The first time I visited New York there was a torrential downpour. I couldn’t see two feet in front of me and I was soaking wet in cold rain, but I was still glad to be there. Back then, I had been visiting family in Connecticut and after merely a few hours, I had had enough of being overfed by family members I had nothing to say to. As a new college student and self-appointed capable adult I decided instead to have an adventure and head to New York City on a train. There’s something to be said about being a freshman in college, I felt invincible in that I was sure I could do anything on my own now and I knew it all, especially the things I had learned only a week prior in a lecture. Everything told me I was an “adult”, everything that is, except my family, my maturity level, and my constantly empty wallet.
The ride into The City was glorious, not because it was beautiful or even because the train was comfortable, but because I let my mind wander the whole time, imagining the New York of films I loved, the foot traffic, the honking, the hotdog carts, it all seemed otherworldly to me, so it wasn’t until I got there that I realized that well…New York City also gets heavy rains. I made it into The City without a single thought about what I could do, where to go or even how much it would cost to stay at a hotel in Manhattan at least until I had to get off the train and into the rain.
Finally realizing my huge oversight (not mistake, college freshmen don’t make mistakes) and trying desperately not to freak out and end up calling someone to come to my rescue or at least send me some money, I walked into the first coffee shop I found, bought the largest refillable hot drink they had (plain black coffee) and waited while I pretended to think about what in the world I had gotten myself into while in reality I was just trying not to shiver.
Now, I wish I could tell you someone approached me and helped me, or that it dawned on me that I could buy some clothes to get myself dry, but that never happened, what did happen was that around noon the rain slowed and then stopped. The previously empty coffee shop became a cacophony of sounds and smells as people walked in and out for lunch, talking to friends and taking their time or just grabbing their usual and walking out promptly running to one place or the next. It seemed every single person who walked in had a story worth sharing and I wanted to know them all.
That was the day, while I people-watched in fascination, I realized I wanted to be one of them, part of The City that never sleeps and always had somewhere to be. I wanted to be a person who was always running somewhere, to meet someone, to do something, I wanted to “have to run” and to be expected wherever it was I’d be going when I got there. What I didn’t want was the anonymity that a crowd can give, and so I vowed to never get lost amongst the people who walked around with their eyes open but unseeing their surroundings, too taken by themselves, their schedules, their problems, and whatever it was they were lacking while the city around them was alive and ready to be explored.
I hadn’t gone to New York to only see the inside of a coffee shop, though, so I walked out only slightly less wet than I had walked in and immediately felt the breath be knocked out of me. I might be romanticizing the city and my experience, but let me tell you that nothing and nobody can prepare you for the moment you fall in love with a place, and this was the first time I had fallen in love at all.
The puddles on the street were mirrors of the clouds and the towers that reached for them, the whole city smelled like wet concrete and people were abuzz. I felt as if I were watching a movie, like the whole world was moving, an important story being written and woven intricately without anybody becoming aware of my standing there, even dripping wet, even looking like a lost kid, and I was, I suppose. I didn’t move an inch until I saw a man on a bicycle dressed in blue with a camera around his neck stop, talk to a woman in heavy, colorful pearls and a bonnet and take her picture. Not to be dramatic, but at that moment, my life changed for good.
Bill Cunningham was a true slave to fashion even though he wore the same thing every day, combed his hair in the same direction and rode all of New York on his bicycle in search of true style. He was-and still is-respected by everyone in the fashion industry because he had an uncanny eye but I didn’t know any of this when I approached him, wearing wet jeans and a T-Shirt that had seen better days clinging to me moving the wet mop on my head away from my eyes.
I needed to know what he was doing, why people were so willing to let him take their picture, which should have been bizarre, (a stranger on a bicycle asking for a picture? It seemed crazy to me). When he told me he worked for the New York Times I nearly laughed, I couldn’t imagine a journalist in anything but a sharp suits and so he proved me wrong, giving me in turn something I had never had before: a goal. I wanted to work for him, and no matter what it took, I would.
Fast-forward a few months, I stayed in touch with him until I was able to transfer into NYU specifically so I could take an unpaid internship with this man I barely knew. I helped with whatever he needed and without even noticing began developing my own keen eye, began dressing well, began caring about fashion, style and most of all people. I had never imagined that as a Business major I would end up where I am today, and I will admit that a lot of it had to do with chance, with luck that came when I made the choice to get on a train that rainy day.
My life since then has changed, evolved, I have been able to travel, learn and make a career for myself forecasting trends that I see only because Bill gave me a chance and trained me, but that’s not to say that I didn’t do my share. I networked like no other, I read every book available, and I begged to go on international assignments, even as an intern still not getting paid and having to pay my own way at times. Today I’m the type of adult I couldn’t envision for myself as a college freshman and here I am, writing my first blog post about my adventures and the lessons learned.
Each step I have taken in life has lead me here, and it makes sense, to design and sell clothes that I couldn’t find elsewhere when I needed them, surely I’m not the only man searching for them; but more than that, it makes sense to begin this business here, where it all begun, now that I have finally settled into the person I want to be and with the best three men I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Stick around for their origin stories and our collectives as well. This should be fun!