Patrick McCarthy — who brought intelligence and wit to his former role as chairman and editorial director of Fairchild Fashion Group, overseeing WWD and W magazine — died Sunday after a short illness at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. He was 67 years old.
McCarthy was well-respected in the fashion industry and the newsroom for his brilliance, wicked sense of humor and gregarious personality. An intensely private person with dashing good looks, McCarthy kept a calm exterior and was adamant about getting the scoop and getting it right. He not only instilled in his journalists a sense of aggressiveness and purpose, but created a lively presence in the newsroom.
McCarthy was personally mentored and hand-picked by John B. Fairchild, WWD’s legendary publisher and editorial director and founder of W, as his successor.
Born in Dedham, Mass., on June 6, 1951, McCarthy graduated from Boston University where he studied history. After graduating in 1973, he traveled around Europe on a Eurail Pass. He later earned his master’s degree in Journalism from Stanford University before becoming a reporter for Fairchild’s Energy User News publication in Washington, D.C. He transitioned to bureau chief of Fairchild News Service in London, writing for all the brand’s publications, including W and WWD.
It was in London where McCarthy caught the eye of Mr. Fairchild, with two stories in particular for W magazine: one on the English countryside and another a profile of the legendary London socialite Lady Diana Cooper. The Cooper story exhibited McCarthy’s doggedness and his willingness to get the story at any cost, literally. He wooed Cooper with letters for months, only to have her demand payment for the interview — saying it was common practice in England. So, unbeknownst to his powers that be in New York, McCarthy slipped the famed lady 50 pounds — a relatively large sum in London in the late Seventies. McCarthy ended up with the cover of W and a wire from John Fairchild that they should meet.
Fairchild soon offered him a plum role at WWD, heading the Paris bureau, and McCarthy rapidly became part of the Seventies and Eighties scene there, with Karl Lagerfeld, etc. But he also had to contend with the hijinks of Mr. Fairchild. One of the key duties in the Paris job was to be a bon companion to Mr. Fairchild when he would come for the collections, or simply come to stay, often for weeks on end and always at the Ritz. McCarthy, relatively new to the role, decided to play it safe with the menu, so would always order duck. Time and time again — to the point Mr. Fairchild decided to play a joke on him — so he sent him a live duck to WWD’s offices.
After five years, McCarthy asked Fairchild for a change and succeeded Michael Coady as editor of WWD.
McCarthy arrived in New York in March 1985, and started socializing with the major fashion figures. While he took an evenhanded approach with designers, feuds continued to ensue. As McCarthy told Michael Gross in a New York cover article, “No one else could get the story, and if anyone else got the story, someone had to pay! You can’t make The New York Times pay, so make the poor little designer pay — or the big rich designer. Mr. Fairchild instilled it in me. I’m like the abused child that is now abusing. I will kill for the story, and if I don’t have it, I will get angry. A lot of the punishment meted out was for giving the story to someone else, which to us wasn’t arbitrary,” said McCarthy. When asked whether some punishments were arbitrary, McCarthy told Gross, “Absolutely. Bite the hand that feeds you. Never stop biting it. And you know what? It will feed you more.”
Once back in New York, McCarthy started widening WWD’s scope, and the paper played up the entertainment-fashion connection. He later largely led W, which he’d overseen since its 1993 relaunch as a perfect-bound monthly magazine. McCarthy succeeded John Fairchild as chairman and editorial director of Fairchild Publications in 1997.
When McCarthy stepped down from Fairchild in 2010, he told the Times: “It was all about the story. Get the story. It doesn’t matter what it is: a fashion show, a party, a movie star or a celebrity. If you can get it first, it’s even better.”
James Fallon, editorial director of WWD, shared fond memories. “Having learned from Mr. Fairchild, Patrick was always on the lookout for a story, hated to be scooped — and always ready with a remark that could be either witty or, if needed, cutting. He had the rare ability as a writer to dictate a perfect fashion review off the top of his head, all while jangling the coins in his pocket, and could always come up with the ideal phrase or headline that would have everyone roaring with laughter.
“Patrick didn’t command a room, yet when he entered it, everyone’s spirits immediately lifted. With a perennial half-smile on his lips, he always in a way seemed to radiate joy — even when he was criticizing you for a mistake. Witty, charming, insightful — and at times just plain fun — the thing I will remember most is his laugh, and the happiness it brought you,” said Fallon.
Ed Nardoza, former editor in chief of WWD, said, “It wasn’t easy meeting Patrick’s tough, exacting standards. But his wild humor, delightfully bitchy sense and explosive laughter always cut the tension right out of any stressful situation. He had a brilliant news sense and a fierce competitive instinct, so you’d better stay sharp around him. No sloppy thinking allowed and God help you if you got scooped.
“Like his champion and mentor, John Fairchild, Patrick was a great reporter. He also had the rare gift of being a great reporter with big, sweeping ideas that brought originality and energy to the pages of all the publications he oversaw.
“He was a teacher and a friend, with a heightened sense of fair play and a real eye for talent. But what I always found most endearing about Patrick was that, for all his fancy friends and aristocratic bearing, he couldn’t pass a beggar or homeless person on the street without opening his wallet. Even if, as we often pointed out on the streets of Milan or Paris, it was an obvious con job. It’d be a fair amount, too, usually bills, not coins, and the poor person’s face would simply light up, as Patrick moved on to the next show or glamorous dinner,” said Nardoza.
Michael Coady, former ceo of Fairchild Publications, worked with McCarthy from 1983 until he retired in 2000. He said of McCarthy, “He was the best news reporter I ever had the pleasure of working with. He was a natural newsman and he could have worked for any newspaper or television network. He worked very hard to understand the inner workings of the fashion industry, and he succeeded at it.”
Mary Berner, ceo of Cumulus Media who served as president and ceo of Fairchild during McCarthy’s tenure, said working with him “was one of the great privileges” of her career.
“I was a nobody when I joined Fairchild and, from day one, he went out of his way to support me,” said Berner. “It goes without saying he was a rare talent, smart as a whip and a superb journalist. But he was also incredibly charming, funny and a ton of fun. And he had the best darn laugh.”
She also remembers McCarthy for his generous manners, something she experienced early at Fairchild when attending her first Met Gala.
“I was planning on meeting the Fairchild crew at the Met – ever the gentleman, and knowing that I would know very few people, Patrick absolutely insisted on coming to my house to pick me up and escorting me to the gala, a class act through and through.”
Bridget Foley, executive editor of WWD, said, “Patrick was a brilliant journalist and a demanding boss. He was also witty and silly and wildly generous. Some people found him intimidating. For a tight circle of us at WWD and W, he presided over a golden moment when work felt like family.”
Etta Froio, former WWD editor, who also worked closely with McCarthy, said, “Patrick McCarthy was a very private person, but those very special people he allowed to enter his world were blessed to know a unique, talented and wonderful friend.”
Blaine Trump recalled meeting McCarthy through mutual friends, during his WWD days in the Eighties. “He and John Fairchild — if they were in the room — you knew it,” she said. “If he was a friend, there was no one wittier or more fun to be with. He was something else and such a gentleman in so many ways. He had such great style and taste. I always laughed and told him, ‘You’re just allergic to tacky. Everything you touch is so chic and stunning,’ including his clothes and his apartment. Everything was done with such great taste,” Trump said.
“If you were with him at dinner or a party, he just lit up the room. He loved to joke, he loved to laugh. And we all loved being around him,” she said, adding that they saw each other in Miami when he had a home there. “On the other hand, if you crossed him — watch out. He was always a loyal friend, but if you crossed him, I pity that poor person.”
After he got Aileen Mehle (“Suzy”) to write for W, the one thing she always said about him was that he was such a gentleman and “so easy to negotiate a contract with,” Trump said. “He certainly had his rough-tough business side, but at the end of the day, he was so smart and such a brilliant writer. I always looked forward to whatever he was writing about. It always had some wicked twist. I always used to say to him, ‘If I ever write my book, would you do it for me Patrick?’ and he would just scream with laughter.”
Stephanie George, former president of WWD and W, said, “I am so proud to have worked tirelessly with Patrick to paint a rainbow over Fairchild when we re-launched W magazine together. Patrick was a class act. A fabulous working partner. We were quite a force together. I wish someone could just stop the clock. Those yesterdays were quite special. It was our shining moment together that will forever be cherished by me.”
McCarthy forged close friendships with many designers over the years.
“I knew Patrick well. I always think about his charm, his wit and how smart he was and fun,” said Calvin Klein. “We would see each other quite a bit after he left Condé Nast and after I left the business. We’re both private, and we always had a fun time. When I saw him, we laughed, more than most people. He had such a wonderful sense of humor. We’d go to a club, I’d see him in Miami and New York. We really didn’t talk fashion. We would talk about the world, and politics, things we were both interested in. All these years we worked together, we never talked about fashion, maybe a little about what I was doing. He understood boundaries in friendship and privacy. That was important to him. He will be so missed. There was no one like him in or out of the fashion business. I just adored him,” said Klein.
Michael Kors said, “I met Patrick shortly after I started my business in 1981, and I was immediately taken aback by his incredible intelligence, fantastic wit and humor, sharp eye and his desire to get the scoop. If I ran into him on St. Barth’s on vacation, the next day there would be a dispatch from St. Bart’s in WWD. His eyes and ears were always open and his mind was always clicking.”
Kors added, “I always looked forward to a Patrick lunch or seeing him in the WWD newsroom. He had such an energy about him. That energy cannot be duplicated and will be sorely missed.”
His close friend Paul Wilmot said, “He was so much fun. He was irreverent.” He recalled the April Fools’ WWD issue that McCarthy did with random, made-up news stories. “He started as John [Fairchild’s] acolyte and ended up being his successor,” said Wilmot. “We were so close, but when it came to business, it was all business. As the personal side of the guy, no one was warmer and more gracious and he had wonderful manners.” Wilmot recalled he used to play gin rummy with McCarthy, along with Pat Buckley, Nan Kempner and John Galliher.
“The guy was so much fun and so damn smart, and a great writer. He was a newsman and he wanted the scoop, he wanted the story. He probably got that from John [Fairchild.] He’s probably the finest newsman the fashion business has ever had,” said Wilmot.
Annette de la Renta said, “Patrick was a great friend of ours — witty, smart and fun with a fabulous eye. He also had a wonderful sense of humor. I once professed to Patrick my admiration for those giant inflatable rats that one sometimes sees on New York streets as a sort of labor union protest. Patrick somehow found one and had it sent as a surprise — fully inflated and strapped to a giant flatbed truck — to our home in Connecticut with the suggestion that it would make a wonderful sort of garden statue. We adored it and installed immediately…”
Ralph Lauren recalled when McCarthy came to his ranch in Colorado, and the friendship they forged.
“I met Patrick years ago and the first thing I said to him was, ‘you’re John [Fairchild]’s son.’ His hair was graying, his mannerisms were similar. After that, I worked with Patrick a lot. He came to Colorado with me. He did a story on the house. We spent a few days together. I admired him. He knew what he was doing, and he had great leadership in that work of newspapers. I can’t think of him as not being here. I think of him as being very youthful and always ready with a witticism. I liked him a lot,” said Lauren.
Donna Karan recalled a trip she took with McCarthy to Australia for a wool organization. “It was the funniest trip in the world. We went to Glamourama Beach and pulled up in a white limousine. All the models went there. There was no way I was [wearing my swimsuit] with Patrick there,” she said. Karan said she grew up with Mr. Fairchild and became friendly with McCarthy. “I felt that Patrick was more of my generation. Mr. Fairchild was Oscar and Bill. I felt it was more of a personal relationship with Patrick,” said Karan. “I just loved him. When I think about WWD, I think about Patrick,” she said.
Giorgio Armani said: “I was saddened to hear of the passing of Patrick McCarthy. I remember him as a man of urbane elegance and wit, who was always fun to be with. But he was also a great journalist, a proper reporter who understood what a story was, and was scrupulous in getting it, and reporting it with insight and accuracy. In today’s world of fast news, we miss the rigour and perceptiveness of someone like Patrick — what he did at WWD and W magazines was create a culture of intelligent fashion journalism, and I am grateful to him for that.”
Anna Wintour, artistic director of Condé Nast and editor in chief of Vogue, remembered when she started to notice McCarthy at the shows, still under the wing of Mr. Fairchild and learning his ways, but making clear he had his own, too. “It was highly amusing to watch Patrick echo his every gesture and movement; the crossing of the legs, the exasperated pursing of the lips as yet another show took forever to start,” Wintour recalled. “Yet Patrick was far, far more than a doppelgänger of his beloved mentor. If John took a gleeful delight in shaking things up, inciting a reaction (if not a riot), then Patrick, a handsome, smart, shrewd man, always maintained a cool, detached demeanor while navigating the temperamentally choppy waters of our industry.”
Although Wintour was already well into her tenure at the helm of Vogue when WWD joined Condé Nast, she worked with McCarthy directly on the 1998 Met Gala, which became a Versace retrospective in the wake of Gianni Versace’s death.
“I asked Patrick to be my cochair. I thought Gianni would have liked that,” Wintour said. “For all of the fabulous, fabulous names he knew, I sensed Gianni might have appreciated having Patrick, an intelligent and wry observer of fashion, helping mastermind our homage to him. And for my part, I was very happy to work on it with him. Patrick was as clear-minded and calm as he was supportive and kind.
“In other words, he made for the very best colleague to have, and the very best editor,” Wintour added. “I always respected his absolute professionalism, his determined pursuit of fashion news and his profound belief in the significance of the fashion industry.”
Anna Sui said, “Since I started doing shows, Patrick was always so supportive and so kind and was always at my shows. When I received in 1992 the CFDA [Perry Ellis Award for New Talent], I remember, I was very intimidated by him because he had so much integrity as a journalist and he had that command about him. To find him so kind and supportive.…He loved the sense of humor of my clothes and the fun aspect of my clothes, and that endeared me to him. My fear and intimidation of him was never overshadowed by his grace and charm. We were lucky to know him.”
Adam Lippes said, “It’s a delicate dance between designers and editors who become true friends. But I wasn’t yet a designer when I met Patrick at a dinner party he hosted in the summer of ’95. Over two decades later, I still cherish the friend I met that night and the exacting mentor he became. I will miss both his support and his critique.”
Diane von Furstenberg said, “Another loss in the story of fashion on the last 50 years. Patrick carried WWD during its best years. Some people were intimidated by him, but everyone respected him.”
Vera Wang recalled, “I used to sit at shows and stare at him…so chic, aristocratic, intelligent and well, brilliant! He was one of the true stars of our industry, in every sense. I am so saddened.”
“I remember Patrick as being a very charming, witty and slightly wicked dinner partner,” said Marc Jacobs. “It was always fun to be seated next to him at black-tie dinners.”
Gabe Doppelt, who was West Coast bureau chief at W under McCarthy and now runs the Tower Bar restaurant in Los Angeles, said she first heard about him when she was at Tatler and he was Fairchild’s London bureau chief. “Women’s Wear was so influential when we were trying to remake the Tatler.
“He was so naughty, and so mischievous and so curious. It’s everything you want in an editor. He knew what he knew and he trusted what he didn’t know. The joy we would all get. We would all impersonate Patrick. When Patrick was really amused or intrigued or loved an idea, he would squeal, ‘oh my God.’ That’s what you really wanted to hear. We knew we’d hit a home run then.”
Doppelt recalled that at the last minute, McCarthy would throw out all the editorial in one issue and replace it with 72 pages of Angelina and Brad. “Patrick basically threw out all the editorial because he knew he had something special. I don’t know many editors who would run one story in an issue,” said Doppelt. “He was a great editor and was equally an incredible journalist. He understood news value,” she said.
She also said McCarthy defended his employees. “One day there was a publicist who was particularly angry with me. Patrick called me into his office and I thought all hell was going to break loose. And in fact, he called the publicist and put him on speaker phone. So I could overhear the phone call of him defending me. We basically just sat there cackling with laughter,” she said.
“I rarely saw Patrick angry. I don’t think I ever saw Patrick angry,” she added. “He never suffered social fools. The minute he saw one he would either ban them from WWD and W and drive them nuts, or run some slightly vicious profile.”
Joe Zee, a former fashion director for W and TV producer and fashion journalist, said, “To the industry, Patrick could be intimidating, but to me he was kind. He was visionary, but always inclusive. For someone who ran the most powerful fashion publication in the Nineties and one of the only people in an open newsroom to have his own office with a door, Patrick would still always sit outside with all of us. He didn’t just have an open-door policy, he had a ‘just wander by his desk’ policy that was always greeted with a smile. He listened intently, whether it was a passionate pitch for a crazy idea or details of a fashion party I attended the night before. And he saw it all as a story. And if Patrick taught me anything, it was to see life as a story, exclusive would be best. In my career I have been interviewed many times about my start and looking back I always knew this to be true: There were two very distinct mentors in my life: There were those that had you working out of fear and those that had you working out of inspiration. And in a ‘Devil Wears Prada’ industry, the former was always more prevalent than the latter. And Patrick was always the latter to me.”
Hotelier Ian Schrager, who was a good friend of McCarthy’s, said, “Patrick will be sorely missed. He was such a lovely man, one of the finest gentlemen I ever knew. Smart and always enthusiastic. We really lost a special person. I’m heartbroken about it.”
Julie Belcove, who worked as deputy editor of W for nine years under McCarthy and is features director of Robb Report, recalled how talented he was as an editor.
“Patrick had the rare ability to be both hands-on and hands-off. He had a completely clear vision of W, knew exactly what it was and what it wasn’t, and unlike so many editors, was very decisive. Yet I can’t remember him ever telling me or any other staffer how to report, write, or edit a story. He trusted his staff — or he wouldn’t have hired us. At the same time, his smallest tweak to a story or a layout could change it from fine to fabulous. He was a brilliant wordsmith — we often said he was the best writer at the magazine,” said Belcove.
“He never focus-grouped. He had the old-school belief that the editors were the tastemakers,” she said.
“Patrick had a wicked sense of humor and a wonderful giggle. He hated meetings. He could also be elusive and enigmatic. The staff — the young ones especially, but the veterans, too — always wanted more time with him and, most of all, his approval. Everyone respected him absolutely,” said Belcove.
Working with McCarthy as W’s creative director was “a rare experience,” said Dennis Freedman. “There was such a level of trust and belief in what I was doing. He always supported me. Even if there was a shoot that he may have had his doubts about, he never judged me. Interestingly enough, in the many years of shoots we did, I can only remember two that we didn’t run in the end, and both were for very valid reasons.”
Freedman recalled that among the many celebrity shoots he worked on, there were times when an actress or model didn’t want to work with a member of W’s hair and makeup team. “I’d explain to the agent that the subject needs to trust us, and if they don’t, I understand,” Freedman said. “Patrick never once said, ‘Dennis, we really need to make this work.’ He was willing to lose an important cover on principle. Once we established that, we almost never had a case where the subject of a cover wouldn’t agree to work with someone on our team.
“Patrick was a brilliant editor. He didn’t have this ego that made him feel he had to be the co-creative director. It took someone with a great deal of confidence in himself and also courage,” Freedman said. “There was the time I wanted to photograph the couture on real clients, the women who bought the couture. We wrote to the designers and there was a lot of resistance. I told Patrick I thought this was important, and he backed the idea. In the end, every designer participated in the story, which was shot by Juergen Teller. It was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art. Patrick supported me when it wasn’t always easy.”
Photographer Steven Klein said, “Patrick was an integral part in allowing the pathway to create so many challenging assignments. He allowed Brad Pitt to be the first male on the cover of W, in his costume from ‘Fight Club’ rather than the usual advertiser credit. In fact, the entire story didn’t have one credit. His success was not limited to following the conventional formula.”
Bruce Weber recalled how McCarthy was in Paris when the photographer shot the couture collections for the first time with Grace Coddington for British Vogue. “He was impeccably dressed, but very direct in style for a man in the middle of the fashion world. He was working then for Fairchild and he was always private behind that soft smile. When he and Dennis Freedman got together at W, my whole photographic world changed. Thank you Patrick for letting us see there is a huge sense of humor in whatever we do in the fashion world — and he made you love it and be proud to be a part of being by his side.”
Kate Betts, an author and former WWD editor who worked in Paris under McCarthy, said, “He was the big boss back in New York but he came to Paris a lot to cover the shows and we would all write reviews together. Patrick was a brilliant writer and he taught me so much about news writing. He taught me how to write a lede and how to structure a story. He was so quick and had this razor-sharp sense of humor. He could deflate those tense Fairchild moments — on deadline, or dealing with an unhappy designer — with a hilarious joke. We were all kind of scared of him, but he was very good at making us laugh, which, to be honest, in the fashion world is quite rare.”
Ed Filipowski, cochairman of KCD, said, “I had the good fortune over the years of transforming a relationship that was first based on pure fear to one of good, kind friendship. Early on when I had to call Patrick about a story or God forbid an ‘issue’ with WWD, prep time was required and my voice actually trembled. He had the power, and we all knew it. As I spent more time with him at shows around the world, his keen sense of humor reared itself and won me over. I can hear that laugh today.”
Edward Menicheschi, who was president of Fairchild Fashion Media for several years under McCarthy and now runs his own media advisory, Silver Fox Productions, said, “Patrick was a newsman. With the greatest respect, he was fiercely competitive.” Menicheschi noted that McCarthy was the rare type of news-getter that took “the same kind of glee” as Mr. Fairchild in getting the scoop.
“That was the thing that fueled Patrick as well, and when Mr. Fairchild moved on and Patrick took his place, I don’t think WWD missed a beat,” Menicheschi said. “He was wildly upset if we ever missed anything.”
Thinking about how McCarthy would have fared in this new media age with so much more competition and the breakneck pace of the news, Menicheschi, circumspect, decided it would be “a big disappointment” for such a newsman.
“Now, where speed is far more important than accuracy, my sense is he would have hated that. He understood the responsibility of getting it right…he took that responsibility very seriously.”
McCarthy is survived by a sister and three nieces. Funeral services will be private.