John B. Fairchild Gone, but his writing model stays

John B. Fairchild, once the head of Women’s Wear Daily for 37 years, passed away on Friday February 27th at the age of 87. In 1960, after his dad retired from the family company, Fairchild Publications, Fairchild became the publisher and editor-in-chief at WWD. Fairchild was well-groomed for the position for he completed summer internships at WWD when he attended Kent – a boarding school in Connecticut. What came to be the most powerful man in the media, also gained experience from reporting for WWD in New York City and in Paris before his father summoned him back to the states. Fairchild covered the entire scope of Fairchild Publications; three dailies (WWD, Daily News Record and Home Furnishings Daily); four weeklies (Electronics News, Footwear News, Metalworking News and Supermarket News) and a monthly trade magazine (Men’s Wear). In 1972, Fairchild created W magazine. W magazine was a spinoff from WWD’s society, culture, lifestyle and gossip coverage.

Before Fairchild took over, WWD was merely a mundane trade publication intended only for buyers. Fairchild had an aggressive desire to turn the industry upside down by provoking controversy through his publications.  While running staff meetings he was quoted saying “Women’s Wear should be fun…It should be amusing. It should not be boring. It should be controversial, because fashion is controversial.” On his first day he shocked everyone when he said, “What I want is for people to come into their office and pick up the paper and become so furious with what they read they just crumple it up and throw it out the window!”  Some of this passion to turn the fashion industry upside down came from the humiliation he felt when his company was neither invited or left standing at the back of fashion shows. He also did not enjoy learning that designers preferred to be featured in Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar rather than WWD. He was sick of the the designers being revered.

HANDOUT PHOTO:   John B. Fairchild in 1976. Fairchild led Women’s Wear Daily to international renown. (Courtesy of Fairchild Archive)
John B. Fairchild in 1976. Fairchild led Women’s Wear Daily to international renown.
(Courtesy of Fairchild Archive)

Nothing was off limits for the new WWD. The strategies used and topics covered to get a story, or the “bacon” as Fairchild called it, revolutionized fashion journalism. Neither embargoes nor resisting to publish the president’s daughter wedding dress’ details before the wedding day after being told not to, was going to stop the ever naughty Fairchild. From hiring spies, befriending seamstresses at fashion houses, and photographing a fashion show with a telephoto lens from across the street due to a ban, Fairchild was no one to be messed with.  Designers and celebrities were featured in WWD with a different approach. The lives of designers and people in the high-society were scoped out and distributed. There were “The Ladies Who Lunch” in the gossip column and the designers receiving a grade as if they were in school in the fashion section.  The publication gained a lot of attention as well as fear of many since it became relatable and influential. Nothing deemed banal or “merchy” as Fairchild put it, were to ever appear on Fairchild Publications ever again.

Fashion is moving at a faster pace and he made sure to reflect that in his publications as well as maintaining that with interesting stories.  WWD was the first to begin using many visuals and graphics, as well as “tendency sketches” used by French designers that unveiled minimal details. Headlines became more inventive than ever and not just a category.  At WWD, “Smoking Jackets” became “le smoking”. The lives of designers were brought out into the spotlight that influenced their presence in the fashion industry. One of which included Yves Saint Laurent, Bill Blass and Oscar de la Renta, friends of Fairchild. Current magazines, newspapers, and blogs are following a similar model instilled by Fairchild.

He is survived by by his wife, Jill; his sons John, James and Stephen; daughter, Jill; and eight grandchildren.


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