Legendary Women’s Wear Daily Editor John B. Fairchild Dies

by Harry Sheff

Women’s Wear Daily reported this morning that John B. Fairchild, its legendary editor from 1960 to 1997 and head of Fairchild Publications, has died at the age of 87. Fairchild was an extremely powerful force in the fashion business who made—and perhaps broke—careers and permanently changed the way fashion was covered in the media.

Fairchild’s grandfather founded the family’s publishing empire in 1891 and launched Women’s Wear Daily (WWD) in 1910.

John Fairchild worked briefly in retail, for J.L. Hudson in Detroit before his family sent him to Paris in 1955 to work at WWD’s Europe headquarters as bureau chief and it was there that he cultivated his combative style. In 1960 he went back to New York as editor of WWD and gave the staff the mandate that the paper would change: more controversy, gossip, lifestyle profiles of designers, coverage of “Ladies who Lunch” (a phrase he’s credited with inventing) the infamous “In and Out” list.

“You have to be controversial in fashion because, basically, it’s a bunch of blah blah,” Fairchild once said. “Controversy makes it lively.”

He started W magazine in 1972 as a consumer spin-off of WWD (W remains under Conde Nast ownership; it was not part of Penske’s acquisition of WWD last August) and started writing snarky columns under the name Countess Louise J. Esterhazy.
James Brady, writing in New York Magazine in 1980, called his former boss, “A curious mélange of mischievous little boy, traveled sophisticate, Wasp snob, brilliantly innovative editor, competent if mechanical skier, compulsive yenta, political naïf, muddled conversationalist, and crisply incisive writer—a heterosexual who instinctively understands a business traditionally dominated by homosexuals and women—he is the most feared, respected, detested, and flattered figure in the glamorously paranoid realm of world-class fashion.”

Fairchild battled with many designers, including Giorgio Armani, Yves Saint Laurent and Bill Blass, but most famously with Geoffrey Beene. The feud with Beene began in the late ’60s when WWD asked him to reveal his design for President Johnson’s daughter’s wedding dress. Beene was banned from WWD by Fairchild on and off for most of his career for various things.

Stanley Marcus, the former chairman of Neiman Marcus, wrote in a 1988 editorial about Fairchild’s feuds with designers in the Dallas Morning News, “Fairchild is a despotic publisher, and any designer, manufacturer, or retailer who incurs his disfavor is punished by being sent into fashion Coventry. […] This sentence can last a lifetime, or it may be suspended after several years by this pompous self-appointed dictator. Seventh Avenue designers bow to his whims; retailers from coast to coast cave in to his demands for first news breaks.”

Fairchild retired in 1997 when he turned 70 but he remained a contributing editor.