The W We Were, With John Fairchild

0625fairchild The W We Were, With John Fairchild“If I see another movie star in a fashion magazine — it’s ridiculous! It’s a nightmare,” said John Fairchild, who launched W magazine in
1971.

“That’s what they call the cutting edge,” he continued. “I hate that word. And buzz. It’s a crock. They love buzz! When I hear the word buzz, it reminds me of a chainsaw.”

Mr. Fairchild is 83 and was speaking on the phone from his home in Massachusetts. He described his neighborhood as “isolated.” In 1997, around Mr. Fairchild’s 70th birthday, he retired as chairman and editorial director of Fairchild Publications. He kept the title of contributing editor-at large at Women’s Wear Daily and a column on the back page of W.

Three weeks ago, Mr. Fairchild met Stefano Tonchi, the new editor of W, for lunch at The Pierre. Mr. Fairchild was worried because he had ridiculed the hotel’s restaurant, Le Caprice, in one of his columns.

“I had written about the restaurant, how awful it was,” he said. “It was perfectly nice. He didn’t like it that much.”

“We didn’t talk about W at all — we were talking about what’s fun and what he does and where he lives,” said Mr. Fairchild, thinking back on lunch with Mr. Tonchi. He mentioned that Mr. Tonchi said he had a house in Bridgehampton.

“Poor guy, I feel sorry for him, it’s tough,” he continued. “Well, what he inherited — it’s not my place to say — but what he inherited, a lot of it in people who were not there for very long, and mad art directors and everything. They’re all gone so he’s got a chance to build it his way, which is right.”

Mr. Tonchi, who is in the middle of moving the magazine into a new office and putting together his first issue, told The Observer in May that his W would be “closer maybe to what Mr. Fairchild had in mind when he started the magazine.”

A few weeks ago, Mr. Fairchild decided to end his monthly column for W, a satire of society-types written on the backpage of the magazine.

“The column’s name was written by Louise J. Esterhazy, but it was really written by me,” he said. “But I was born in Newark, New Jersey!” He laughed long and hard.

It was his last byline at Fairchild Publications, the company started by his grandfather Edmund Fairchild, where he worked since he was 13.

Mr. Fairchild’s idea for W grew out of Women’s Wear Daily. After Princeton and some time as an enlisted man working as a speechwriter at the Pentagon, Mr. Fairchild began reporting for Women’s Wear‘s Paris bureau.

“I was very aggravated that all the fashion magazines saw all the collections — this was the old days mind you,” Mr. Fairchild said.

“Our idea was to go see things in advance even when they were working on the collections and publish it before the magazines.”

“I’m a very competitive animal,” he said. “I got arrested by the French economic police for breaking the release date.”

He was proud of this.

“But it’s a sport you know. Don’t you like the sport of being a journalist, getting scoops? It’s a sport!”

In 1960, Mr. Fairchild returned to America and became the publisher and editorial director of Women’s Wear. The Fairchild brand began to change.

 “Basically, when we started changing Women’s Wear and started being fluffy and consumer minded and less trade oriented, we had such a big success with the society world,” said Mr. Fairchild. “So we thought maybe we should do another publication which would be more complete on that score.”

 “I was in a family business and most of my family was absolutely opposed to the idea of starting W. I had a little battle there. They thought we should continue to be a business trade paper with Women’s Wear.”

Mr. Fairchild had other plans.

“A W story would be to go to a place that very few people had been to – who would be there and who they’d see. You’d tie it to people, not necessarily movie stars, but other people who were well known.”

Mr. Fairchild was less interested in covering the glamour of the fashion industry.

“It shouldn’t be just fashion,” he said. “That’s my philosophy, right or wrong. In the fashion world, it’s totally incestuous. One hand wags the other hand. The thing that’s often forgotten, that is really forgotten, is that the reader is what counts. If you don’t amuse the reader or stimulate the reader, you’re not doing your job.”

Mr. Fairchild took an everyman’s approach to the world of fashion.

“They didn’t have to be rich people either!” he added. “We’d do a story on some of the Indians out west. We could do anything. The world was our oyster, we loved it!”

Mr. Fairchild said that he has not gone to a fashion show or returned to Women’s Wear’s offices since he retired more than a decade ago.

“Times have changed. He’s got to operate differently now than the way I did. Let’s face it, we didn’t have to pull punches because we were not controlled by our advertisers,” Mr. Fairchild said. “I suppose we were a bunch of mad people, and we decided that we would publish what we wanted to publish. It was great! I loved those days.”

We asked Mr. Fairchild if he would be reading Mr. Tonchi’s W.

“Of course!” he said.

“It’s going to be great I’m sure because he’s a talented fellow. I think it’s got to move with the times. What I think is fun and amusing at 83 years old is probably boring to younger people and to some of the readers.”

“Listen, let’s face it, he’s got a lot of great people, he doesn’t need me! It’s a new world, a new generation.”