He also understood the way to the heart of tomorrow's fashion stars, the talented but underpaid young designers, featuring them in the pages of his family's newspaper, making them important, influential and, eventually, rich. When couture house owner Robert Ricci demanded we stop mentioning the name of his designer (Jules Francois Crahay) and publish only the name "Ricci," Fairchild banned "Ricci" and wrote endlessly of "the Crahay collection." Monsieur Ricci capitulated. And by the time he'd left Paris after five years to become publisher of WWD, John was himself as significant a force in the world of fashion as any of the great designers: Dior, Balenciaga, Saint Laurent, even Chanel. And far more so than the editors of what had been, until his time, the dominant fashion slicks, Vogue and Bazaar. How could the monthlies possibly compete with a daily on breaking fashion news, overnight reviews, the scandals and doings of the industry's fabulous characters?
For my part, I lacked his instinct for fashion. But I was drawn to the designers, a rare and exotic breed, and intrigued by the ferocity of the infighting, the power plays, the money. And (as Thurber once bragged), I could get it, I could write it, I could put a head on it; I knew a little journalism. Coco Chanel taught me about fashion. She would snub the New York Times, Life and the AP, ban a famous fashion critic because the woman had bad legs, call Madame Vreeland of Vogue, "the most pretentious woman I have ever seen," and yet permit me to hang out taking notes in the salon where she and her assistants literally "built" a Chanel tweed suit on a tall, beautiful, nearly naked young mannequin.
Afterward, we would smoke my cigarettes and drink away the Paris afternoon with her Scotch in the suite of rooms above her shop on Rue Cambon, as she provided reams of quotable, shrewd, informed comment and bitchery, all of it on the record, much of it cabled press rates to New York to appear in next morning's WWD. Coco was 50 years older than I, had somehow the notion I was a Native American and called me,"mon petit Indien."
When I first took over from John as Fairchild's man in Paris I was warned by a PR gadfly to be circumspect. "Mind you," Marjorie Dunton said, "I don't believe it. But they said John had affairs with animals."
Perturbed, I phoned John that afternoon. "Not even a mouse," he assured me.
The Algerian War was on and plastique bombs shattered the Paris nights. Andre Oliver, Cardin's top aide, serving in Algiers, was surely the only private in the French Army whose uniform was tailored by a couturier. Saint Laurent was drafted and promptly broke down in boot camp. Said his partner Pierre Berge, "Yves was born with a nervous breakdown." But to WWD, war was an incident; there was serious game afoot. A few years earlier, we'd scored a world scoop by publishing in advance a sketch of Princess Margaret's wedding dress. "Yank spies steal the dress!" screeched one Fleet Street headline.
Jackie Kennedy declared she would "dress American" and Oleg Cassini was anointed her designer. WWD learned the new First Lady was still buying clothes from Givenchy supposedly sewn up for sister Lee Radziwill. White House press secretary Pierre Salinger issued indignant denials. Then, on their first visit to Paris, Jackie charmed General de Gaulle at a state dinner by turning up in the very Givenchy dress we'd reported she had ordered.