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I worked for Women's Wear Daily and the Fairchilds for 17 years, the last seven of them as publisher of WWD and the company's editorial director.
Mostly I remember the fun. The grand crew of journalists who worked for the paper. And the strange, gifted people who designed clothes. I was fascinated by the designers, less intrigued by the clothes. What little I learned about fashion, I got from two people: a Princeton man named John Fairchild and a Frenchwoman in her 80s named Coco Chanel.
I went to work at 7 East 12th Street as a retail news reporter for WWD on Columbus Day of 1953. I was 24, a year out of the Marine Corps and trying to be a newspaperman. I'd been working on the weekly house organ at Macy's and thought the hundred bucks Fairchild would pay me was pretty good. I worked for them in New York, covered Congress in Washington, was their bureau chief in London and later in Paris, where our daughters were born, and returned to New York (sailing home from France on another Columbus Day) to become publisher in 1964.
Until then, the most money I ever made, even as European director of the company, was $14,000 a year. They were great newspaper people, but they didn't throw their money around.
John Fairchild's father, Louis, ran the company, but Uncle Edgar was chairman. Only Edgar had a private bathroom in his office. "Edgar's up there taking a shower," John would authoritatively inform you. Edgar enjoyed recounting his adventures. Once he assisted the captain of the Queen Mary in putting down a mutiny by brandishing a revolver he had in his stateroom (I later checked with Cunard and was told there'd never been a mutiny). During the war, Edgar ran civil defense for the city of New York. Or so he said. "He was the air raid warden for the Fairchild building," noted one family rival dismissively. As with most family-owned enterprises, the relatives bickered constantly.
Despite Edgar, WWD and the other Fairchild trade papers were solid, factual, accurate and made money. And they were incorruptible when it came to resisting advertising pressure on the news coverage. DuPont was our biggest single advertiser, and when we ran a negative story about fiber prices, the company threatened to pull its ads. When I went down to Wilmington to argue the case, Louis Fairchild asked if our story was accurate. I said that it was. He then declared, "If they pull their ads, we'll just have to sell more advertising elsewhere to make it up." DuPont backed off.
I knew nothing of fashion when I began. John, on the other hand, was a sort of instinctive genius about it (not even he could explain why). He could sit through a showing of 200 dresses by Dior or Cardin and tell you, quite accurately, which numbers would become "fords," the looks Seventh Avenue would knock off by the thousands and sell for millions. John was a great and relentless reporter and not a bad writer. But more keenly than anyone, he understood that the designers were the really key people in fashion, and he focused the coverage on them, flattering, threatening, building up and, occasionally, punishing the disbeliever. John believed in having at least one good feud simmering at all times.