Bernard Arnault: “It is with great sadness that I learned of the passing of John Fairchild. He was a friend, and in the Eighties when I bought the house of Christian Dior, he is the one who taught me all about the fashion press and fashion reviews. He had a very sharp and accurate vision of this quite unusual world. Having known Mr. Dior well, he often told me about him. We exchanged thoughts about the future of the house, and the vision Mr. Fairchild imagined through Mr. Dior. Along with Hebe Dorsey, he was without a doubt one of the most brilliant journalists that I’ve ever known. His style, precise and full of humor, was always a pleasure to read and absolutely inimitable. Incidentally, he recently published a superb story on Christian Dior. He will be greatly missed in the world of fashion, and the realm of creativity in general.”
Ralph Lauren: “John Fairchild loved the world of fashion, the day-to-day intrigue, the characters, the excitement. He transformed WWD into a must-read for all that thrived on the special glamour of that world he celebrated.”
This story first appeared in the March 2, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Karl Lagerfeld: “I met Mr. Fairchild for the first time in 1959 for lunch at the Ritz with Thelma Sweetinburgh (WWD’s Paris-based fashion editor). He invented something that was only ‘his’ and transformed a basic trade paper into something exciting. He gave an image to the fashion and social life in the Seventies and Eighties — the way it does not exist any longer. The world of fashion has changed and the Ladies Who Lunch have vanished. For sure he had strong opinions. He gave the industry a new energy — and brought a different eye. Reporting fashion was different before his days. The fact that the paper was a daily one made all that different from magazines like Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar. He could make unexciting people very interesting — and the opposite, too.
“It took him some time to take me seriously — I would say from 1973 on when I was at Chloé. After that, we had a good relationship, but for the rest he was 100 percent with Yves Saint Laurent, more than any other designer.
“He was witty and would play the nasty little boy. It was always great when he came with his team to visit the studio. He was the last of that breed from that period, before the big companies like LVMH. I’m not sure he would have liked the way the industry is today. The world is so totally changed that what he stood for would not have the same importance today it had then.”
Pierre Bergé: “Since the very beginning of our adventure, he was a very loyal, good friend. I also want to say he knew the fashion world very well, and he was also a great critic of fashion. I am very, very sad.
“We were very close friends, and we shared so many great moments — for lunch or dinner, with his wife and with Yves and me and friends. I remember very well the first exhibition, the Saint Laurent exhibition, at the Metropolitan in New York. A big dinner party. Yves was there, of course.
So many wonderful moments. “I am thinking of his wife, Jill, of course.”
Leonard A. Lauder, chairman emeritus of Estée Lauder Cos. Inc.: “John Fairchild established a new standard for exciting, insightful fashion journalism. He focused more on the creators than creations — their lives, their strengths and their oddities. He also turned his attention to the clients. What we accept today as standard fashion journalism was groundbreaking under John.”
François Pinault: “It is with great sadness that I learned of John Fairchild’s passing. Affable yet demanding, audacious and visionary, Mr. Fairchild was a brilliant businessman who transformed fashion publishing. He exemplified American elegance at its best.”
S.I. Newhouse Jr. and the Newhouse family: “John Fairchild was a larger-than-life figure: a brilliant editor and an inspirational leader in the fashion and media worlds. His vision made WWD the great authority that it is today.”
Calvin Klein: “I think his great contribution was taking what was once his family’s trade newspaper and turning it into a newspaper that became a media influencer. People wanted to know what they were saying in fashion, restaurants and pop culture. They covered everything, and it really took off, with James Brady and Michael Coady. He did it with a sense of humor and he brought Women’s Wear to life. I never thought of him as a fashion editor. Diana Vreeland and Polly Mellon were fashion editors. John was a journalist, and Women’s Wear was still a newspaper and was always competing with The New York Times. He wanted to be first and beat everyone to get the exclusive.
“We used to have lunch at La Grenouille all the time. It was always fun. He had a real sense of humor and was like a little boy. There was something childlike, a little devil in him, a boyish quality that was charming. WWD was always supportive and always covered whatever I did. The newspaper was always very generous in space and front pages. I never complained, nor would I complain. I was grateful for what I got.”
Tommy Hilfiger: “I remember 30 years ago when he asked me to lunch at La Grenouille. I was a little nervous. John Fairchild invited me to lunch with him and Patrick [McCarthy]. I was in awe of these guys. John told me some stories about his relationship with Geoffrey Beene, Perry Ellis and Saint Laurent, and I was in awe listening to the stories. He had such an amazing sense of humor. He was fatherly. He was wonderful to me. [He would say] anything you need, please call. He was a true gentleman and someone I looked up to and respected for many years. In the beginning, he came to a couple of my shows and he was incredibly supportive.”
Giorgio Armani: “I am very sorry for the passing of John B. Fairchild . His commitment and his passion made WWD a point of reference in the fashion and news industries.”
Annette de la Renta: “John Fairchild was an immensely important man in the world of fashion. My husband credited John with changing the focus of fashion from the manufacturer to the designer. He certainly made WWD interesting to an audience outside the garment trade. And he was a great friend.”
Diane von Furstenberg: “Mr. Fairchild, when I first came to New York, was the most terrifying person. He would go every day and have lunch at La Grenouille with Oscar de la Renta [and others], and everybody was afraid of him. He was so incredibly important to the world of fashion and retail. He put fashion on the map. Designers were terrified of him. He loved being mischievous. He loved fashion and beautiful people and loved being with Babe Paley and Pat Buckley. I always respected him and always respected what he did. When he created W it was such a big deal. He was really a huge monument in the world of fashion and beautiful people in New York. He managed to turn a family trade newspaper into the bible of fashion.”
Michael Kors: “I met Mr. Fairchild, the first time, when I was downtown at the WWD offices dressing a model for a preview shoot that was just about to take place. This being one of my first WWD shoots, I was not aware of some of his specific rules such as, ‘Armpits are not attractive.’ I remember being amazed that someone in his position would be so involved down to the last detail, or in this case how a model poses. He had a great eye, a sharp wit and always held the bar high. He and his team were always looking for the newest and the best, and their support, even before I began having fashion shows, was so indicative of the kind of curiosity that fueled Mr. Fairchild. Even after he retired, his curiosity never wavered nor his attention to detail. I remember him calling me to ask some questions about some pieces I had shown that he wanted to buy for his wife. Without even being at that show, his keen eye picked out the best pieces. He understood fashion was more than just clothes and that it was all about who wore them and where she went in them. He thought about the big picture.”
Nancy Kissinger: “A man of incredible elegance. He appreciated elegant things and he had a great sense of beauty. I became extremely fond of him. As everyone did. I adored him. I really did. He built my favorite magazine into something very special. Both the newspaper and the magazine, he built into a huge thing. I didn’t know anyone who didn’t read it.”
In the last few years, the two had lost touch, but the last time they saw each other Kissinger recalled Fairchild’s wit was still intact.
“The last time we saw each other was about two years ago at La Grenouille,” she said. “And he approved of what I was wearing.”
Christian Lacroix: “I first met him when I was at Jean Patou. His naughtiness, if not malice, pleased me at first. He was like a tall, big child teasing and testing everybody all the time. He was tongue-in-cheek and I always appreciated this kind of sense of humor. Anyway, behind his nasty jokes there was a great eye and sense of fashion — both aesthetical and political, the two main ingredients of industry. He loved amusing and entertaining himself and the people around him like a Cheshire Cat, or simply a cat playing with mice. He could be very serious, and sometimes paternal. He wielded humor, power and seduction as his main weapons — using and mixing them according to the situation or moment.
“Of course, I locked horns with him many times — as everybody in the industry has. Usually it was over previews, and breaking news to be shared with WWD and only WWD exclusively. Perhaps I’m a naïve, candid guy, but I always felt he appreciated the collections. It was a game — sometimes funny, sometimes irritating — but we knew it was his behavior and style. We had to play the game or ignore him. But it was a clever — and at times malicious or perverse — way of getting the real truth or approach of a designer’s deep guts and events by disturbing or overwhelming all the rules and tempers around.
“He supported me strongly in each important step of my career. WWD was the strongest, most powerful media of the time, and the front page was invaluable. I remember one Patou polka-dot pouf long dress photographed in New York Harbor. He had sketches of mine along some by Yves Saint Laurent in his office — the ones he asked me to produce for the front page as an exclusive for Paris Fashion Week, which we were not yet part of as the house of Lacroix was brand new in March 1987. But it was like having shown a real collection.
“I remember, too, a very moving cover when I was recovering from heavy back surgery. ‘Onward Christian’ was the title in big letters on the cover. I must say I had another wonderful ally in the house — my dearest Etta Froio. In fact, we got a CFDA award the same 1986-87 season.
“Fond memories with Mr. Fairchild include a trip to St. Gallen for a lecture with him, and we had great fun with him and his family, with Mr. Zumsteg, of the Abraham silk company, in a wonderful chalet. I also remember the day I called him from under the Patou concierge table announcing to him first (along with Hebe Dorsey of the International Herald Tribune) my departure and the launch of the Lacroix house.
“He invented a true American way of investigating. He was afraid of nothing and the relationship between the paper and W magazine with the most powerful houses of the time is not the same I think.”
Carolina Herrera: “John Fairchild and Women’s Wear Daily ruled the world of fashion. Without doubt, he was one of the most brilliant and powerful American journalists. Also, he had an acerbic wit and a wicked sense of humor that sometimes struck fear in his subjects. He also knew where most of the bodies in fashion were buried. All of this was tempered by his sense of humor and his friendship.
“When he started [at] Women’s Wear Daily, it was a rather dull, unknown trade paper. He made it the most successful and readable paper and connected fashion with everything. When he was a friend, he was a real friend. When he was someone’s enemy, he was…He always wanted to know what was going on everywhere, but he already knew.”
Emanuel Ungaro: “The sudden passing of John Fairchild is paradoxical, for he seemed destined to a form of eternity. Stainless, always ready to launch turns of phrase that became symbolic of his impatient approach to approve generously or disapprove violently the stylistic and aesthetic positions of certain among us.
“I am honored to have maintained with John a successful personal relationship and this without concessions on his part.
“His eyes shone personal satisfaction when his expectation was met by the showing of talent by those whom he had selected to feature in his own private pantheon that seemed to him to follow the paths of lights drawn by eternal symbols that are always with force and modernity — Balenciaga and Chanel.
“I feel a strong sense of compassion for Jill, his wife, who always tempered with precision and finesse John’s emotional outbursts and doubts.
“He will strongly mark his time. His memory will long remain engraved in the spirit of those who attempted to practice this métier of couturier with nobleness and generosity.”
Valentino Garavani: “John Fairchild was a press genius, but like many geniuses he was difficult. We worked together for many years and he and Giancarlo [Giammetti] often disagreed, but we will remember him with utmost respect.”
Pierre Cardin: “I was very sad to learn the news of John. He has been a friend for a long while. When he arrived in Paris I received him for eight days; I showed him around with his wife, Jill. So I knew him very well, since the start of his career. He was 25 years old at the time, I believe. We often dined together — very often, even. It was I who introduced him to Paris at the time…when he arrived. He did a lot for couture especially; he contributed a lot to the prestige of Paris couture. We can be grateful to him for that. I am very sad….Yes, really I am very sad to know that he has left us. Unfortunately, it’s the tragedy of all.”
Hubert de Givenchy: “In the beginning, when I began working, Mr. Fairchild was very nice and I will say even agreeable. And then things got a little ruined because he didn’t have the same attitude as in the beginning of our friendship.…I found that it was very difficult to work with Women’s Wear because it often gave inexact information and that I didn’t like, the way in which Women’s Wear — in fact, Women’s Wear, the paper, was responsible because of Mr. Fairchild. So he was a gentleman who surely had a lot of talent as a journalist but not very agreeable in the manner in which — I say this for me — our relationship did not improve thereafter. But peace to his soul, and I hope to send my condolences to his wife.”
Donatella Versace: “Around two years ago, I saw him at the Ritz. He waved at me and invited me to join him for tea. It was like time had not gone by for him, still the same bright, fun vibrant John Fairchild I always knew. I am so glad I had this moment with him, and now I will treasure it forever. I miss him dearly.”
Santo Versace, chairman of the Versace group: “He would come to lunch at Gianni’s home and I always found him intriguing and interesting. He was very intelligent and sharp, aware of his power. He always seemed to be having fun. Everything interested him, also my vision on business and the economy, and he would ask me about it. He sensed the greatness of Gianni. At that time, in the late Eighties, early Nineties, nobody could have imagined Gianni, Giorgio [Armani] and others would have become big multinational companies, but he realized the potential. He was interested in understanding what we dreamed of doing. We worked without imagining what we could become, but we had the determination. He was also a manager that surrounded himself by a great team and this reflected his own talent.”
Rosita Missoni: “On one of our very first trips to New York, we went to dinner in one of those fancy French restaurants that were so in fashion in those days. Ottavio arrived with a knit cardigan and was told by the maître d’ that he was not properly dressed. At that point, Mr. Fairchild intervened, asked what was happening, and then told the captain that the world had a lot to learn from this man when it came to matters of fashion and elegance. From that day forward, we’ve always been welcome in that restaurant. I’m sure that very soon, John will run into Tai and they will have a good laugh when they remember this story. John Fairchild has always been a pioneer in fashion and in prêt-à-porter, and his newspaper always supported us.
“The Missoni family sends its deepest and most heartfelt condolences to the Fairchild family, and we are close to you in this moment of loss.”
Didier Grumbach: “When he started, French ready-to-wear didn’t really exist. Couture was still at the top. But as soon as Mr. Fairchild arrived in Paris, he was extremely implicated in the changes at top fashion houses — for example, in the same year 1963, Jules-François Crahay left Nina Ricci to join Lanvin, and Gérard Pipart separated from Chloé to go to Nina Ricci. That was all a reflection of his influence, and he remained the most influential person in fashion for a good 30 years.
“From the start, he saw Paris as the cradle of fashion, and he was more interested in what happened in the French capital than in New York. Of course, he was very close to Yves Saint Laurent and to Christian Lacroix and supported them immensely. He was feared as well as admired. There was no equivalent to the power he wielded. Beyond the industry, he made WWD the most important social newspaper also. The ladies wanted to be mentioned in a professional newspaper, which is quite extraordinary.”
Carla Fendi: “Dear, unforgettable, irreplaceable, ‘terrible’ John! I have only lovely memories of him. When he arrived at WWD, much changed in the fashion world. Suddenly everything was bubblier, more amusing, wicked and dangerous — and then also W appeared.
“How many tender, scary, magical moments he gave us! After the show we used to open WWD holding our breath, but we always made it and at the same time we knew that the collection would also work on the market.
“Starting from our first shows in Rome, John took us by the hand and was there as a friend everywhere in the world, with his flair and appreciation for Fendi and Italian fashion.When fashion moved to Milan, he always came also to Rome to visit us. He adored the town and understood the sly, cool attitude of a place that has seen everything, loved its beauty. I remember the nights out at the restaurant, the walks. His curiosity, humor, competence and his terrible ‘In & Out’ lists, I will never forget.”
Betty Catroux: “I am very sad. John Fairchild was very special and unique, he was a mix of charm and sense of humor. I met him through Yves (Saint Laurent) and Pierre (Bergé) and as he was very naughty and we were, too, we got along very well! We all saw a lot of each other in Paris or New York. He was a free spirit and dared anything, which is very positive and rare now. He loved beauty and refinement. Like Yves, he did not like our times and was nostalgic of the past. He could be very tender, too, at that time I had a drug problem and he was very concerned and affectionate. He was unique in his time.”
Adolfo: “When I started my company in 1962, he was always very kind. Every time he had the opportunity to say something, he would do it. Mr. Fairchild was always very helpful to people. He’d make things easier.
“At one point in time, when I had Mrs. Reagan, who is a very good friend of mine, as a client, he, of course, knew that. People were always asking things about Mrs. Reagan, who I would never ever say a word about her. He was very kind and understanding about that. He was always careful that things didn’t get out of hand.”
Marc Bohan: Marc Bohan said he and John Fairchild “were very close,” adding he was also friendly with Fairchild’s wife and children. “He came to my place, sometimes in the country.”
The designer called Fairchild “a very important part” of fashion in Paris. “He really knew it very well.”
Bohan described Fairchild as a good adviser. “He gave me some very good advice — not [about the] couture but the business,” he explained. “Dior was the number-one house working with the America market — so he knew about that.
“He knew what he was talking about,” continued Bohan, who added he first met Fairchild in the late Fifties, prior to beginning at Dior in 1960. “He followed my career.”
Ed Nardoza, editor in chief, WWD: “Those of us who had the privilege of working for Mr. Fairchild started out terrified of him and ended up loving him. Above all he was a brilliant, voraciously curious reporter. As a boss, he was demanding, inspiring, infuriating — and hilarious. One minute you were an idiot, the next a genius. We all craved his approval and disappointing him was simply something you never wanted to do.
“If you were lucky enough to get a lunch invitation, you went. It was the most fun you could ever have. Not only because he was encyclopedic on food and wine but his capacity for gossip was unmatched. Aside from the latest details on who was ‘doing the boom boom,’ his own stories were fascinating. How Christian Dior had always eaten too much, often having multiple desserts, much to the gleeful delight of young Fairchild over such excess; how Saint Laurent’s fragility was as haunting as his genius; how designer egos were out of control to the point of absurdity. One favorite was his description of literally tucking an emotionally fraught Coco Chanel into bed in her apartment after a long night of intense discussion — and drinking. Lest there be any chance of a hangover, Coco slipped Mr. Fairchild her famously mysterious elixir: a little blue pill. He had no idea what was in it, didn’t ask and never found out. But it worked wonders.”
James Fallon, editor, WWD: “Mr. Fairchild. If you pleased him in any way, you floated for days. If you drew his never-disguised displeasure, you were devastated for weeks. There will never be anyone like him, an amalgamation of Hercule Poirot, William Boot and Winnie the Pooh — constantly observing and never missing a trick, wickedly funny and intensely and perennially curious about everything and everyone. A moment in his joyous company was a lifetime spent with others.”
Etta Froio, former senior executive editor of WWD and W: “It is truly the end of an era. And what a fabulous era it was, thanks to the incomparable John Fairchild. Those of us who had the pleasure and good fortune of experiencing his wizardry first hand were part of one of the most exciting times in publishing. He had the dedication and brilliance to remake his family’s business — turning the respectable dowager into a spicy and very chic fashionista. He was at times audacious, difficult, demanding, but also wickedly funny, very caring and a true gentleman. We have lost a treasure.”
Bridget Foley, executive editor, WWD: “Mr. Fairchild. To a young reporter starting out at the old Fairchild offices on 12th Street, the very words resonated with intimidation. The executive offices, which were really an executive pod because everyone’s desk was in the newsroom, were directly across from the fashion department. From there, I watched Mr. Fairchild, the grand white-haired presence. I heard Mr. Fairchild, the high-pitched, booming pontificate. His words rang as pronouncements, resonating equally on matters of real significance, in this industry, at least (Saint Laurent’s latest collection; how the pouf would change fashion) — to matters of pure folly (whether brussels sprouts should be In or Out).
“From across the room, Mr. Fairchild was plenty intimidating, by virtue of aura and by intent. It took a few years, but I got to know him a little bit, particularly once I started covering the collections in Europe. He was so much fun — a relentless tease, if he found a point of entry. But fun never trumped the job. Sitting next to me at a show, he would offer off-the-cuff commentary about how chic something was or wasn’t via witty bon mots. It took me a while to figure out that these weren’t mere amusements, but his on-the-record opinions. Once the lightbulb went on, I’d insert his one-liners into my copy. Invariably, the next day, he’d greet me with, ‘nice review, Bridget.’”
Patrick McCarthy, former chairman and editorial director of Fairchild Publications: “He was such a major presence in our lives. I can hear him growling about a story. Memories come flooding back when someone like that dies. He was larger than life. I first got to know him when I was in London, and he asked me to come over [to Paris] to meet him. I was the London bureau chief at FNS (the former Fairchild News Service). I’ll never forget the scene. In those days he stayed at the Plaza-Athenee and he was having lunch with Marian McEvoy and André Leon Talley, and they were in the middle of doing advances of the Paris collections, and this phone arrived at the table [this was before cell phones], and he was dealing with someone from Yves Saint Laurent to change the time of the preview. I said, ‘This is a scene out of the movies.’ This was the first time I had laid eyes on Mr. Fairchild and a year later I was the [Paris] bureau chief.
“He made these impromptu decisions. ‘I like this person, I don’t like this person, I like this collection, I don’t like this collection.’ I have to say he had the courage of his convictions. It was the modus operandi to run up to retailers [after a show] to say, ‘What did you think?’ I remember some of the junior reporters running up to Bloomingdale’s, and he’d say, ‘Oh, it’s a bunch of crap. They’ll never tell you the truth. They hated the show, but they won’t tell you that.’
“And Mr. Fairchild didn’t really like designers without personality. They had to have personality. Often the personality covered up that they couldn’t design. Sometimes Mr. Fairchild loved designers who said interesting things, or led interesting lives. It was all about the story. If he found somebody who was providing interesting information or interesting stories, he liked that person and was very loyal to them.
“His favorite designer of all time was Yves Saint Laurent. YSL could do no wrong in Mr. Fairchild’s eyes, until the very end when he realized time was moving on and YSL wasn’t doing the kind of work he used to do. We used to have arguments. We used to come back from the show in Paris, and Saint Laurent could barely walk down the runway. ‘Why are you so loyal to this man?’ I’d ask. He said that ‘this man changed fashion, the way Coco Chanel changed fashion and the way Balenciaga changed fashion. This man had an impact. Everybody else does coverings. They have no point of view and don’t respect how women dress.’ He was right about YSL. He was one of the most important designers in history.
“He felt that way about Oscar [de la Renta] and [Bill] Blass because they were sassy and funny. Let’s face it, they gave him news and gossip. They lived the kind of life that Mr. Fairchild liked to write about. Oscar was the quintessential John Fairchild designer. He led the big life, he knew everybody, had incredible taste, and he was very funny.
“I’ll never forget the time we were late for Givenchy. The problem was Mr. Givenchy had an incredibly brief moment in popularity and WWD was writing all about it. Then I replaced André [Leon Talley], and suddenly the coverage fell off. Not because of anything I did, but the clothing was less interesting. Mr. Givenchy almost tried to hit me because we were an hour late, and his PR person called up and asked, ‘where are they?’ and they found out we were still with YSL, and that was all he needed to hear, because he was jealous of YSL, and he started to come after me, and Mr. Fairchild stood up and blocked him. Givenchy was so furious with us. I said to Mr. Fairchild later, ‘This is not a war zone,’ and he said, ‘Oh, you don’t know, it’s a war zone.’
“He taught me it’s all about the story. No matter where you were, under what circumstances, if there was a story, all bets were off. You never forgot that, he kept drilling that into you. Often in the fashion world, you get friendly with everybody. ‘Should you really write about that Dior collection?’ Mr. Fairchild said ‘People are not reading this newspaper because you’re friends with so-and-so. They’re reading this newspaper to find out who are the next designers and who’s falling apart.’
“He had a love/hate relationship with Perry Ellis. He loved the energy Perry brought and the youth Perry brought and how Perry shook up the fashion business in New York, but he was often very dismissive of Perry’s talent. Some of the worst reviews we had every written were about Perry’s collection. And he’d have lunch with Perry sometimes twice a week.
“We once wrote a horrible review of somebody’s collection, and they were giving a party that night, and I said, ‘Do you really think we should go to this party?’ And he said, ‘This is the time you do go. I’ll never forget we walked in, and everybody [was shocked] and he didn’t care. Mr. Fairchild said you have to show them you’re a man, and you’re able to show up and stand by the courage of your convictions. He was a very strong character. Often it was not easy to criticize anybody. You’re always going back to the same people.
“People in the fashion industry respected his opinions. His opinions were very good. I don’t think the war with Geoffrey Beene, for example, helped Geoffrey Beene at all. It lessened his business and his influence in fashion. Mr. Fairchild didn’t care about Pauline Trigère. She made this epic thing about her. She said, ‘John Fairchild won’t come to my show.’ It wasn’t about hating it, he didn’t think it was worthy of his time.
“Oscar once said that ‘being friends with John Fairchild is a two-edged sword. He has to prove how independent he is of me sometimes and not being nice about the show.’ He believed in friendship, but didn’t actually believe the friendship should influence how he covered the collection.
“Marc Bohan was a very good friend of Mr. Fairchild, but that didn’t stop him from writing that Dior should fire Marc Bohan because he’s useless and not a very good designer. He wrote it was time for Marc Bohan to go. In those days, we wrote the reviews together, usually at my typewriter in the Paris office and he would say, ‘Oh don’t write that. Let’s write this. It’s time to fire Marc Bohan.’ He didn’t care, he felt that was the right way to go.
“He loved to tease people. He’d find that one little fact about you. Once I had a big party in my Paris apartment, and there was no more room for the dishes, so I put them in the bathtub. Somebody saw all the dishes in the bathtub, and told Mr. Fairchild. ‘I went to a party at Patrick’s, and all the dishes were in the bathtub.’ He never forgot that. He would say, ‘Did you put the dishes in the bathtub last night?’ ‘Mr. Fairchild, I did that 20 years ago.’ He never let you live anything down. That was the charm of him. It created a sense of intimacy. He knew something about you, and would tease you about it, but it was done in a sweet, wonderful way. We would giggle and move on. We would have fights about stories, but in the end, Mr. Fairchild was an honorable man. He really did have the courage of his convictions. If he thought something wasn’t right, he would write it, and no one really could stop him.
“There was this famous Italian couturier named Roberto Capucci. He was the Italian version of Balenciaga. Mr. Fairchild used to go to the Rome couture in those days and saw Capucci’s show and loved it. He said to him, ‘You’re dying here in Rome. You should show in Paris so the world should see you, because otherwise, no one will know what you’re doing down here.’ So the next season, Capucci staged a big fashion show in Paris, and Mr. Fairchild went to the show and hated it and wrote in WWD that it was the worst thing to come down the runway in a long time. The next night Capucci was giving a very big party at the Paris Opera House which has a huge marble staircase. Mr. Fairchild walked up the stairs, and Mr. Capucci starting chasing him down. ‘How could you do this to me? First you tell me to come here, and then you tell me the collection was awful.’
“Mr. Fairchild had the courage of his convictions. He said, ‘I know I gave him the idea, but the clothes were awful.’”
Anna Wintour, artistic director of Condé Nast and editor in chief of Vogue: “It is difficult at this most democratic moment in the history of fashion journalism to understand the power John Fairchild wielded and the fear he commanded. Designers literally quivered in his wake. I remember him as a delightful and wickedly funny lunch companion, a devoted husband and father and an unrepentant Anglophile who loved to discuss all things English. I will miss him.”
Tom Murphy, former chairman and chief executive officer of Capital Cities/ABC Inc.: “He sold the company [Fairchild Publications] to Capital Cities and went on our board and was a terrific board member. The most notable thing he did was brought out the consumer publication, W. It was a terrific company and was really oriented to publishing quality operations in all sorts of fields, not only Women’s Wear Daily but Supermarket News, Metalworking News, Electronic News.
“He was very witty and he was very interesting to me because he always knew the scoop on everything that was going on in the fashion world. I used to love to have lunch at La Grenouille. He had a special table over there. Every memory I have of John Fairchild was very good and pleasant.”
Stephanie George, president and vice chairman of Fairchild Fashion Media: “Mr. Fairchild, as we would all call him throughout our careers, deserved that respect because he was the most wicked smart, fiery and passionate leader. He brought out the best in all of us. He taught us how to be sassy while remaining classy. I am now back at Fairchild as president and vice chairman to continue his legacy and make him proud. Rest in peace, Mr. Fairchild.”
Michael Coady, former editor of WWD and W and former ceo of Fairchild Publications: “The basic thing about John is that a lot of people knew him, knew him well, and knew him in different ways. I knew him in a very professional way. The one thing that he cared about tremendously was he was a fashion editor. Not that he was publisher, not that he was a businessman — he was a fashion editor. He’d get very upset with stories that were done about him, and they wouldn’t mention that he was a fashion editor. They’d mention he was chairman and what his titles were. He would say, ‘Don’t they understand, I’m a fashion editor.’
“In my lifetime, there have only been two great fashion editors. One was Diana Vreeland, and John. They were the only two major fashion editors who had an impact on fashion — not the business of fashion, not the marketing of fashion, not the building of their own egos. He knew fashion and he cared about fashion, and he really had the respect of the designers in the fashion industry because they knew he knew. That’s what he was all about and that’s what he cared about. He had all the other stuff, the Eye stuff, the funny stuff. But if you get right down to what he was, that’s what he was. He was one of the two, if not the greatest fashion editor in the last 50 years.”
Aileen Mehle, best known as the author of the “Suzy” society column, who joined WWD and W in the Nineties: “If I saw him there [La Grenouille] I knew the next day there would be something that would curl my hair. There would be some devilish remark that would be truly John, because John was John and nothing could change him, nothing could.
“He would have that kind of naughtiness that was so attractive to me because most people were afraid to write the way he did. I never worried about what I said because of him. He just made it so clear, in the most John way: sort of naughty, in a witty way. Sort of telling it like it is. Or like how he thought it was. He wasn’t afraid of anything. Some people are, but not John.
“He meant a lot to me in every way. The way he treated me. The way he guided me. He was such a fan is the only way I can describe him. He was such a booster, and one can always use a booster. He always used to say he loved my wit. ‘You’re a naughty girl, Suzy. You’re wicked.’ And then he would whisper, ‘Never stop. Be fierce.’ He would always say that to me. And then of course, we’d laugh because I wasn’t as wicked as he wanted me to be. He was a darling man. Kind is maybe not a word you’d use with John, but he was very kind with me. He really was. Maybe a lot of people thought he was too naughty, maybe even mean. But I don’t know about that.”
Lynn Wyatt: “He was one of a kind. He expressed what he felt. I had so much fun with him and his wife. He made Women’s Wear Daily a must-read every morning.”
Liz Smith, gossip columnist: “He made Women’s Wear into a really exciting purveyor of news — everything to do with fashion. He was the greatest gossip of them all. I considered him a terrible competitor. I came to like him…he was witty and brilliant. He enjoyed taking people like Oscar de la Renta and Halston…and Mrs. Vreeland from Vogue to La Grenouille and pumping them for everything they knew.
“He was irresistible…he had charm and wit…he was just an enormous competitor. He made things like being ‘in’ and ‘out’ fashionable and entertaining. He had people saying things like: ‘It’s OK to be “in” but as soon as you’re listed as “in,” you’re going to be listed as “out.”’
“I didn’t ever get a big scoop on him. I just considered him in another class by himself. He had charm and intelligence and wit. He was educated. He would lure these fashion designers to lunch and they would tell him all about their sex lives but they didn’t realize that if he squeezed, he had them where he wanted them. It was groundbreaking. It was the first time that anyone paid attention to the burgeoning gossip of the underworld of fashion. He was a real innovator.”
Laudomia Pucci, ceo of Emilio Pucci: “It was always like meeting an old friend, he was extremely warm, generous and ‘simpatico,’ with a dry sense of humor. He was very supportive of me when I started working in the company, very encouraging. It was in the early Nineties, and I was looking up to people like him or Stanley Marcus. He made the difference and I felt privileged to know him.”
Taki Theodoracopulos, journalist, Spectator columnist and society commentator: “I saw a lot of him here in Gstaad, and we laughed so much together. What he did was a breakthrough. He didn’t kowtow to royalty — he broke through that barrier. He’d do the same with self-indulgent, self-important people. He didn’t take any crap. He was iconoclastic and poked fun at people, and he’d laugh like hell when I’d write about that awful (Princess) Michael of Kent woman. I think he enjoyed my lack of political correctness.”
Ira Neimark, former chairman and ceo of Bergdorf Goodman: “I’m deeply indebted to John Fairchild. Early in the game, when we were transforming Bergdorf’s from an old-school store into a Fifth Avenue leader, John was very, very helpful. We had to have Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche and it was difficult to get because the competition all had it and they were very stubborn in Paris. But John had connections. He knew Didier Grumbach. He knew Pierre Bergé. He was close to Yves Saint Laurent. John lobbied for us and we got Rive Gauche. He was very helpful.”
Rose Marie Bravo, former president of Saks Fifth Avenue and chief executive officer of Burberry: “I idolized him. He was a man to be revered and a man to be feared. I could never believe how he always got the story. He was a reporter at heart, an icon of our industry. I missed his wonderful wit, an almost wicked sense of humor, yet an encouragement to so many. I remember when I had just taken the Burberry job, I was in London, absolutely up to my eyeballs, thinking, ‘What I have done?’ I was really overwhelmed. Then I was walking on Bond Street, with my head down, and I ran into John and his wife, and he told me, ‘You are going to do it. You are going to do it.’ I was startled. He was such an encouragement. I left him feeling buoyant. I never forgot that. He did that to a lot of people.”
Dawn Mello, former president of Bergdorf Goodman: “I enjoyed a very great relationship with Mr. Fairchild. He liked to be involved in things turning around. I remember when he called me saying, ‘Dawn. Why are you not returning phone calls from Maurizio Gucci. He is at the Plaza Hotel right now.’ I had no interest in discussions regarding Gucci, which at that time was a third-rate label. But Mr. Fairchild admonished me and said, ‘You must arrange to meet with him. You are being inconsiderate and must at least have a discussion.’ Based on that, I did go over and I was prepared to have a negative meeting with Mr. Gucci. Two and a half hours later I realized I just had a life-changing experience, and a month later I found myself in Italy, and I hired Tom Ford. I never would have gone to that meeting with Mr. Gucci if not for John Fairchild. After that, he would tease me about it. He had foresight. That’s why the newspaper has been such a success. He had this particular skill that was extraordinary, a way of getting in between things and getting under the rug.”
Charles Masson Jr., for nearly four decades the manager of La Grenouille, was 19 when he met Fairchild and just starting out as a waiter at the venerable restaurant founded by his parents in the early Sixties: “I will always remember him for his great sense of humor, of course, but also for his friendship. He tutored me in many ways. Once, a guest said something irritating and he could tell it got to me. He told me, ‘Just let it rub off. When someone says something nasty, don’t say anything back. Silence is the best reply. That will always worry them.’”
There was also that famously discerning eye to learn from.
“All you had to do was follow him across a room,” said Masson, now restaurant director at Chevalier at the Baccarat Hotel in New York. “I could see him smiling or looking in some direction and realize, ‘Here’s someone I should know.’ He was an excellent journalist and he always had a nose for what was going on.”
Fairchild, who began to patronize the restaurant while Masson’s father Charles was still manager, became known as much for his lengthy lunches and dinners, sometimes four or five times a week, as for his distinguished dining companions, like the late Brooke Astor. “They would sit in a corner and talk about their frisky youth. John giggling, getting blush in the face. They were like schoolchildren. There was a lot of whimsy and a lot of naughtiness in their conversation.”
Jamee Gregory, author and philanthropist: “I can only say that I will always think of John Fairchild in two places: sitting in his corner table at La Grenouille dishing, or relaxing with his grandchildren on the beach in Lyford Cay.”
Gene Pressman, former co-ceo of Barneys New York: “I really liked John. He put the fear of God into people and kept them on their toes. I miss that now. Everything is so politically correct today.
“He was a proponent of investigative reporting and he put WWD in a light that wasn’t just about fashion. It was read by everybody who was anybody. It broadened the scope of the paper with breaking news a little bit of cattiness — OK, more than a little bit. He was feared but respected, too.
“He took a real interest in Barneys. We added women’s wear in 1975, and he was very supportive. My family’s background was in men’s wear and I knew zero about women’s. But he knew a lot more than zero. He was my mentor.
“I think he liked French fashion better than Italian. He felt real women’s wear came out of France. That was his real love. He had a special affection for Yves Saint Laurent, and I couldn’t agree more. He was the fashion god.
“When we signed an exclusive with Armani for 10 years in 1975, I was always hoping that someday, Armani would surpass Saint Laurent. Women’s Wear was very supportive of him [Armani], and one day he did. That changed Barneys in the fashion industry.
“I had tremendous respect for his fashion acumen. He was a little rogue-y, but he was always elegant and classy.”
Photographer Harry Benson, who worked for WWD in the late Sixties and intermittently in the Seventies: “He was the king of kings because everyone — every designer, every couturier — was literally afraid of him. He had tremendous taste and great ideas.
“If any designer wasn’t showing Women’s Wear Daily respects — and that could be not giving a photographer covering a fashion show the right place to get a proper picture — he would ignore that show.
“His idea of fashion was about what was happening in the real world on the street and on the runway. He didn’t want it shot in the studio because it doesn’t look relevant. He wanted it relating to real people. He is missed today because he was always talking about what was good and what was bad. That doesn’t happen any more.
“It was a pleasure to work with him because you knew that you were working for the real thing. You were working for a heavyweight who knew what he was talking about. He was a man with great taste.
“I remember flying with him in a small plane over the Hamptons in 1971 or 1972. He said, ‘This is going to be the biggest and chicest place for society’ and God he was right. If I had any money, I would have bought some property. He had a sense of things to come but with class.”
Beppe Modenese, honorary chairman of the Italian Chamber of Fashion: “He had fun, he was unpredictable and he enjoyed surprising people. He loved Italian fashion, he believed in and supported it, playing a very important role in its expansion. Emilio Pucci is an example. He instinctively knew who had talent and who didn’t. He enjoyed Florence and seeing beautiful people. He was educated, traveled a lot and had freedom of judgement, which all contributed to his credibility.”
Harold Koda, curator in charge at The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “He just made fashion newsier. What everyone points out is that he would precipitate these feuds, but even that is creating news. He’s not letting the news just stand for itself. He’s making it provocative. That’s his contribution to fashion – he made a business entertaining.”
“It’s funny to see, for example, how Bill Blass lived in the Sixties and then how Bill Blass lived in the Eighties and Nineties. Or what happens to designers is that they become like their clients and some of them are even richer than their clients. It’s all part of the phenomenon of this transition that Mr. Fairchild made with his own company of taking something that was very industry-oriented just for the technical insiders and moving it front and center stage so that it becomes a must-read for anybody who is culturally current. The main thing is he carries the whole fashion industry in the same way so that you’re not just this designer toiling and reinterpreting other people’s work. You actually have the creation of a cult of personality, because of what he was doing.”