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In 1960, John B. Fairchild returned from Paris, where he had been WWD’s bureau chief for five years, to become the paper’s publisher—and fashion and society would never be the same. Fairchild recognized before almost anyone else that fashion was being created everywhere, and insisted WWD be there to cover it. From the Ladies Who Lunch (the women who bought the clothes) to the Kennedy White House, he wanted the scoop. In his view, it was about the people, not the clothes, and designers were becoming celebrities as much as Hollywood stars. And he covered them, too.
It was a practice he began even while he was in Paris, rattling the cages of the Fashion Establishment there in ways they’d never been shaken. Once asked how he established WWD in Paris, Fairchild said, “By persistence and nastiness.”
Fairchild retired as chairman and editorial director in March 1997 on the occasion of his 70th birthday, but remains an editor at large for WWD. Here, some of his bons mots as he looked back at those years.
On designers: “Designers never like each other. It hasn’t changed.”
On fashion shows: “When I saw a good collection, I got a tingle in my big toe, like with most of the Saint Laurent collections.”
On why he covered designers as celebrities: “Clothes don’t speak, after all.… I was just doing my job.”
Art or craft?: “Fashion definitely is not an art; it’s a craft.… The idea to me is that fashion is just like a good juicy steak: It needs to be devoured, but it shouldn’t be too rare.”
On why he started covering the Ladies Who Lunch: “Because I like to go to good restaurants and eat.”
On fashion today: “Now, fashion is very parochial and very predictable. It’s sort of boring.”
On controversy: “You have to be controversial in fashion because, basically, it’s a bunch of blah blah. Controversy makes it lively.”
On a journalist’s job: “They’ve got to bring home the bacon.”
On his tenure at WWD: “We always had fun.”