Almost always, death makes good people better.
Those left to mourn and remember focus on the positive, the loved one’s traits they’ll miss the most, while blocking out, at least temporarily, the foibles and peccadilloes characteristic of the person’s lesser self.
This story first appeared in the July 29, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Not so with Ingrid Sischy, who passed away from breast cancer on Friday at Memorial Sloan Kettering. The sweeping praise, admiration and love that swelled for Ingrid was more concentrated, but no different in content or honesty, than what people would have said, and did say, about her in life. Has anyone ever uttered, or heard uttered, a negative word about her? Overwhelming evidence says no.
Ingrid was remarkable. Ever the pragmatic editor, she understood the stress of deadlines and the need to get it right. In the days before her death, she helped her friend Ed Filipowski with a fact sheet to ease his upcoming task and that of the journalists he would contact. Along the way she had a request: A picture in which she looked thin (supplied graciously by Roxanne Lowit).
Beyond such extreme efficiency, Ingrid was more than a gifted editor and writer. She was a cultural arbiter, a seer even, her foresight evident early on, when, at 27, she became editor in chief of Art–forum. From there to Interview, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and Condé Nast International, her journey was one of high-profile exploration, ever obsessed with what might be next as she observed, dissected, reviewed, questioned and contextualized events of major import and minor fancy.
Ingrid’s acuity for recognizing the encroaching cultural moment was epic. She identified the art-fashion fusion before either side knew it was a thing. It’s fair to say that by broaching the subject of interface so early on, she, in fact, helped to create it. Virtually all of the people contacted by WWD for remembrances noted her intelligence, her vision, her curiosity. As a reporter, she got to the core of her subjects with clarity and insight. A prime example: an interview that everyone wanted (myself included) — her sensitive take in Vanity Fair of John Galliano, after the fall.
People noted, too, that Ingrid wore her brilliance as nonchalantly as the oversize shirts and sneakers she favored, ever the smartest girl in the room but disinterested in making you squirm because of it. “She had this extraordinary command,” said close friend Calvin Klein. “She knew about everything, and yet at the same time, she was so grounded…and such a lack of any pretension whatsoever.”
Ralph Lauren concurred. She was, he said, a “rare creative soul” who “thrived not only on the life of the artist…but on everyday life. She was so intelligent that you thought she might intimidate, but she never did. She had a passion and an eye for so many things, but mostly for people.”
Bruce Weber called Ingrid “the best friend I’ve ever had,” who “made me look at photography and clothes and girls and guys in a whole different way.” Ed Filipowski saw a woman of “generous heart and unique mind…whenever I came to her as a friend for help, she made me the only person in the world that mattered at that moment.” Donatella Versace recalled, “She was always there for me. I lost a family member today.”
Nothing was more delightful than to discover, at one of fashion’s countless dinners, that the seating gods had blessed you with Ingrid and her beloved Sandy Brant as dinner partners. A potentially dreary event turned suddenly sunny with the promise of conversation that might swing from informed musings on Japanese Noh theater to Karl Lagerfeld’s latest, extravagant Chanel set to cats — not T.S. Eliot’s (though surely she could have said plenty), but hers and Sandy’s, well-traveled, worldly and the source of endless joy, or yours, as the case may be. It’s not surprising that one of the organizations selected for contributions in her honor is City Critters of New York. (The other: the Studio Museum in Harlem.) Invariably, the table talk would include the trappings of gossip — wit, laughter, the entre nous delivery, knowing asides — but never a trace of mean.
At work Ingrid was demanding, in the interests of serving her readers and developing her staff. Michael Carl arrived at Interview in 1999, young and green. He recalled a blindside by the editor in chief: “Kid, what’s Miuccia’s home address?” He had no clue. “I thought I was being pranked,” he said. “Ingrid looked not only surprised but disappointed. I’ll never forget that address.…It was like pop culture and fashion boot camp.”
To wit, a single pop culture reference could trigger an expression of Ingrid’s generosity — the sort that couldn’t be repaid. Hearing that a 15-year-old “worshiped at Courtney Love’s altar,” Ingrid offered that she did, too, and that the girl “must intern for us.” For a kid (mine) who’d spent her previous three summers in academic camp, a stint at Interview was nirvana (pardon the pun), rich with challenging, quasi-adult responsibility because that’s how Ingrid ran her show — high expectations and the chance for serious inclusion. The epitome of cool, she even dared engage in the most uncool of acts — at a postshow fete at the Versace palazzo on the Via Gesù, no less — procuring Love’s autograph for the future intern.
But then, Ingrid was ever interested in young perspectives. Case in point: her final piece, running in Vanity Fair’s September issue and now on vanityfair.com, on fashion veteran and Karl Lagerfeld protégé/godson, seven-year-old Hudson Kroenig. An atypical example of an ascendant generation? Likely all the more intriguing to Ingrid, who always reveled in assessing the new.
In 1996, as one of a trio of artistic directors of the first Florence Biennale, “Time and Fashion,” she brought together a cognoscenti of art and fashion, including some captivating collaborations — Damien Hirst and Miuccia Prada; Jenny Holzer and Helmut Lang; Roy Lichtenstein and Gianni Versace. “This is about what’s happening,” she told The New York Times’ Amy Spindler at the time. “If fashion and contemporary art aren’t about what’s happening, then I don’t know what they’re supposed to be about.”
Postscript: On Monday, Ed Filipowski e-mailed a note on how an intimate circle was dealing with Ingrid’s death. He couldn’t have known my walk-off referenced Amy, the Times’ opinionated, delightfully acerbic fashion critic who died in 2004. He wrote that he, Sandy Brant, Mark Lee, Helmut Lang, Edward Pavlick and Amy’s husband Roberto Benabib “have taken comfort and some levity in imagining the witty and wicked catch-up Ingrid and Amy are having now about the industry, over 10 years later. Can you imagine?”
Just trying brings on a smile.