Hat sale of the century: Bill Cunningham"s extravagant milliner creations go on sale TODAY

Hat sale of the century: 23 of Bill Cunningham's extravagant milliner
creations from the 50's go on sale TODAY

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UPDATED:

18:31 GMT, 18 April 2012

In a rare online auction, nearly two dozen extravagant and whimsical hats made by one of the most important figures in fashion's history will go on sale today.

Before he was the cycling street style and society photographer for the New York Times, Bill Cunningham got his start as a milliner in the Fifties.

Twenty-three of his creations, which he made under the label William J, will go on sale today exclusively on 1stdibs.com through vintage fashion dealer Katy Kane.

Fashion figure: Legendary street-style photographer Bill Cunningham got his start in millinery got his start, some of his creations being auctioned off today

Fashion figure: Legendary street-style photographer Bill Cunningham got his start in millinery got his start, some of his creations being auctioned off today

Ms Kane acquired the hats through Alison Shacter, who considers the famous photographer a family friend.

Ms Schacter's aunt, Mitty, was an avid collector of the hats from the Fifties and Sixties, and has decided she is ready to part with the creations.

According to the New York Times, Mr Cunningham designed his first hat for his mother to wear to the World’s Fair of 1939, but she refused.

He continued working as a milliner under
the name William J, and said he didn't use his real last name because
his family was embarrassed.

Flora and fauna: Vintage Fashion dealer, Katy Kane, will present this collection of 23 of Bill Cunningham's hats from the 50's, which go on sale today, Wednesday, April 18

Flora and fauna: Vintage Fashion dealer, Katy Kane, will present this collection of 23 of Bill Cunningham's hats from the 50's, which go on sale today, April 18

Fanciful: In the Fifties and Sixties, Mr Cunningham made extravagant, whimsical hats under his William J label

Pretty in pink: In the Fifties and Sixties, Mr Cunningham made extravagant, whimsical hats under his William J label

Decorative and dainty: Mr Cunningham admitted he didn't make a lot of money off the hats because, he said, 'Everything I did was a little too exotic - you know, for normal people'

Decorative and dainty: Mr Cunningham admitted he didn't make a lot of money off the hats: 'Everything I did was a little too exotic – you know, for normal people'

According to last year's revealing documentary about the blue-jacketed photographer, Bill Cunningham New York, Marilyn Monroe is one of the many old-Hollywood stars to stop by his Carnegie Hall studio and try on one of the fantastical toppers.

While the documentary focuses briefly on Mr Cunningham's history as a hat-maker, the photographer discusses his creations in great detail in a video for the New York Times.

He admits he didn't make a lot of money off the hats
because, he said, 'Everything I did was a little too exotic – you know,
for normal people.'

Peachy keen: According to the New York Times, Mr Cunningham designed his first hat for his mother to wear to the Worlds Fair of 1939, but she refused

Peachy keen: According to the New York Times, Mr Cunningham designed his first hat for his mother to wear to the Worlds Fair of 1939, but she refused

Fanciful feathers: Mr Cunninghams sometimes-outlandish designs are inspired by, touch on, nature and culture

Fanciful feathers: Mr Cunninghams sometimes-outlandish designs are inspired by, touch on, nature

Designer ear-muffs: The photographer concocted his hats decades ago as an aspiring young milliner

Designer ear-muffs: The iconic photographer concocted his hats decades ago as an aspiring young milliner

Some of his work was practical, but most of it was eccentric and unconventional, approching his millinery like art.

He said 'The hat thing was really, as I say, it was like sculpture.

'It's the most wonderful, freeing, relaxing experience. I had a lot of fun, even if I didn't make money,' he added.

Mr Cunningham is the honoree at the Carnegie Hall Medal of Excellence Gala on April 23, with the auction of his hats timed perfectly so.

The Bill Cunningham, William J, hats go up for auction today, April 18 at 3pm EST at 1stdibs.com