A century ago today, on July 13, 1910, Women’s Wear Daily was founded, but its beginnings were much humbler than the titanic force it grew to be. Publisher Edmund Fairchild launched WWD as a small sister publication to the Daily News Record, a menswear journal he founded two decades earlier. Both papers were distributed and read within the garment industry, and for forty years, WWD covered the straight news behind the manufacturing of women’s clothing, such as sales and acquisitions, the costs of buttons and other notions, and the hirings and firings within the Garment District. WWD was considered a second-rate publication by the big players in the fashion industry, i.e. French designers and their backers, and for years its editors were consistently plunked into fashion purgatory: the back row at influential fashion shows.
That all changed when John Fairchild stepped into the game. As he tells it in his two memoirs, Fashionable Savages (1965) and Chic Savages (1989)—both of which are required reading for anyone interested in the business of fashion—the founder’s grandson was appalled and outraged when he was assigned to the paper’s Paris bureau and experienced the second-class treatment firsthand. Anger and a fierce competitive streak inspired Fairchild to challenge the way the paper covered fashion news and he single-handedly turned its direction—and fortunes—around. After covering his first fashion shows in Paris from the back row, Fairchild told Time magazine in 1970, “I vowed then to change that, to make them all sit up and take notice of me and Women’s Wear Daily.”
Under Fairchild’s strict counsel, the trade journal transformed into a lively, bitchy gossip rag about the personal lives of the high-society set, celebrities and fashion designers. Never forgetting how he was banished to the back row, Fairchild was quick to banish designers from his paper: A collection he deemed mediocre or poor was either squeezed onto the last pages or omitted entirely. Designers were outraged, which only made WWD exclude them further. The list of exiled was long and legendary: Pauline Trigere, Geoffrey Beene, Yves Saint Laurent, Giorgio Armani and Norman Norell were just a few of the snubbed. Lunching ladies feared a snide critique of their outfits or a snippet of overheard conversation would make the pages of WWD. Billing itself as the “only game in town,” Fairchild turned the paper’s reputation around. No longer would he grovel for attention; the fashion world would now seek his approval. It was the perfect, if not sometimes cruel and unforgiving, formula for success. Within a handful of years, WWD was the most powerful, influential and feared fashion journal in the country, if not the world.
Fairchild’s father (by then the publisher) turned the reins over to his son in 1960, a position the younger Fairchild held until 1996, though he carried on as editor-at-large for another decade. In the years between, the company added W magazine to its cabal and was purchased by Conde Nast. This month, Fairchild retired the popular column he’s penned for decades as “the Countess” that ran on the back page of W. Today, WWD’s current editor, Edward Nardoza, continues to drive the paper to be among the first to break fashion news and hold a firm grip on the industry—though it’s not the bullying behemoth Fairchild helmed. The paper’s legacy will always be rooted in the influence of the founder’s grandson, a man who once said, with apparently no irony, “No one can dictate fashion. It is like telling someone what they must eat.” —Ali Basye
Photo credit: Top: Getty Images; bottom: Fairchild Archives.