LETTER FROM THE CHAIRMAN
Byline: Patrick McCarthy
When any publication puts together an anniversary issue, the logical first step is to pore through old issues and find the major stories that ran in its pages. For WWD, which is celebrating 90 years of daily publication, that digging led to some surprising discoveries. Amid the interviews with Christian Dior, Coco Chanel and Eleanor Roosevelt, we discovered that the paper had a fashion editor on the Titanic when it went down in 1912. Unlike Leonardo, however, our editor managed to scramble onto a lifeboat and file a story, highlighting, of course, the number of important American retailers who were also aboard the ship as well as what some of the more stylish women were wearing when the giant ship went down. “Lady Duff Gordon made her escape in a very charming lavender bathrobe, very beautifully embroidered, together with a very pretty blue veil,” she reported.
We also had a correspondent in Germany during the rise of Hitler, who wrote about the devastating effect of Naziism on the retail business and its Jewish leaders. “Nazi enthusiasts are, for the most part, young men without employment and amok with power, brown-shirted, leather-legged and generally obnoxious in manner of approach,” our reporter wrote from Berlin in early 1933. “Without authority, other than the influence of Hitler’s seizure of power, they have been smashing windows of the big stores here and elsewhere in Germany, maltreated customers, ransacked uni-price stores, which they condemn as enemies of small, independent retailers and have, in effect, hurried to the nearest frontiers money-spending tourists….” Narrowly focused, you might say, but also appropriate given the nature of WWD’s mandate.
The inevitable next step in any retrospective is to look at the writers, editors and photographers who have worked for the paper. Unfortunately, the Titanic correspondent is long gone, but a number of veterans are alive and kicking — and working away throughout the field of journalism. In fact, the list of alumni is one of the most impressive things about WWD U and includes everyone from photographer Steven Meisel and New York Times drama critic Ben Brantley to Elsa Klensch and Calvin Klein. Calvin, fresh out of school, was actually a copy boy in the art department and remembers being too frightened of certain editors to actually deliver his copy. He stayed only four months. Others, like Meisel, who started as a fashion illustrator, lasted a little longer and left only when they decided to switch publications — or, in his case, professions. It is lore around here, in fact, that when Meisel expressed interest in becoming a staff photographer, the then-art director advised against it and predicted he wouldn’t have much of a future.
In assembling this issue, we found the alumni so fascinating that we decided to devote a major section to their memories of working here. Contributors include James Brady, the novelist and Advertising Age columnist; Amy Spindler, the style editor of the New York Times Magazine; Andre Leon Talley, editor at large of Vogue; Bill Cunningham, the New York Times photographer; Marian McEvoy, editor in chief of House Beautiful, as well as Brantley, Klensch and Klein.
Last, but certainly not least, we also have a Q&A, conducted by our London Bureau chief, James Fallon, with John B. Fairchild, this company’s former chairman and probably the greatest fashion journalist of our time. When he took over WWD in 1960, it was a sleepy trade newspaper that was long on business news, but short on excitement. Within a few months, he changed all that, and WWD became the paper that people in and out of the fashion world had to read, whether they liked it or not. “We were looking for people who made the world tick,” he says. “All the other coverage then was just an endless description of clothes. Nothing to me is more boring than that! After all, they’re just body coverings. It’s much more interesting if you write about the people who create the clothes and who wear them.”
That philosophy led to the creation of our sister publication, W, in 1972. It also provided the lifeblood that still runs through our veins here at WWD. The world of fashion has undergone momentous changes over the last 90 years — even over the last 10 years, in fact — but the need to stay informed is still of paramount importance. So is having fun. And without fun — and what can be more fun than covering the people who “tick” — what is the whole point of fashion, anyway?