Several weeks ago, I received an email informing me that Marilyn Kirschner, my editor-in-chief of Lookonline was “featured” in Bill Cunningham: “On the Street: Five Decades of Iconic Photography” published by Penguin Random House. Bill photographed Marilyn and took more pictures of her longer than anyone else.
I was surprised then to see she was not included in the chapter written by Vanessa Friedman, “Those Who Really Caught His Eye” (“the select few whose regular presence over the many years of Bill’s reporting were singled out as what might be called these days “Supermuses” or “Hall of Fame Muses”).
How do you single out some individuals who Bill may have photographed for only a decade or so (if that), and omit the one person who Bill photographed religiously for almost 50 years? There are two pictures of Marilyn in the book, only one is identified.
Marilyn first caught Bill’s eye in 1972 when she was fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar and Bill worked at WWD. He photographed her in every decade from the 70’s up until June 2016, just weeks before his passing. She appeared in his “On the Street” and “Evening Hours” columns almost 100 times.
In fact, Bill devoted an entire 18 picture column to Marilyn in 2001. It was on Sunday February 11, the first day of New York Fashion Week for fall/winter, and it was called, “The Color of Money (In the Bank)”. There are only a handful of people (Carine Roitfeld, Anna Wintour, Anna Piaggi, Iris Apfel, Patrick McDonald) who have been so honored. They are all included in Vanessa’s list.
However, it wasn’t just the quantity of the photos but the quality. Because appearing in one of Bill’s columns can often mean a thumbnail shot in a crowded layout (“Where’s Waldo?”) or a picture of a shoe. Marilyn was often the featured subject, sometimes appearing twice or three times in the same column.
Bill felt comfortable enough with Marilyn to ask her to pose for him. It was for a portfolio he was working on. He arranged to meet her the next day and he took some pictures outside. Both outfits subsequently appeared in his “To Horse, or Not” spread, December 9th, 2001. Bill emphasized to Marilyn that he never did this kind of thing.
As a rule, Bill did not grant interviews. However, he agreed to sit down with Marilyn for Lookonline’s hour long “American Masters of Fashion” Video Interview series. This video interview was back in 2003 and many years before other media sites had the slightest interest. (click here for video). Just before Bill sat down for the interview, he turned to me and said: “Marilyn is one of the very few people who really gets fashion.”
Bill often sent Marilyn highly personal, complementary, handwritten notes scribbled on postcards and photos. Some were photos he took of her praising her and thanking her for inspiring him and “bringing him joy” with her individual style. She shared them with me and I will share a few with you:
“Fashion week is great because I get to see you and your fashion magic in a new image each day. You have a truly special talent and its fun for me to record. – Bill Cunningham
“What a joy to see you last week. Your style is an inspiration. The flyaway mink jacket worn with a sweater and long kid gloves- fabulous. I realize fashion week will be great because of seeing you each day. Thanks for brightening up my day. – Bill Cunningham
“Sending you thoughts for the New Year and much appreciation for cheering me up when I have the joy of photographing you during the year. Your style is so special in our cookie cutter age of sameness. – Bill Cunningham
“You have such magnetic style and I look forward to NYFW and seeing you at the shows. Aren’t we lucky to be in a field of creating beauty?” – Bill Cunningham
It was wonderful for Marilyn to be noticed and appreciated by Bill. It is just as important for credit to be given where credit is due. I believe it was a glaring omission by the editors to not have included Marilyn in the “Hall of Fame Muses”. I know Bill would agree.
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- by Ernest Schmatolla, publisher of Lookonline.com