Former Women’s Wear Daily textiles editor On-Ke Wilde died Monday at the age of 79.
She died of respiratory failure in her New York apartment, according to her daughter, Siobhan Wilde.
Wilde was born in Yakima, Wash., and grew up in Portland, Ore. But the Northwest’s near-constant cloud cover didn’t agree with her, so she headed East to get her MFA thanks to a painting scholarship she earned through The New School’s Parsons School of Design. Her undergraduate days were spent at Portland State University.
While her mother was a teacher and her father worked at a bank, Wilde and her three siblings took to painting and in one case drawing. (Her younger brother Yeu Bun joined her in Manhattan, after earning the same art scholarship that she had.) Living in Paris in the late Sixties, she met her husband James, a foreign correspondent for Time magazine, on a blind date.
“He proposed to her the next day, but they didn’t get married until a month later,” their daughter said with a laugh. “Of course, I thought that was perfectly normal while growing up. Then I realized how crazy they were.”
After school she had worked for a stint at WWD before moving to Paris. Once married, the couple lived in Kenya, Montreal, Rome and San Francisco before returning to New York in the Seventies. From 1978 through 1984, Wilde covered textiles for WWD. In the late Eighties, she and her husband returned to Kenya for a period. Overseas her working life had been more limited to setting up the occasional photo shoot, such as one at the Karen Blixen Museum at the foot of the Ngong Hills, and one in Rome.
In 1991, Wilde’s husband convinced Time to open the first Istanbul bureau of a major U.S. publication and took up his post there. Looking to retire there, he and his wife bought and restored a building in Cihangir and decorated it with the art and memorabilia they had amassed from their years of travels. They later lived in Rome as well.
After her husband died in 2008, Wilde returned to New York, going to the opera, taking drawing classes and visiting exhibitions. “She kind of had that life that you think you’re going to have, when you’re in New York. But the reality is you’re so busy working that you only read about the things that are happening. But she was actually out doing them,” her daughter said. “It was pretty ideal.”
Wilde also continued to travel to Turkey, where her daughter and her own family now live on a chicken farm in Antalya. Siobhan Wilde said, “That was kind of her escape. She would come out to depressurize a little bit in Turkey. But inevitably it would be too boring for her so she would come back to New York.”
Not one to ever leave her front door without looking pulled together, Wilde was more recognizable by many for her infectious laugh and enthusiasm. “There’s that Don Marquis poem ‘Takes Talent’ that refers to the two types of people in this world. One kind of person could tell you the secret of the universe and you would be bored to death. The other kind of person could tell you they had just bought 10 cents worth of napkins and you would be amazed and astonished,” Wilde said. “She could make anything exciting — even a plastic fork.”
Recalling how her mother wanted to listen to “Liebestod from ‘Tristan und Isolde’” after receiving headphones recently, Siobhan Wilde said of the aria, “It is the most devastating thing. She could listen to it every single day because she was not afraid of emotions at all. She drove straight into them.
“She used to tell me how great it was to be in love, and how the pain of being in love was so wonderful. Once I realized what she was talking about, I thought, ‘This is terrible — I’m so unhappy,’” her daughter said. “She was absolutely fearless.”