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A Fête For Bill Cunningham Muse Joy Marks

Lee Fryd

Cover girl Joy Marks. (Photo: Sean Zanni/PMC)

Joy Marks: You may not know her name, but if you scan the social pages in the Times, you recognize the figure she cuts. In her Maggie Norris corsetted fishtail gowns, long gloves and jaunty hats, Joy is not someone who blends into the crowd. No surprise, she was one of Bill Cunningham's muses.

He was slated to attend her 25A magazine cover story party, at Beautique, across the street from where she and Cunningham met 20 years ago, in front of Bergdorf Goodman. But he never made it. His death has left a void in the hearts and psyches of the women, who like Joy, lifted dressing to an art form and looked for his published seal of approval. Joy got it, hundreds of times. He shot her at the Parrish, when she recruited Harry Winston to loan millions of dollars worth of jewels ("He couldn't deny a client."), at Polo (she has horses), in Newport, where he had her walk back up the endless stairs she had just descended in shaky heels and a Victor de Souza gown to get his shot, at New York City galas, and of course, on his corner, where he spotted her in sable jeans and jacket.

"I dressed for Bill," she told us, "I really did. He became a dear friend. I'm still in a state of mourning. At the Watermill gala last year, you could see he had a cane, a brace on his leg, stitches on his face. Yet he saw me and he asked me to move. And I moved for him! And his eyes lit up."

His subjects never sought him out. "You never approached him, he approached you," she explained. "He had to be the one to engage you and he did. It just became this loving relationship. I would do anything for him."

"He loved that I bought my own clothes," she remembered. "He didn't like women who borrowed. It didn't impress him that you were a movie star and you were on the red carpet in a dress for the night. He wanted someone who was real, someone who loved fashion, who actually picked it themselves, wanted it, paid to wear it. Someone who could put it together. If it was theme party, he wanted to see what you were doing."

We knew Joy was a genius stylist, but never realized she was an intellectual genius as well. She practically skipped Jr. High School, got her undergraduate and graduate degrees at Columbia, (studying medicine, nursing, public health, psychology and business), and then helped steer her husband's business.

"My mother loved the glamour," Joy said. "I never saw my mother in a pair of jeans. She was always dressed. If she wore pants, they were dressy. But she had been an English major and she was also very smart. She would quote Shakespeare day and night."

Judge a book by its cover story? Joy Marks' name is her brand: spreading Joy and earning Marks for her style.

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