6 things about New York Times' fashion photographer Bill Cunningham, who died aged 87

Bill Cunningham crosses the street after taking photos during New York Fashion Week in the Manhattan borough of New York on Sept 6, 2014.
Bill Cunningham crosses the street after taking photos during New York Fashion Week in the Manhattan borough of New York on Sept 6, 2014.PHOTO: REUTERS

Legendary New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham died on Saturday (June 25). The 87-year-old was hospitalised recently after suffering from a stroke and his death in Manhattan was confirmed by The New York Times.

Credited with defining streetstyle fashion photography long before the age of hipster blogs and Instagram, Cunningham was a New York institution and unsparingly democratic in his shots of both ordinary people and fashionistas.

Here are 6 things to know about the esteemed photographer.

1. His passion for fashion started from a young age

Cunningham was always interested in fashion and was especially intrigued by hats.

Even as a young boy, "I could never concentrate on Sunday church services," he told Vogue magazine, "because I'd be concentrating on women's hats."

In fact, he had such a passion for millinery that he dropped out of Harvard University in order to become a hatmaker. He moved to New York where he worked in advertising and opened a millinery salon named William J. His client list included the legendary Marilyn Monroe.

2. He had a trademark look which was easy to spot

While he had a fashion-forward eye for the perfect outfit or accessory, Cunningham himself was always austerely, and practically, dressed.

He got around New York's city streets on his bicycle and his de rigueur uniform comprised straight-legged khaki pants, a blue French workman's jacket with multiple pockets, a pair of black dress shoes or Bean Boots if it rained - and, of course, his trusty 35-millimetre camera slung around his neck.

That blue jacket was so synonymous with Cunningham's journeyman look that GQ dedicated an entire article to it.

3. He lived very simply, in a tiny studio at Carnegie Hall

The lifelong bachelor lived in his Carnegie Hall studio which was packed floor to ceiling with file cabinets full of his negatives. He slept on a single cot, and shared a bathroom with other tenants of the building.

4. He received the French Legion of Honour in 2008

He was honoured with France's L'Ordre National des Arts et des Lettres (Order of Arts and Letters) ,which recognises important contributions in arts and culture, by the French government, in 2008.

The French Legion of Honour is rewarded to worthy recipients to "recognise outstanding services rendered to France", as stated on the website of the French Embassy in Washington.

At the ceremony, Cunningham declared that, "he who seeks beauty will find it", The Wall Street Journal reported.

5. In 2010, a documentary was made about him

Bill Cunningham New York, a 2010 documentary, introduced this fashion icon to the mainstream world. The film captures him at work, cycling through the streets of New York to different assignments, and clambering around file cabinets in his cramped apartment in search of negatives.

He said in the film: "The best fashion show is definitely on the street. Always has been. Always will be."

6. Celebrities are paying tribute to him

Cunningham's death was mourned by celebrities around the world, with many paying tribute to his talents.

According to The Wall Street Journal, on Saturday afternoon New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet tweeted, "to see a Bill Cunningham street spread was to see all of New York," on the newspaper's Twitter account.

New York City photographer Amy Lombard posted a photograph on her Instagram account with the caption, "Wow. RIP to this legend. I used to see him all the time at Sunshine (film lab) on 31st, and when I started shooting parties for the times I would always see him around town... There was never a time that I didn't feel star struck."

Sources: The New York Times, Vogue magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insider, The Telegraph, GQ magazine