THE ALUMNI ASSOCIATION
PROVING THERE IS LIFE AFTER WWD, FORMER STAFFERS OFFER THEIR MOST VIVID MEMORIES OF WORKING THERE.
Ben Brantley, chief theater critic, New York Times: “As a Southern boy finding his feet in Manhattan, I was taught many essential things at Women’s Wear. Probably the most valuable lesson, which came early, was that glamour is largely a high-maintenance illusion. I was afforded privileged glimpses of models without their makeup, socialites without their manners, stars without their charisma and designers with their tailored images down around their ankles.
“There were also, however, a few spectacular moments in which every element seemed to cohere into perfect, shining set pieces, ready-made for memory books and time capsules. I recall, through a bright vodka haze, a midnight photo shoot at Calvin Klein’s penthouse that ended with Steve Rubell driving us to Studio 54, in the manner of an over-stimulated birthday boy who had just been given a go-cart. The car plowed right onto the sidewalk at the club, nudging the velvet ropes and scattering the crowd. I somehow remember it as the smoothest ride of my life.
“There was also one night provided by Halston in which all the players knew their poses and their lines perfectly. He had just returned from a tour of China and Japan and was giving an Orient-themed Halloween party amid all those mirrors in his Olympic Towers showroom. Pretty much everyone was wearing Eastern drag, except for Andy Warhol, who had dressed up as Andy Warhol.
“Around midnight, a group of a dozen or so adjourned to Regine’s. D.D. Ryan, whose look was always rather Mandarin, was there, and the makeup artist Way Bandy, who was a geisha that night, on the arm of a Village People-type cowboy.
“We were seated at a long table, from which Regine herself had expelled an unfortunate herd of businessmen (who had not gone quietly) to make room for Halston and company. At some point, we looked up and standing beside us was Brooke Shields, then a 13-year-old movie starlet, who was wearing a cat costume that looked much like a Playboy bunny suit.
“‘Hi Andy! Hi Halston!’ she said. ‘Brooke,’ answered Halston, sounding almost avuncular. ‘Is your mother driving you to all the hot spots tonight?’ She nodded a blank-eyed assent, smiled goodbye and sailed out. ‘She’s only 13!’ exclaimed Andy Warhol. ‘Can you believe it? She’s only 13!’ Halston looked down at his highly buffed nails and without missing a beat said coolly, ‘She’s 40 if she’s a day.”‘
Andre Leon Talley, editor at large, Vogue: “The most vivid memory of WWD would be in Paris when I covered the wedding of Paloma Picasso in 1978. We went to city hall for the daytime ceremony. Yves Saint Laurent designed her dress for the ceremony. And that night, Karl Lagerfeld gave a big dinner in his house for her. He designed her evening dress. The table took up the whole room, and Anna Piaggi wore a metal helmet with birds of paradise feathers and passed a candelabra and it caught on fire. Everyone shrieked and gasped and she kept walking. She was cool as a cucumber. This was a great moment. It was the social marriage of these two powerful forces — Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld, who were both at the ceremony and the party. This was a big occasion. Paris people came out in full force. It was very splashy and lavish. It was a great moment.”
Michael F. Coady, former ceo, Fairchild Publications: “It’s the excitement of when you get a scoop for the paper — there’s nothing better than that. Conversely, when you wake up the next day and the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal had a story that you did not get, there was nothing worse. But, fortunately, that didn’t happen very often.”
Calvin Klein, who worked at WWD for four months in 1961: “I applied for a job as an illustrator in the art department and ended up as a copy boy.”
Bill Cunningham, photographer, New York Times: “What I remember about Women’s Wear is all over Seventh Avenue and design places, Women’s Wear was piled up on windowsills unopened or unread because it was so boring and dull. But then John [Fairchild] came and suddenly everyone was so enraptured, they couldn’t wait to read it. They’d get so mad and tear it up and throw it out the window in fury. It was so marvelous. No one would dare miss it. It was a complete change from what it used to be when it was very thorough and very accurate, but very dull going. John made it so irreverent. John turned everything upside down. It was really kind of marvelous. It was more than marvelous, as long as you weren’t on the other end of the stick that you were going to get hit with. On top of that, John would go out and meet people for lunch and he’d come back and have the office in an uproar because he’d tear up all the pages they had done, and put everything in he had heard at lunch. They hated when John came back from lunch. I was involved in one of those, so I remember it very well.
“There were marvelous people down there, like [artist] Kenneth Paul Block, who would interpret what you told him, and [art director] Rudy Millendorf, who before you finished telling him one story, he’d have it all laid out. It was amazing how everything went so quickly. It went from a mausoleum to this absolutely wild, crazed, marvelous paper that you couldn’t wait to read, even if you hated it.”
Howard Kissel, chief drama critic, New York Daily News: “A few weeks after The Producers opened, by the most wonderful coincidence, as I walked down 44th Street, I saw Mel Brooks coming toward me. Amazingly, within seconds, we were talking. He declared that he had forgiven me for all the bad things I had said about his films because I liked his musical so much.
“I pointed out that I had loved Blazing Saddles, but I couldn’t really remember what I had said about the others. He remembered, bitterly, that I had panned Life Stinks, which he considered one of the best films of the last 20 years.
“I was both surprised and not surprised that he had read my movie reviews in WWD because for a long time, I have known that I was the beneficiary of John Fairchild’s genius. It was not a literary genius, but a genius for social climbing. It was also a journalistic genius. The two went hand in hand.
“John Fairchild is the godfather of contemporary journalism. What is extraordinary is that during the ultra-solemn late Sixties and Seventies, he pioneered a kind of silly journalism that became the model for everyone else.
“For evidence of his influence, look at the New York Times. In 1971, Fred Ferretti covered Attica for the Times. In 1976, he wrote a long article for the Living Section on how coat-check girls in fancy restaurants handled the bulky down coats that were popular — if that isn’t a WWD story, I don’t know what is.
“(Lest you imagine it was by chance that The Paper of Record was doing this kind of journalism, I cite an article by John Hess, one of many disgruntled ex-Timesmen, in which he declared he knew the paper was in trouble when he noticed a copy of WWD on Abe Rosenthal’s desk every morning.)
“The journalism Mr. Fairchild pioneered was in some ways an echo of what the Society sections of newspapers did in the Twenties. Much of it was adolescent, like declaring a group of chic people The Cat Pack and then chronicling their activities with great detail, like explaining how to give ‘The Cat Pack Kiss.’ I remember with particular fondness, under the supervision of Chauncey Howell and Rosemary Kent (who went on to become an early editor of Interview), a group of us devising The ‘Cat Pack Game,’ a board game that taught you how to advance yourself. You got to move two spaces ahead, for example, if you thought the Zarem Brothers were a delicatessen.
“Adolescent activity was the perfect way to draw the attention of People Who Mattered to Mr. Fairchild, who quickly became one of them. This was no small feat for a boy who had been well-born, but could not have hoped to be part of the In Group merely as the publisher of a garment industry trade paper. (Are we still forbidden to use the word ‘garment’? Should I change that to ‘SA’?) “Once, when someone I had interviewed called to thank me, he told me he was stunned by who read it. Had he known, he said, he would have given me a completely different interview.
“Mr. Fairchild’s success was nowhere better illustrated than in the change of heart Esquire had in a mere four years. They used to do an annual feature on what you should read to be as well read as they were. In 1967, they declared WWD as ‘only for those who have not outgrown their taste for the furthest reaches of Camp.’ By 1971, they said it was “the last publication in America edited for an elite audience.’
“Throughout the Seventies, WWD was a goldmine of information. It was like a Victorian novel, in which all aspects of society made their appearance. An African-American sportswear manufacturer, for example, once told me he considered WWD the most useful barometer of the civil rights movement, if only because it told you who in Washington was partying with whom, which told you more how they would vote than what they said in Congress.
“This reflected Mr. Fairchild’s shrewd awareness of the fact that SA had its fingers in many important pies.
“When I think back to the Seventies, I think of how much fun we had. It was almost as much fun as working on the high school paper, and because of Mr. Fairchild’s ambitions, we got to sit with the In Crowd in the high school cafeteria.”
Amy Spindler, style editor, New York Times Magazine: “The molecules always moved a little faster, of course, when Mr. Fairchild came to Paris. One couture season, I was sent out as the advance troops with the photographer to do a fall preview at Pierre Balmain. Oscar de la Renta, who was always unbelievably nice to even the lowest-ranking editors, had prepared the model with the first look, a tidy little plaid suit with a matching plaid chapeau. It was all going pretty well — previews involved finding some picturesque corner within two blocks of the couture house and shooting the model against the limestone — until we got back upstairs to the studio and Mr. Fairchild and Patrick McCarthy had arrived to do their preview. When we walked in with the model, Mr. Fairchild, who was always teasing the designers unmercifully, started in on the saucy little hat. He loved the outfit — but that hat!!!! Then out popped two more models, in plaid hats matching THEIR little ensembles! And of course, in the atelier, waiting for their close-up, were shelves of plaid hats in all shapes and sizes. If Oscar had ONE WISH that day, he would have made them all disappear. Or perhaps he would have made Mr. Fairchild disappear. Mr. Fairchild just kept at it, lavishing look after look with praise, but then — THAT HAT!!!
“Of course, at the show a few days later, Oscar had banished them all from the runway. And the headline in WWD for the rave review? “‘Hats Off to Oscar!”‘
Bonnie Fuller, former editor in chief, Glamour: “My most vivid memories were doing crazy shoots. We were always holding up traffic on Seventh Avenue and Broadway. I would work with [photographer] Dustin Pittman a lot. The Fifties look was back, with the Grease-type skirts. We had a really cute model, who was wearing a big full skirt and blouse, saddle shoes and bobby socks, and her hair in a big ponytail as well. Dustin ran into a pizzeria and grabbed a full pizza. He took the whole pizza and he gave it to the model. She’s walking across the street holding the pizza, and the shot landed on page one.”
Lesley Jane Seymour, editor in chief, Marie Claire: “I began my job at WWD the day after I graduated from college. That week I was thrown onto Seventh Avenue and told to cover all of the reject markets: plus sizes, petites, knits, jeans, blouses and juniors. Though I had no formal fashion training, I was thrilled to return to the office after a few days with my first scoop. Blouses would be sporting something I’d never heard of before: ‘shoal collars.’ My editor looked perplexed. ‘There’s no such thing,’ she said. Yes, I insisted, everyone on Seventh Avenue was talking about ‘shoal collars.’ She asked me to draw a picture of one and immediately began to laugh, ‘You mean a shawl collar.’ Not being a native New Yorker, I’d misunderstood the New York accent.”
Marie Masters, cast member, daytime soap “As the World Turns” : “Women’s Wear was my first job out of college, and I had so many good times. I was living in the YMCA on the East Side in the 20s. I remember that John Fairchild was such a gentleman, very patrician. Everyone was very scared of him, of course. “For an expose on what was then called ‘Saturday shopping,’ when manufacturers sold out of their showrooms directly to the public on Saturdays, Masters pretended to be an eager bargain hunter. It was a lot of fun. And I got this insane fake mongolian lamb coat, which I wore and wore, until somebody said something. I remember how kind everybody was. I often thought that show business was very hard and that maybe I should have hung around.”
Marian McEvoy, editor in chief, House Beautiful: “Nothing was more terrifying to a deeply naive, 23-year-old junior reporter than a first meeting with Mr. John Fairchild, the scariest boss God ever made. Tall, impeccably tailored and topped off with an almost illegal amount of straight white hair, Mr. Fairchild not only looked the part of the fashion world’s most powerful critic, he sounded it: ‘Nice to meet you,’ he bellowed, ‘We’ve got five stories we need done. They’re due in three hours. Get going.’
“Like most WWD employees, I both craved and dreaded the attention of Mr. Fairchild. He was, and is, the most seductive, ferocious teaser in the world. Only the strong survive. From Monday through Friday, Fairchild egged us on, whipping us into a frenzy of ‘digging up the dirt.’ We got our facts straight, came up with ‘meaty quotes,’ and made our copy sizzling, smart and funny. Under the pain of what was surely worse than death, we did, indeed, write reviews, blurbs and features that were revelatory, opinionated and so double-edged that even the interviewees weren’t quite sure which end was up.
“Like our boss, we learned to question (avoid is more like it) the expected, the flat-footed earnest, and the politically correct. We, too, developed allergies to sycophants, whiners and goody-two-shoes. Above all, we concluded that wallflowers need not apply: color, controversy and character were (are) where it’s at. Among the hundreds of funny, naughty, outrageous, poignant and scary WWD stories I could tell, the one about the bomb is one of my favorites. During one year of the 16 years I spent working in WWD’s Paris office, a nasty European terrorist group called the Red Brigade periodically detonated bombs throughout France and Italy. The buildings they blew up were mostly public: train depots, metro stations, department stores and Fauchon, the legendary French food emporium. One perfectly beautiful Parisian morning, the Brigade ignited a big one just outside the Chanel headquarters, which I happened to be passing in front of. When the smoke cleared, everyone who remained intact was somewhat shaken by the experience: I think I went home early and took a couple of aspirin. The next day, there were at least 12 telephone and telex messages from you know who: ‘What happened and where is the story? Were you in the middle of a fashion/terrorist bombing? Why didn’t you report it? Where are your journalistic instincts? What’s going on over there?’ I stared, totally dumbfounded, at Mr. Fairchild’s cursive messages. Where was the sympathy and comfort and soothing, fatherly empathy? And then it came to me. What a terrific story the whole thing would have made — of course he was right. Twenty-something Women’s Wear Daily fashion editor escapes death and writes Boom Times at Chanel, an exclusive front page WWD expose. Of all the hundreds of articles I’ve written about fashion, makeup, perfume, weddings, actors, black-tie parties, decoration, architects, travel, entertaining, set design, fabrics, wine and food, the one that would have stood out the most was the bomb story. It’s the one that got away.”
Elsa Klensch, former host, CNN’s “Style With Elsa Klensch”: “That first day at WWD I kept hearing about what was going on on ‘SA.’ What on earth was earth was ‘SA’? To me, an Australian newly arrived from Hong Kong, those initials stood for the state of South Australia or the nation of South Africa. Seventh Avenue turned out to be a whole new world.”
Marvin Klapper, retired textile editor: “I was in one Sunday when the phone rang. The voice on the other end, which I recognized immediately, was John Fairchild. He said, ‘I’m calling you from Germany. I just landed and found out that Calvin Klein is dead.’
“He said, ‘Why do I have to call you from Germany to tell you about things you guys should know? I want you to find out all about it and call me back.’
“I called [Klein’s business partner] Barry Schwartz, and he said, ‘I just spoke to him on the phone five minutes ago.’ He told me where Calvin was, and I called him. I said, ‘I’m sorry to bother you on a Sunday, but I got this call from John Fairchild and he said you were dead.’ Calvin said, ‘Call John back and tell him I’m not dead.’ So I called John back. He said, ‘OK. Thanks.”‘
Ron Cohen, retired city editor: “Even with the advent of 24-hour TV news and constant Internet chatter, getting the scoop has always been a vital part of the WWD culture. I remember vividly when I gained a particularly deep appreciation of that. I was the head of Fairchild Publications’ St. Louis bureau, and our editors had learned that a prominent department store executive there was about to jump ship and take a big job in New York.
“This was in the days when much of retailing was still run by local merchant princes who demanded lifelong loyalty from their underlings, and to change jobs and join a competitor was tantamount to treason.
“My job was to confront the executive with the news of his pending change — including even the details of his contract — and get his reaction. He appeared to be astounded as well as a little irritated. But he was a good-natured guy, and without confirming, he let us know we had news that was fit to print. And throughout his career, the executive, who became quite powerful, exhibited an almost mystical respect for WWD’s ability to get inside the industries it covered and report the news accurately.
Bernadine Morris, former fashion reporter, New York Times: “I remember when I came in to be interviewed. It was June and I was wearing a straw hat with a big brim. I thought that’s what you should wear. I wouldn’t have hired me. I wore gold slippers and a bright blue silk shantung dress. When I think of how I walked in there….I certainly didn’t look chic.
“What hit me when I walked in was that it was all women. Actually it wasn’t all women, but I felt like I was in a girl’s school. There was a male city editor and a few male reporters. But it was divided into departments. The dress and coats and suits reporters were girls and they covered fashion, and the boys covered news. Even in the art department there were more girls than boys. And that’s what we called them then, girls and boys.” And how did she get the job? She had run into [reporter] Paul Hanenberg one morning and asked him if there were any openings at WWD. And he said ‘yes’ since the dress reporter had quit that morning. “When [fashion editor] Ruth Jacobs interviewed me, she asked me ‘What do you like about fashion? and I said ‘dresses.’ “I got the maternity, junior and women’s [large] size dress market. I was the second dress editor. I always called my job, ‘cheap dresses.”‘
Joan Juliet Buck, former editor in chief, French Vogue: “JBF and Michael Coady had heard that I was ‘wild,’ whatever that meant, but they hired me from British Vogue, where I’d been features editor, and they taught me to be a journalist: quick, wily, fearless on the phone.
“London was my town, I knew who the ex-wives were, who the hookers were; society there was easy, it was all about houses and parties. It was a silky time, all the men in satin Saint Laurent suits, the women fluffed up in Zandra Rhodes improbabilities at night, everyone drunk and stoned and giddy.
“August decorators received me in grand rooms where I learned to write down everything I saw while the tape was running. I watched Tony Snowdon trying to inveigle Denise Thyssen into giving her massive diamond ring to charity at the Pied Piper Ball (no luck, she claimed it wasn’t hers) and got into trouble every week by quoting what people had said. “But then there was Rome. “My boyfriend was an Austro-Bulgarian fabric designer who was also a weight lifter, which JBF thought was hysterically funny. The boyfriend wanted to move back to Rome, so I got the Rome job. I neglected to mention that I couldn’t speak Italian. The office was in the apartment we rented. The oil crisis had just hit, there were riots every evening, great clouds of tear gas rolling down the cobbled streets, and you could only drive your car on alternate days. Paul Getty Junior was kidnapped, and returned minus one ear, the ear having been sent along ahead of time. The mess gave me time to learn Italian from comic books, the communist evening newspaper and movies. Fashion in Italy at the time was a by-product of tourism: Only Missoni, Krizia and Walter Albini made great-looking ready-to-wear, but Karl Lagerfeld was already designing for Fendi. Rome was the graveyard of the Dolce Vita, with so little energy that you had to take naps just to keep awake. The couture designers had implausible names — Tiziani, an American who was Elizabeth Taylor’s favorite, (even in 1974 this wasn’t cutting edge); Lancetti, whose collection I once called Yvonne The Terrible; Princess Irene Galitzine, whose husband was a Medici. Designers entered competitions to do military uniforms for creepy Middle Eastern countries; you saw mink coats lined in mink, lodens lined in chinchilla, and the evening gowns were above and beyond bonanza. Valentino was the star, and his shows were gala events at night, with feral aristocrats of all sexes and a very prim Audrey Hepburn. He designed Diana Ross’s wardrobe for ‘Mahogany,’ but she rejected everything and did the costumes herself, much to his astonishment.
“There were dinner parties of unimaginable luxury where Gore Vidal would hold forth brilliantly to people whose grasp of English was random at best. It was the time of terrorism: The Red Brigades had everyone terrified.You’d be picked up for dinner by your date in a tiny Fiat 500, where you’d have to sit in the back because the driver and the armed bodyguard sat in the front. I dined with Gianni Bulgari the night before he was kidnapped. June Weir would let me write about strikes and massacres, but Etta Froio disapproved, and Michael Coady thought I was getting a little overwrought about the Italian political situation. He’d counter my dramatic reports with stern orders: ‘Call Gina Lollobrigida and ask her if she’s had plastic surgery, just do it!’ After stage fright and soul-searching, I did it, badly. Oddly, she wouldn’t confirm anything.
“It was before faxes and before Fedex. Telexes came through at Radio Stampa, a central communications office, which was crawling with spies. The operator would call me at the apartment and read me the telex, which always began with my name: Buck. Or in telex-operator speak, Bologna Udine Como Kursaal. The message, ‘Do previews couture,’ would come out: ‘Domodossola Otranto Palermo Roma Empoli Verona Imola Doppio Vuu Savona Como Otranto Udine +’ If the message was long, I’d tell them to hold it, put my shoes back on, do the 20-minute run across the pedestrian center of old Rome, pickup the telex, run home, type up the answer, run back … The pouches with photos and long text had to be given to a man around the corner, for whom courier service was a very special favor he did only for young women who had several cups of coffee with him at 7 a.m. During collection time, I moved into the Hotel De La Ville to have access to telexes and wrote vicious little reviews all alone over my Olivetti at 2 a.m. I was only 25.
“Something in the air in Italy got to me. My 2 1/2 years at Women’s Wear and W changed my life forever.”
Constance C.R. White, fashion journalist: “I was watching one of those torpid collections where fashion insiders barely stifle their yawns, when a long-legged retailer, in a rare display of public candor said aloud what everyone was thinking: She’d rather be home having dinner. Spying my notebook as I wrote her comment down, this wickedly astute woman offered to buy my silence with an even better scoop. But what could be better than a retailer publicly berating a disastrous collection?
“I trusted her, so I promised to hear her out. Finding a quiet spot together after the show, she said, ‘Ivana Trump is starting her own fashion collection. She told me herself.’ But would she tell me?
“Oh, you can scoff now and say so what? But back then, this was major stuff. Remember that this was a woman to whom Oprah devoted a whole show — this was a woman whose marital woes made ’20/20.’ Ivana was at the show and I immediately ran to find her outside. About to step into her limousine — a vision in beige (this was post surgery) — as paparazzi flashbulbs popped all around her. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘I’m going to do my own collection and jewelry, handbags, shoes, sheets, dog collars…’
“I ran/speed walked back to the newsroom. It was already late, after 6 o’clock, and I knew Patrick McCarthy would want to get this into the next day’s paper. It could be a fashion story picked up by media all over the world.
“Back at the newsroom and out of breath, I whispered to Donna Bulseco what I had. She urged me to approach the throne area (where Patrick McCarthy, Mr. Fairchild, Michael Coady and Etta Froio) sat. Patrick had me tell him everything I knew, I think four times. I wrote it up. He edited it and then bellowed across the newsroom to the copy desk what is still one of my favorite headlines of all time: ‘ivana be a designer.”‘
Martin Gottfried, author and critic: “The glamourous life of a Broadway drama critic was going to be denied me, and just as I was about to move up from covering off-Broadway. John Fairchild, the new publisher of WWD, had decided that there would be no more reviews because, he said, the society ladies had told him that theater was out, and movies were in.
“Noticing John’s father, the patrician L.W. Fairchild, waiting in the lobby, I stepped into the elevator with him, took a deep breath, and pressed the emergency stop button. Then I gave a speech on the importance of reviews in his newspaper. L.W. was unruffled. Patricians are that way. He said he didn’t know that his son was dropping stage reviews and after suggesting that I let the elevator proceed, he led me by the elbow to John Fairchild’s desk. It didn’t seem as if he had any trouble convincing his son to reconsider the policy.
“John asked me to give him a review of the movie, Lawrence of Arabia. I went to see it that evening, frozen by nerves until I noticed the marquee of one of the pornographic movies on 42nd Street, where the smut was so innocent in those days. My nervousness evaporated as I burst out laughing at the title, Around The World With Nothing On, and I strolled off to see Lawrence of Arabia.
“The next morning, I turned in the review and within hours the job was mine. Never before, surely, had anyone auditioned for theater critic by writing a movie review, but that didn’t matter to me. A few weeks earlier, I’d bought a ticket for the musical, Little Me, sitting in the last row of the balcony. Suddenly I found myself opening an envelope with free tickets to see the new musical Oliver! Two seats in row H, on the aisle.”
Nancy Collins, writer and television reporter: “Women’s Wear Daily was definitely my West Point. You showed up a young rookie with no experience and they put you through a short basic training with Mort [Sheinman], Michael [Coady] and John [Fairchild], and they threw you into the field and said ‘Go get ’em.’ “The most important aspect of working at WWD was the policy of ‘No Excuses.’ If they sent you out on a story, they expected you to come back with one. “I remember covering the Tall Ships for the Bicentennial for WWD and W. I was sent out to cover their arrival, along with every other known press person in captivity, including the New York Times — which had a sizable budget for this effort. I had none. Nevertheless, I was expected to file the same reportage as my colleagues. This led me to befriend the Times correspondent Nan Robertson, and convince her into taking me out on their boat to cover my story. “Another instance was when I first arrived at WWD, one of my assignments was to cover a reception Mrs. Onassis was to attend. At that time, no one was more daunting than Jackie O. I dutifully followed her around the entire evening, writing down everything she said, every person she talked to. The next morning, Mr. Fairchild danced up to my desk to ask about the party.
“He said, ‘Was Jackie there?’
“I said, ‘Yes.’
He said, ‘Great. What did she have to say?’
‘Nothing — to me,’ I replied. ‘I didn’t actually talk to her, but I wrote down everything she did.’
‘You didn’t talk to her?’ Mr. Fairchild seemed horrified. ‘Then what was the point of going? You must always talk to Jackie O. Never come back without having spoken to Jackie.’
“And I didn’t. His point has lasted me my entire career, that is, no matter what god it is, you are there to talk to them, bring back quotes, conversation.”
Alev Aktar, news fashion and beauty editor, New York Daily News: “Mr. Fairchild always wanted to be a doctor, or so the story goes, and secretly loved it when an employee developed a medical problem — that way, he could participate in their treatment. My former boss, Pete Born, told me that after he shattered his hip, Mr. Fairchild would wait for him to get back from the doctor so that he could examine the X-rays. Still, it came as somewhat of a shock when, at the end of fashion week in Paris, Mr. Fairchild called the editorial staff together and announced, in a loud, thrilled voice that we had all been exposed to bacterial meningitis. ‘It can be fatal so you might want to call your doctors,’ he added gleefully. Turns out that someone he had lunch with had been in the same room as a fashion person who had just died of the disease.
“Everyone freaked out and started dialing. The French doctors said not to worry — the threat of death was three people removed from us. Then we realized we were being stupid: French doctors don’t know what they’re doing! Several reporters put in calls to internists in New York, where they have a handle on modern medicine. “Half the people in the office took antibiotics as a preventative measure, and no one died. But even during the hysteria, we couldn’t help but laugh about how excited Mr. Fairchild was in the face of a medical emergency.”
Jeffrey Trachtenberg, author and news editor, Wall Street Journal: “Mr. Fairchild loomed large in the daily life of WWD reporters during the late 1970s. He rarely sat still, preferring to march back and forth across the newsroom on East 12th Street, waving his hands and offering advice. Shortly before putting someone in their place, he would complain they were getting ‘grand.’ He liked feuds and gossip.
“He once got hold of the blueprints for a house Jackie Onassis was building. When Mr. Fairchild said he was publishing them in W, I piped up and said it was an invasion of her privacy. ‘No,’ he said. ‘If we don’t do this, somebody else will.’ It turned out Newsweek had a similar spread in the works. That’s how I learned you never sit on news.
“Sometimes people took him too seriously. On my way out the door to cover a party one evening, he warned me to avoid Frank Sinatra, gleefully announcing that the singer hated us. I’d only been at the paper a couple of months and didn’t know better. Twenty minutes later, I stepped into an elevator on my way up to the event. The sole occupant was Mr. Sinatra…and I didn’t utter a word. I’ve regretted it ever since. “
Andy Port, deputy style editor, New York Times Magazine: “My most vivid memory? Probably listening to Andre Leon Talley talk to Karl Lagerfeld on the telephone. Part of it was a little hair-raising. He was pretty loud. He wanted us all to know.”
Kevin Doyle, media developer and consultant: “I realized there was something a little different about the WWD universe the first time I visited the legendary Paris bureau, an attic lair in the Rue Cambon, next door to Chanel. As I got off the elevator, I was confronted with the vision — there is nothing else to call it — of a very attractive young woman striding purposefully toward me in a full, shocking pink toreador outfit — complete with an authentic two-cornered astrakhan on her head. She passed by me as if I were some particularly unworthy head of cattle, and got on the elevator. When I got to the office, I found out that it had been Marian McEvoy, the bureau chief, headed out onto the fashion beat on a damp, gray morning.
“The experience clearly inspired more than traumatized me, because eventually, I got to spend some time working for WWD in Paris myself. In March 1994, the buzz was all about Robert Altman and his fashion film, Pret-a-Porter, which he was shooting in faux-documentary style at and around the collections. The first defile where he set up his cameras was Christian Lacroix. Mr. Fairchild and I took our seats and looked around to spot the actors who’d infiltrated the room, costumed in fashionista mufti. Here was Kim Basinger, over there Lauren Bacall, in the back Lyle Lovett and Danny Aiello. Suddenly, the random energy of the room focused on the statuesque figure of a woman in an elegant navy suit and white polka dot blouse, wearing an enormous veiled hat that obscured her face, being ushered ceremoniously to the aisle seat right next to me. It was Sophia Loren, in full goddess mode, dressed for her starring role in the movie.
“I was dumbstruck — but not for long, because Mr. Fairchild, always fixated on ‘bringing home the bacon’ for WWD’s readers, was prodding me in the ribs, with the command, ‘Talk to her!’ So I got down under the hat with La Loren to quiz her on the movie shoot. She said it was quite chaotic and she really didn’t know what she was supposed to be doing, but probably shouldn’t be talking to me out of character since she, like all the other actors, was miked. What was she wearing? ‘Giancarlo [sic] Ferre for Dior.’ As I tried to think of something clever to ask, another prod in the ribs. ‘Ask her whose hat that is!’ The man never took his eye off the ball. ‘It must be a Jean Barthet! Ask her!’ I did, and naturally, Mr. Fairchild was right. It all went into the copy, and you can be sure Lacroix’s show got a lot of ink that day, though not much of it was about his clothes.
“Working for WWD, especially during the collections, always involved an intense brand of team spirit. I recall the aftermath of one review of a very important designer. It was not a positive review; in fact, we had spoofed the excesses which had made it a somewhat silly showing. The morning it came out, the phone rang bright and early. It was the designer’s powerful business partner on the line. He gave me every kind of hell, howling and threatening dire consequences. Of course, this happens all the time, and I was used to it, but still I was startled by the belligerence of the call, and concerned about the fallout. Was this the start of another ‘fashion war’? When Mr. Fairchild came into the office a few minutes later, I recounted the episode. Without hesitation, he demanded we get the designer’s head PR, a savvy and connected Paris lady, on the phone. ‘Listen,’ he said to her, using language saltier than I will repeat here, ‘You tell those miserable little dressmakers you work for that if they ever dare speak to any of my people like that again, I will fry their giblets in olive oil!’ By dinnertime that evening, all was sweetness and cheek-kissing again.”
June Weir, fashion writer: “I took a trip to Brazil in the Seventies. It was on that trip that I discovered ‘the string.’ I was on the beaches of Ipanema and had a sports photographer who was Brazilian. We didn’t have to get too close to the girls if they didn’t want to be photographed. What we got was terrific. I showed these to John [Fairchild] and said ‘they’re bra tops and just little bits of fabric held together with strings.’ ‘That’s it,’ he said. ‘We’re going to call it ‘The String.’
“It hit the front pages of Women’s Wear and it was an overnight sensation.
“Another memory was that Rose Kennedy had really been very upset with Women’s Wear when we were covering Jackie down in Mexico after the assassination. She called Mr. [James] Brady and said she didn’t want John-John and young Caroline reading things about their mother. He promised to call off the search if she [Rose] gave us the first interview. I was down in Washington when I got a call from Jim. Mrs. [Rose] Kennedy gave the OK to do this interview. We did the interview by telephone, while Bobby Kennedy was campaigning in Indiana. We talked about the campaign, and that the Kennedys were using a private plane to take him around, and she said, ‘After all, it’s our money.’ I wrote the story and the next day it appeared on the front page of Women’s Wear. We were having our morning meeting in John’s office, when someone came in and said, ‘June, there’s a telephone call for you from Hyannisport.’
“She said, ‘This is Rose Kennedy. Now listen, we’ve been talking about that story I did with you. The family really thinks it’s not right to say anything about the money.’
“‘It’s already in the today’s paper,’ I said. ‘It’s what???’ she said. ‘It’s a daily newspaper,’ I said. Dead silence. ‘Read it to me,’ she said. I read her quote that ‘it’s our money and we have every right to use it.’ Dead silence. She said, ‘I never should have said that.’ And I said, “But Mrs. Kennedy, it is your money.’ She said, ‘You don’t understand how the political people will go after it.’
“That afternoon it was all over the papers and wire services. It was in the heat of the campaign. It just really became a major thing. In her autobiography, Rose Kennedy said that the only mistake she ever made talking to the press was when she was talking to Women’s Wear Daily.”
Lisa Anderson, New York bureau chief, Chicago Tribune: “Among the many lessons I learned during my time at WWD (1976-1983), two have stood me in particularly good stead over the years and both came from John Fairchild. With his very astute eye, he taught all of us to ‘see’ in a way that discerns quality, whether in a person, a lifestyle or a room setting. With his distaste for pretension, he taught us to be fearless reporters, particularly when it came to what he wryly called the ‘grand’ people. These have been invaluable lessons, whether I’m covering politics, cultural trends or warfare — all of which, as it turns out, have a lot in common with the fashion world.”
Ed Gold, freelance journalist: “We had a nice guy who was city editor, but he was kind of careless. One of the rules we had was that all copy went through his desk. It went upstairs and it came back in galley form and eventually it wound up back at his desk.
“So we’re having a discussion about how alert he is, and the feeling is that he wasn’t that alert. So we drafted a one-paragraph story that said this city editor was working at his desk when he suddenly dropped dead of a heart attack and sent it to him to edit.
“Late in the afternoon, we hear a big yell. It’s the city editor. He got the galley back that said he died. He had sent it up, and they just set it in linotype. He started screaming, ‘Who did this?’
“Of course, we never told him.”
Glynis Costin, West Coast bureau chief, In Style: “My second day on the job as bureau chief for W and WWD in Milan, Patrick McCarthy informed me that I had to go to the design houses of Giorgio Armani and Gianni Versace, talk to them about their respective spring collections and oversee the photo shoot of outfits from said collections. ‘Spring previews’ we called it. Mind you, I barely spoke a word of Italian at that point and to this day I have NO idea what I actually said to Armani OR Versace. It could have been ‘Hi, my name is how clothes you silhouette are fine nice,’ for all I know. But they were both very nice and somehow I managed to get what I needed. What I DO remember is my first impressions of both of those venerable houses of fashion. It was my introduction to the extremes of the operatic drama that Italian fashion and its players live out every day.
“Armani’s palazzo was like being in fashion church. If there were such things as fashion angels, they would have been singing — it was so quiet and ethereal and clean and modern and minimalist — from the chic clothes to the sleek decor. And Armani himself fit right in — I remember him running into the camera’s view to remove a thread from the carpet that was invisible to everyone else. He was, and is, that much of a perfectionist.
“And then there was the house of Versace. It was a big, boisterous, colorful circus of a villa with children running around and maids scurrying and dogs frolicking and supermodels smoking all amidst neoclassical statues, marble floors and animal-print miniskirts. And there at the center of it all was Donatella shouting at Gianni that ‘the skirts needed to be shorter’ and Gianni laughing and telling her they looked more like belts.
“That was my wham-bam introduction to the world of Italian fashion through WWD’s eyes and I will never forget it.”
Allan Mottus, beauty industry consultant: “In 1971, I was assigned by Jim Brady to cover Revlon’s annual stockholders’ meeting. At that time, WWD covered the cosmetics industry only from a fashion perspective. Not knowing the business, Brady gave me a list of questions he pulled from the Gallagher Report that were particularly cutting about Revlon and Charles Revson.
“After the meeting, I introduced myself to Revson and asked those questions. He looked at me as if I had two heads, turned his back and shrugged. I came back to the newsroom and wrote the story, repeating the questions with ‘no comments’ as the reply. Shortly after, John Fairchild came over and told me that Revson wanted me fired, but he’d back me as long as I was right. I decided to call Revson and make an appointment to introduce myself and tell him that if he wanted me fired, call me first. I never had a problem after that.
“In November 1972, I heard that packaged goods marketer Norton Simon Inc. was in talks to buy Max Factor. It was on a Friday and I didn’t dare call to ask anyone there if those reports were true because if they were, the New York Times would scoop me Saturday. City editor Si Lippa and I decided to wait until Tuesday to call because that was also the day of the presidential elections. That Wednesday the story ran, and it was a clear scoop on page one. Trading in both New York Stock Exchange companies was halted. John Sias, Fairchild’s president, came to the third floor news room and told me that Norton Simon ceo David Mahoney called Capitol Cities’ ceo to complain. I was told that I better be right, but later that day after the story was confirmed, Sias gave me a $35 raise.”
Jon Auerbach, assistant managing editor, New York Post: “It was a cold Sunday afternoon, and I was getting together with a bunch of friends to watch a special game between the Giants and the Cowboys to see who would advance into the playoffs. Early into the game, I got a call from my wife to call the office (this was before cell phones and beepers were attached to everyone’s hip). Federated had launched an unsolicited merger offer for Macy’s, and the desk was wondering if I could get any more on it. I said sure, and yelled over to one of the guys in the room, who happened to be part of Macy’s bankruptcy team. As it turned out, we informed them what was going on, and we both scampered off to our respective offices. Today, I couldn’t tell you who won the game because I missed the end, but we did score the story.”