John Burr Fairchild, who turned a family owned bread and butter garment center trade publication, Women’s Wear Daily, into a fashion powerhouse, passed away last week at 87 years of age.
John completely understood the business of publishing. His father, Lewis Fairchild, drummed circulation, advertising and administration into him. His father had no need to school John in journalism; he had spawned an editorial genius.
Rarely has a man’s talents and interests been so perfectly synchronized with John’s innate journalistic abilities, his love for fashion and those who practiced it, as well as his incredible fashion instincts, all married to pitch perfect taste. He was, without question, simply the best fashion editor there ever was in the time, of his time, and maybe for all time. No one even came close during his reign at Women’s Wear Daily and W. And no one has come close since. Legendary Vogue Editor, Diana Vreeland, walked in the same rarified atmosphere, but lacked all of those other skills that John possessed combined with the right vehicle to exploit them.
John’s, and therefore WWD’s/W’s power, came from the fact that he knew how clothes should be made, the right fabric choices, and the use of color in fashion– few designers had his mastery of blending colors. That’s why he loved Yves Saint Laurent who designed his own fabrics in virtually any style, could mix colors better than any designer, and cut clothes to perfection.
Designers feared John Fairchild because they knew he knew what a well-cut dress or suit should be; what colors worked together, and whether the end result was in the best taste of the season. Moreover, the designers knew that other designers, as well as retailers, knew that his words carried the weight of “as close to genius” as one could find in the fashion world. They wanted his blessing and feared he would judge them as coming up short.
I worked closely with John, more closely than anyone else from 1971 until 1997. I was editor of WWD and the first editor of W, as well as CEO of Fairchild Publications. I remember when Stuart Elliott of The New York Times was interviewing us and asked how we worked together. I said we had a “pilot/co-pilot relationship. John set the course, and sometimes he flew the plane and sometimes I did.” John then looked over at me and said, “That is so boring.” He looked at Stuart and said, “We are two mad monks stirring up a witches brew.” The reporter looked at us and didn’t know what to say. John was delighted with his quote and after the reporter left, said, ”Mine was much better than yours.” I said, “Yes it was, but I hope he uses mine.” In the end he left out both our quotes.
John was always witty and the smallest things about the fashion and the fashion world amused him to no end. It is his silly side that gets written about so often; his teasing of fashion celebrities with nicknames, his feuds with designers, and his “In and Out” lists about virtually anything, while all the serious stuff about him got overlooked.
He understood marketing, and in particular, how to sell a story. It drove him crazy when editors would come upon a potentially important story and would produce a short piece with no pop. He would say the poor boy or girl wouldn’t know a story if it hit him or her in the face. Or more often he would say, “The poor thing just doesn’t have any taste.” That was about the worst thing he could say about anyone. In his world, the best taste was reserved for the highest order of beings. And in John’s opinion, many well-known celebrities, and that included many well-known designers, lacked that highest of all virtues.
Don’t forget. John Fairchild did know.