Scoops, Scandals and Scalawags: Merry Memories of a Giddy, Glorious Era



When I took over from John Fairchild in Paris, I inherited not only his job but his feuds. Balenciaga and Givenchy, two of the great designers, had banned WWD. Through guise and by stealth, we got around the ban. Of the dozen Fairchild staffers, three were countesses, attractive young women from the posh 16th arrondissement, and we dispatched them to winkle out the secrets from Balenciaga and Hubert de Givenchy. They penetrated the inner sanctum pretending to be wealthy private clients (which they were) or florists' assistants or even streetwalkers, "swinging the bag" along the Avenue George V in front of the two couture houses, peering through opened French windows and chatting up gossipy mannequins when they broke for a smoke.

Once a collection had been shown to the buyers and press (only WWD was excluded), we buttonholed buyers on the sidewalk and pumped them for details of what they'd just seen. Then we really went to work, scooping the competition, sweet-talking Sydney Gittler of Ohrbach's, for example (WWD invariably referred to Sydney as "the coat king"), and went back to his hotel suite where we gnawed room service steak frites and knocked back the vin rouge, while Gittler described for Kenneth Block, the great fashion illustrator, the significant looks of the new season. Next morning in America, WWD readers saw more accurate Balenciaga sketches than those of the Times, which wasn't banned.

The most influential of the young designers was Saint Laurent. He and his savvy partner, Pierre Berge, recognized the power of WWD and each season previewed, but only for us, his new collection the night before it was unveiled to the rest of the press, enabling us to radiophoto precise sketches to run in our paper 24 hours before anywhere else. That was the job, as we saw it: to get into print with the fashion news ahead of the competition.

Which included discovering the new talents: Mary Quant in London, Roberto Capucci and Valentino in Italy, and in Paris, Courreges, who got me hooked on rugby at Stade Colombes, and Emanuel Ungaro, who raised seed money by borrowing against his girlfriend's Porsche.

At the height of the great skirt-length controversy of the late Sixties, Time magazine did a cover story on WWD, calling the newspaper "plain as gingham and just as reliable." Under John as company president and me as its publisher, the little daily trade paper was still reliable, but a lot less plain.

We sold 2,000 subscriptions to other media that felt they might be missing something if they didn't see WWD every day. The White House alone had a dozen subs. National Security adviser Dr. Kissinger called to complain that our White House beat reporter, Kandy Stroud, was too assiduously chronicling his active social life. Late at night, Kandy received boozy phone calls from Martha Mitchell about villainy in high places. Woodward and Bernstein had their "Deep Throat"; we had our Martha, the attorney general's wife.

Circulation doubled, advertising poured in and we were turning a healthy profit. On an annual revenue of only $12 million, we were clearing $3 mil in operating profit. The big corporate fish circled, contacting the bickering Fairchild family through merchant bankers regarding a possible takeover, with one offer, from Capital Cities Broadcasting, eventually being accepted. Job offers, some of them tempting, came in for me, for John (from Conde Nast). We began to ponder a consumer spinoff of WWD that we could call W, standing for "women, wit, weekly," a title suggested by Chuck Mitchelmore, now a top editor of the International Herald Tribune.
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