THE EARLY YEARS
E.W. AND L.E. FAIRCHILD FOUND OPPORTUNITY IN A THRIVING INDUSTRY AND A CHANGING SOCIETY.
Byline: Eric Wilson
“There is probably no other line of human endeavor in which there is so much change as in the product that womankind wears.”
This was among the first sentences published in the debut issue of Women’s Wear in June 1910, explaining the need for a newspaper dedicated to the retail and wholesale trade of women’s apparel.
Whatever can be said about the evolution of the product over the past nine decades has probably been reported within the pages of Women’s Wear Daily. Change has come fast and furiously to an industry that in this nation grew in unwieldy and sometimes ungainly ways, as manufacturers took advantage of the increasing pools of immigrants in the early part of the 20th century, influencing simultaneously the rise of sweatshop labor and the move to unionize workers with the foundations of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union in 1900. After 1885, the textile and garment trades had grown quickly, faster than any other industry in the nation’s biggest cities, with more than 15,000 shops in New York alone making women’s clothes by the dawn of World War I.
Changes affecting the apparel industry often influenced changes within Fairchild Publications, as it did in precipitating a need for Women’s Wear at what seems like an appropriate moment in history, when women began to make headway in the cause for equal rights and finally achieved success in the suffrage movement in 1919. It was also one of the most revolutionary periods in fashion, as an ideal beauty standard of maturity gave way to one of youthfulness and, as propriety faced off with practicality, the details of history had found a champion in this newspaper.
In 1890, Edmund Wade Fairchild, who had worked as a kid on Wall Street, then made his way to Chigago, selling soaps and yeast to grocery stores and living in a boarding house, acquired an interest in the Chicago Herald Gazette, a trade paper in the men’s wear industry owned by John Waldo. E.W. was joined by his brother, co-founder Louis E. Fairchild, and two years later, the company started distributing mimeographed sheets each day to businessmen, containing news of the Chicago World’s Fair, which was the inspiration for the modern day DNR.
The company had moved to New York around the turn of the century, publishing the Daily Trade Record, dedicated to news of the men’s wear industry, but a looming strike in the women’s cloak and dress industries inspired a weekly report on Women’s Wear, featured as a page in the Saturday editions of the Trade Record, beginning May 21, 1910. The next month, Women’s Wear was launched with the intention of being published quarterly, but became a daily tabloid-size afternoon paper, published six days a week, beginning with its second issue on July 13, 1910. It became Women’s Wear Daily on May 2, 1927.
The first stand-alone issue of Women’s Wear, then published by Fairchild’s Women’s Wear Co. at 42 East 21st Street with an annual subscription rate of 50 cents, was aimed to present its subscribers “a succinct epitomization of the most important happenings and events occurring in the women’s wear industry.” Its scope was to cover the factors between the mill and the merchant.
Thus, news of the day followed over four pages in the form of briefs from around the country, ranging from a report from Detroit about a new store opening to a New York story that detailed the results of a baseball game between the office and factory workers of Castle Braid Co. The wholesalers won, “and the day was wound up with dancing.” There was also a report on an editorial that had recently appeared in the New York Times, disparaging the latest spring trend in women’s hats, which was big. It included such protestations as “a woman wearing a big hat should be charged double fare in the subway,” and “it seems that the men must take concerted action to abate this menace to public comfort and safety.”
The vision of Women’s Wear focused on the trade so narrowly that in its early years, the paper often read as if it was written with blinders. In its pages was the distillation of statements and ideas from stores, manufacturers, designers and other newspapers as they related to fashion, with columns that detailed the reigning styles worn at the racetracks and balls of Saratoga, Longchamps and Auteuil. There were generous helpings of charts that listed the arrivals of buyers to New York from stores around the country, or reports on daily observations from the store windows of New York — all features that have evolved into modern elements of WWD through the Eye, retail and marketing beats.
Given the lack of photography, the reports carried plenty of details, sometimes bordering on the excruciating: R.H. Macy & Co. had a sale of black silk for dresses, while B. Altman & Co. showed silk embroidered hose with slippers to match on Jan. 12, 1911. John Wanamaker, on Sept. 26, 1913, showed a suit of peacock blue duvetyn: “The skirt is full at the top and falls in folds, forming a panel front; the jacket is made on straight lines and extends below the hipline; the corners are square; the sleeves are three-quarter length; the fronts close, but are finished with hems of mole which continue around the neck and form a collar; the sleeves are piped with mole; it is trimmed with a four-inch self-band which continues around the neck across the center-front, and finishes on the side seams at the waistline.”
But the Fairchild family instilled an important tradition as well, as echoed in founder Edmund W. Fairchild’s words of 1892, “Our salvation depends upon our printing the news.” In 1941, Louis W. Fairchild recalled to a staff meeting, that “our job is to disseminate information to the industry. Our job, as Mr. E. W. has often said, is simply to print on a piece of white paper the information and news of what happens in these industries every 24 hours. There is no magic or miracle about it. It is all work and planning and thinking.”
Women’s Wear had become an important part of the apparel trade, which by 1915 was the nation’s third largest — outranked only by steel and oil — and that change demanded a dedicated trade publication, as indicated in Women’s Wear’s reason for being:
“This brings about an enormous amount of traveling and the result is that important men in all departments of women’s wear are scattered everywhere over the earth’s surface and lose track of events and happenings, which it will be our purpose to try and chronicle as briefly as possible, so that these men can pick up and at a minimum of time and expense keep posted.”
By 1919, when the subscription price was raised from $3 to $6 per year, circulation had reached a peak of 14,238 of these “important men.” The paper’s first decade was also one of dramatic change for the nation, with its events and their relation to the industry chronicled in Women’s Wear: domestic labor unrest and the devastating effects of the 1910 strike, which lasted six weeks and was estimated to have cost the industry $150 million at the time; the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in 1911, which gave impetus for unionized labor and legislation to protect workers; the sinkings of the Titanic in 1912 and the Lusitania in 1915 and the events of World War I.
The first major story covered in Women’s Wear coincided with its launch in July 1910, with the start of the “Great Revolt” in which the union led 60,000 apparel workers on a strike that lasted until September, leading to a deal that set up grievance machinery and sanitary controls and established a 54-hour week. While the paper focused on the strike for much of that summer, from the reported accords to the attempted assassination of New York City Mayor William J. Gaynor, it also included incidents as random as that of a horse that was frightened by an automobile and plunged through a window of a McCreery’s store on Fifth Avenue, badly hurting itself and damaging a display of imported gowns.
From its start, Women’s Wear also considered the news of fashion trends, whether it was a “craze for black” in Paris or the social ramifications of the hobble skirt. Folvary, one of the leading Parisian designers, said, “It is doomed. This style has been too daring, too eccentric to last long. Its inconvenience and its extraordinary popularity among the middle class and cheap makers have killed it.” Even Pope Pius X weighed in on the subject, quoted by a Rome dispatch as having requested all bishops to publish pastoral letters disapproving the prevailing feminine fashions.
Within months, Women’s Wear began incorporating reviews of Broadway performances, particularly keen on what the stars wore. The musical comedy prima donna Louise Dresser was quoted on how a woman who is “fair and fat” should dress, saying she “should shun everything but solid colors. Figured fabrics are not for her. Even stripes are not for her, for they challenge attention to her bulk.” The actress Lillian Russell said that American women were victimized and laughed at by Paris dressmakers and responded by saying, “There is no such thing as style. A woman should be a law unto herself, and if she lacks the taste to choose her frocks, she should get an artistic dressmaker to do it for her.”
The concept of American design had just been born, and with the absence of a recognizable name of the scale of the Parisians, Women’s Wear covered the struggles and perceptions of designers from both sides of the ocean. There are arguments and cases made even in the Teens, which parallel many of the debates made by fashion pundits today, as they weighed the importance of designers in New York, London, Milan and Paris.
As early as 1910, the National Ladies’ Tailors’ Association called for a concerted effort to promote domestic talent and for designers to create their own fashions, rather than copy the Parisian collections. “What have they in France?” asked A.M. Grean, the association’s president, in an unusually candid interview. “A handful of aristocrats — the rest bourgeois, content with one Sunday suit a year. What have they in Italy? Another handful of aristocrats, the rest beggars and wine pressers.”
The debate continued, with an article quoting Mrs. Jack Gauraud, a prominent New York socialite, who felt that American women, as a whole, dressed better than the French, but said, “In spite of all of our patriotic boasting to the contrary, American dressmakers cannot approach French dressmakers in skill. I don’t think they ever will. The French temperament expresses itself in chiffons. We pro-sale, practical Americans lack the delicacy of touch to translate airy fabrics into poems.”
Also reflecting the interest in women’s changing place in American culture, a feature in November 1910 posited that American women’s figures were said to be growing more like those of men, citing John W. Alexander, a portrait painter and president of the National Academy of Design. He had said athletics had caused women to “develop a large, muscular waist and a large, heavy arm” and that their feet had become larger because “running, jumping, golfing, tennis and tramping are bound to have an effect on the feet, and so have such things on the hands.”
Dr. Dudley Allen Sargent of the Sargent and Harvard gymnasiums in Cambridge, Mass., was also quoted in the piece, backing up Alexander’s comments, but he later said he was misquoted, adding, “Is this the foolish season of the year, when the newspapers must send out to me men who would have me say what I do not believe and who write what I have not said?”
Such vanities have always been part of the news at Women’s Wear, along with a serious treatment of the day’s events. As the French designer Paul Poiret said during a presentation at the Horace Mann School in 1913, commenting on the developing analysis and importance of women’s attire, “Elegance and fashion have been the pastime of our ancestors, but now they take on the importance of a science.”
And as Women’s Wear concluded in its reason for being, “A knowledge of what has transpired is most important, and Women’s Wear will aim to do this.”
Women’s Wear makes its first appearance on May 21 as a page in the Saturday edition of the Daily Trade Record (today’s DNR). Although originally planned as a quarterly, Women’s Wear bows as a daily afternoon paper on July 13. Price: one cent.
The Women’s Wear Directory
In February, Fairchild Press publishes the first edition of the Women’s Wear Directory, an offshoot of the daily, providing readers with a listing of millinery and accessories makers. Edmund Wade Fairchild, who with Louis E. Fairchild founded the company, establishes a Paris bureau.
In January, Women’s Wear moves its operations from 42 East 21st Street to 822 Broadway at 12th Street. To make room for three new Linotype machines.
The First Magazine
On July 1, Fairchild begins publishing Women’s Wear Monthly twice a month for women’s specialty retailers and department stores. Two editions, one from New York and one from Chicago, cover the East and West of the U.S. The 18-year-old Edgar W.B. Fairchild, son of Louis E., joins the firm.
Enter L.W. Fairchild
During the Twenties, Fairchild employs about 180 paperboys to hand-deliver copies of the afternoon editions of Women’s Wear and Daily News Record in the developing garment district. Edmund Wade’s son Louis W. Fairchild joins the company. He eventually becomes chairman, a post he is to hold until 1966.
What’s in a Name?
On May 2, almost 17 years after its birth, Women’s Wear changes its name to Women’s Wear Daily.
On Feb. 11, Louis W. Fairchild is named president of the company, succeeding his uncle Louis E. Fairchild.
In December, Fairchild installs a 225-ton, $600,000 Scott press in the basement of its building on 12th Street, a step that cuts printing time in half. It was needed. By the end of the decade, the paper is publishing up to 5,000 pages of news a year.
JBF Takes Over
L.W. Fairchild’s son, John B. Fairchild — who had been running WWD’s Paris bureau — comes back to New York as publisher. He makes significant changes in the paper’s focus, broadening its scope, sharpening its tone and adding new visual appeal.
A Capital Event
Capital Cities Broadcasting, then the owner of radio and television stations, acquires Fairchild. The family-owned company becomes part of a publicly owned media empire.
The Appearance of W
In April, the biweekly W is launched as a large-format color offshoot of WWD, repackaging fashion and features from the daily for a consumer audience.
In the Pictures
WWD redesigns: Instead of multiple elements, from now on, page ones are dominated by one large photograph.
WWD reporters and editors mothball their typewriters — some reluctantly — and enter the computer age. Fairchild parent Capital Cities acquires the American Broadcasting Co. WWD’s single-copy price hits $1.
A New Home
On March 29 — Good Friday — Fairchild moves to its current home, 7 West 34 Street, once the site of Ohrbach’s department store. On Oct. 9, the Suzy column, written by Aileen Mehle, makes its first appearance in WWD.
Mickey and Minnieskirts
On Feb. 9, The Walt Disney Co. completes its acquisition of Capital Cities/ABC Inc., making WWD part of its multimedia empire.
A Significant Departure
John B. Fairchild retires as chairman and editorial director of Fairchild on his 70th birthday. He will continue to write a column in W magazine under his nom de chic, Louise J. Esterhazy.
On Nov. 4, Advance Publications Inc., the publishing empire owned by the Newhouse family, acquires Fairchild Publications from Disney in a deal reportedly worth $650 million. The day the deal is announced, page one declares, “It’s a new day for the daily.”
2000 Another First
In April, WWD The Magazine is born. The twice-yearly publication provides exhaustive coverage of the runway shows from New York and Europe and is aimed not at the trade, but at a general audience as a response to growing public interest in fashion and those who make it happen.