in all its louche, open-shirtedness, that we needed something extra to decorate our chests with. Enter the medallion.
Left - Fashion week street style
This look hasn’t been cool since the seventies with the combined stench of Brut aftershave and porn-star taches. But we're peacocking again and this overt masculinity is the reason why it is back. It’s very Burt Reynolds, very Magnum PI and has a musky, hirsute sexiness to it.
Right - Alex Orso - Disc - Gold - £125
I’m loving a silk shirt ATM, see one of my favourites of the season here and you wear it open with confidence. It could be the “Call Me By Your Name” effect, where the medallion necklace is an important signifier within the film - see more Call Me By Your Name style here or it's the effect of guys being more flamboyant and wearing printed silk shirts.
Team with silk trousers and a smile. Have you got the swagger for a medallion?
Left - Black Dakini - Disk Pendant Sterling Silver Necklace - £355 from Matchesfashion.com
Below - Vintage Bruce Weber Versace
Below Right - Steve McQueen
Far Left -Ryan Gosling
Middle - The medallion draws attention to your chest
Left - More McQueen
Left - Tom Selleck being Tom Selleck
Below Left - Call Me By Your Name - the older character shows his influence on the younger one when he starts to copy him and wear the same necklace
Below - Chained & Able - St. Christopher - £22 from ASOS
You're going to need a silk shirt to go with this - see more here The Return of 'The Sexy Shirt'
So many brands are simply remaking their archive, and why not, when it looks this good. We all know how I feel about Fila Vintage, but I first noticed this Fred Perry number at Pitti Uomo in January and then Berlin after. At first, I thought it was a display of vintage, but it's even better when you realise you can buy it. It’s part of their ‘Reissues’ collection and is designed to look like two layered knitwear pieces. The pageboy haircut is optional!
Left & Below - Fred Perry - Reissues Layered Turtle Neck Jumper - £145
The sport of rowing is dominated by the stereotypes of posh athletic giants called ‘Constantine’ or ‘Toby’. Their arrogance only surpassed by their prowess with a couple of oars and the Lycra in their rowing suits. But, off-duty they stick to tradition and continue to wear their team colours. The blazer was invented to be part of the rowing fraternity's uniform and as part of British culture, and our continual love affair with uniforms, it often takes an outsider to see and appreciate what we have and repackage and present something that has always existed.
Just when we thought ‘preppy’ was dead and wasn’t coming back for a while, we see green shoots appearing, and a new label like ‘Rowing Blazers’, reinventing and adding more fun to this seasonal British style.
Founded by Jack Carlson, a three-time member of the United States national rowing team, Rowing Blazers’ aim is to reintroduce one of the originals in men’s sportswear. The days when ‘sportswear’ still meant you wore a tie. He won a bronze medal for the U.S.A. at the 2015 World Championships and has also won the Head of the Charles Regatta, Henley Royal Regatta, and Royal Canadian Henley Regatta. Jack earned his doctorate in archaeology at the University of Oxford and is the author of the book Rowing Blazers (Thames & Hudson, 2014).
Left - Jack Carlson, founder of the American rowing blazer specialists, Rowing Blazers
Impressed the brand’s website and his passion for reintroducing this loud heritage style, I sent him a few ChicGeek questions to find out more:
CG: Why the fixation on rowing blazers?
JC: I spent a long time in the sport of rowing: nearly two decades, including three years on the US national team, so I've been immersed in this world for a while. But I've also been very interested in heraldry and in the visual and sartorial trappings of status and hierarchy for a long time as well. And I think the blazers that are traditional in the sport of rowing bring together all of those interests: menswear, heraldry, and the sport of rowing.
CG: When did you start? And what was the Eureka moment?
JC: I first competed at Henley Royal Regatta in 2004. My crew was knocked out in the first round, which was pretty disappointing. But it meant I had a great deal of time to spend in the spectator enclosures for the rest of the week, where I began chatting with other current and former rowers about their jackets and the stories and traditions behind them. I thought: someone should study these things, write a book about them. Six or seven years later, I realised I should be the guy to do it. The book came out in 2014, and the company - making blazers by hand, and incorporating a lot of details, traditions and construction techniques I came across while creating the book - launched this year.
CG: How have you found the reception to them?
JC: People from all sorts of different backgrounds love what we're doing. Menswear nerds love the research that has gone into everything we do and the quality of the construction and materials. The rowing community respect the authenticity and pedigree of what we're doing. The Japanese - we have a significant following in Asia - love the fact that our pieces are handmade in America. We've even had a positive response from many streetwear fanatics, who like the irreverent spirit, the cryptic Latin graffiti, and the graphics on our caps and badges.
Right - Rowing Blazers - Croquet Stripe Blazer - $995
CG: What would you say to those people who say that preppy is dead or is out of fashion?
JC: Preppy is dead. Long live preppy. I hate much of what that word has come to signify, and I think much of what it's come to signify is pretty dead for now. I think the consumer - at least the higher end menswear consumer - wants something with authenticity, with a story, a sense of meaning behind it. This consumer wants to know where, how, why, and from a product was made. Our pieces have tremendous depth to them; from the 3-roll-2 silhouette of our blazers, to the small embroidered faucet motif on our ties, there's a story and a reason behind every decision; and our pieces are all handmade in the US. So our collection is very different from much of what is usually considered to be "preppy" nowadays; but blue Oxford cloth button downs; flannel blazers - in navy or more outrageous colours; and webbing belts will never go out of style.
CG: Do you mostly concentrate on rowing teams and clubs or are you targeting a fashion consumer?
JC: We are a menswear brand first and foremost, but we are also proud to make blazers for a wide range of rowing teams and clubs, including Britain's most prestigious rowing club, Leander Club in Henley-on-Thames. We've also created blazers for rowing clubs in China - which is pretty cool considering we make everything in Manhattan; Oxford Brookes; the University of Texas - for whom we made blazer-cowboy jacket hybrids; and many other clubs, schools and universities.
CG: I’ve always loved the British Army blazer that I saw at Henley, would you make one of those?
JC: We might do something in camo, but we are always very careful to be respectful of existing club blazers, and would never "knock off' any institution's blazer.
CG: What’s your favourite style & why?
JC: My favourite piece in our collection is the 8x3 double breasted blazer, which is inspired by a blazer Prince Charles always wears. One never sees an 8x3 double breasted blazer on the market, so we had to make one. With five cuff buttons, an oversized front button from a vintage die, and a perfect fit, it came out brilliantly.
Left - Rowing Blazers - 8X3 Double Breasted Blazer ‘Prince Charlie’ $1095
CG: Do you ship to the UK? Isn't this a bit like taking coals to Newcastle?!
JC: We ship worldwide. Although the UK is the land of the blazer, no one is doing what we are doing: it's our commitment to quality and traditional techniques that's enabled us to become the official blazer supplier to Leander Club, Oxford Brookes University Boat Club and many other British institutions while making everything in New York. We are chatting with several British menswear retailers about going into their stores as well, and they understand that we are a high end brand with a unique product; they wouldn't be looking at us if they viewed us as a school uniform supplier!
CG: What would you say to those people who say rowing is elitist?
JC: Rowing has its roots in Oxbridge, but also the far more blue collar world of professional sculling. It developed not only through public schools and the Putney clubs, but also through many working man's clubs around England. Today many still associate the sport with Oxbridge because of the prominence of the Oxford-Cambridge race, but the truth is the sport is becoming more accessible and more universal all the time. British Rowing has done a great job bringing the sport into many new communities in the UK. I'm part of an organisation in the US, here in New York, called Row New York, which is a highly competitive rowing program for kids from the city's underserved communities. They've just qualified a boat for the national championships for the first time, which is fantastic to see.
CG: What’s the future for Rowing Blazers?
JC: We’ll be expanding into a few other categories and also expanding our retail footprint; we have a lot of pop-ups planned, including at Henley and Goodwood Revival; and we'll be going into a number of stores in Japan, Taiwan and China in the next few months. We have some cool collaborations planned with Merz b. Schwanen, a very cool and historic German knitwear manufacturer, and a few other exciting brands. We are really just getting started.
CG: You don’t just sell blazers? What else do you sell?
JC: We also make shirts in a few different styles. They are pretty unique because they are hand-distressed - here in the US! - and come with or without busted seams. They've been a hit with the more street-oriented customer actually. We also do hats, belts, ties -- many featuring satin-stitch embroidery, or hand-embroidered wire bullion motifs - and a wide range of rare, funky and quirky vintage product.
With everything turning towards vintage sportswear, it was perfectly timed and serendipity to receive an invitation to the Diadora museum. Located near Treviso, around 40km from Venice, Diadora, the Italian sportswear brand and manufacturer, is having a renaissance and riding the wave of the revival of 80s sports classics and men’s terrace wear.
Left - Diadora HQ is near Treviso, a town in the Veneto region of north-east Italy
Unfortunately not open to the general public, the museum is located at the head office and factory. Since July 2009, Diadora has been controlled by L.I.R. the holding company owned by the Moretti Polegato family, who also own Geox. They have re-established the Diadora brand and the museum is there to remind and explain to visitors and employees the brand’s history and sporting heritage.
Right - The timeline of Diadora's history in the museum
Diadora is from the Greek, dia-dorea, which means, ‘to share gifts and honours’, and was established in 1948 by Marcello Danieli to make mountain boots. Treviso is situated near the mountains and the Italian mountain police required special boots for their duties and this is why many of these types of manufacturers and companies sprang up in this area after the war.
In 1960 Diadora shifted its production to sports and during its heyday in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, it was worn by some of the biggest sports stars of the time including Ayrton Senna, Sebastian Coe, Bjorn Borg and the Italia ’90 Italian football team.
Left - One of many of the famous sports shoes in Diadora's hall of fame - Here is Boris Becker's
In 2009, Enrico Moretti Polegato, a member of the controlling family, became the new president of the company with the aim of enhancing the brand’s worldwide reputation and production. A background as a lawyer, and softly spoken, he kindly gave us the tour of the museum.
Right - Inside the factory where 10% of Diadora's shoes are #madeinitaly
The museum starts with an overview of nearly 70 years of history with a few of the original machines and processes it takes to make the shoes. An enviable collection of signed football shirts illustrates the depth of names who have worn Diadora.
The next part is where Geox’s expertise comes in. Masters in sole innovation and construction, they are regarded by some as the best, producing comfortable and practical footwear. A new concept, centred in the room, illustrates the breathability of their soles and how they are bringing this technology into Diadora’s new footwear.
Left - Diadora's sporting greats on the outside of the headquarters
The final part is Diadora’s greatest hits: a display of all the sports people who have worn Diadora over the years including Boris Becker, Roberto Baggio and Francesco Totti pictured alongside their shoes.
Diadora’s collections are a good mix of heritage with modern finishes and techniques centred around the sports shoes and their current collection of 'Heritage' casual wear has the strong branding people are currently looking for. They do pure sports shoes, casual shoes and vintage inspired shoes, for many different sports, and they also produce utility shoes. Around 10% of their shoes are, now, made in Italy, and around 30% is made in neighbouring countries in Europe.
When I visited they were making utility shoes in the factory adjacent to the museum. The small production space is connected to the design department so they can prototype and produce in limited runs and in tighter time frames. Diadora has recently specialised in producing special collaborations for brands and retailers.
It feels that being part of a bigger group, Diadora, has more stability and the expertise and investment you need in order to be able to keep up in this very competitive market. As people grow tired of the sports mega brands and a return to those with real heritage, Diadora is in the perfect position to reap the benefits with quality products that are well made and define this new era of retro sports that has hit the current fashion scene.
Right - Diadora's current SS17 campaign which references its 80s archive
More images below
Ryan Gosling topped TheChicGeek's Best Dressed Oscars list last year- here, and, again, his laid-back confidence shows with the reintroduction of the fun and retro ruffled shirt. He hasn't gone full-on Jared Leto Gucci, here, but, this is a wearable interpretation of Gucci's influence on menswear right now.
You can pick these shirts us from vintage shops or online and they add a touch of personality to a formal dinner or prom suit. Add a large floppy bow tie and you'll be the life and soul of the party.
Left - Ryan Gosling in Gucci Oscars 2017
The Vintage Fashion Bible is written by the vintage fashion experts and Red or Dead founders, Wayne and Gerardine Hemingway. It is the only complete chronological look at 20th century fashion for men and women, as well as a practical guide to buying, styling and restoring vintage clothing.
Left - The Vintage Fashion Bible - £25
The book looks at the development of fashion from the 1920s to the 1990s, using clothing catalogues, film posters, magazine articles and other contemporary advertising to create a fully authentic feel for each decade and to show through original visuals how fashion evolved.
TheChicGeek says, “You can’t really be passionate about fashion without having a love of vintage. It’s all part of the education of knowing your references and styles and discovering when particular things were new or a reinterpretation of something older.
One of the best vintage events I ever attended was Vintage at Goodwood in 2010. Not be confused with the Revival, it was the Hemingway’s first foray and the establishment of their vintage events brand which has appeared all over the country since then. It was the attention to detail that really made it standout, especially with the very hard to impress vintage crowd.
The same branding and feel has been used in this book as it takes a realistic, if slightly simplistic, look at the 20th century and it’s numerous styles for both men and women. It’s a fun look at the main styles and looks of the differing eras with tips and information from experts.
The Hemingways certainly know their kipper ties from their fishtail skirts as Red or Dead was a very vintage inspired fashion label, pioneering that 70s retro look which was popular throughout the 1990s. There is plenty here to stimulate, but probably not enough depth for a vintage aficionado. I always like to see what people predict to be future vintage, I did the same in my book. Only time will tell”.