John B. Fairchild, who presided over Fairchild Publications for more than 30 years until 1997 with publications that included Jane, Details and fashion industry bible Women’s Wear Daily, died Friday at his home in Manhattan. He was 87.
Fairchild was the longstanding editor-in-chief of WWD, which Conde Nast sold to Penske Media Corp, Deadline’s parent company, last year. Fairchild also founded W magazine, and his company comprised daily and weekly trade newspapers and magazines in industries ranging from fashion to electronics to metals. In the pages of WWD since 1960, Fairchild turned anonymous designers into international legends including Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta and Yves Saint Laurent. WWD wrote in Fairchild’s obituary that he was “Fawned over and feared by an audience desperate for his approval but terrified and often resentful of his authority.”
John Fairchild also understood the important connection between the fashion industry and the larger New York City culture, pushing WWD to become a force in the arts. Broadway critics who began their careers at WWD included Howard Kissel, the late drama critic of the Daily News, and and former WWD Paris bureau chief Ben Brantley, the chief drama critic of the New York Times.
Fairchild was born on March 6, 1927, in Newark, the son of Louis W. Fairchild and Margaret Day. Though his parents divorced, Fairchild always remained connected to the business that was launched by his grandfather, E.W. Fairchild, and his great-uncle, L.E. Fairchild. He attended the Kent School in Connecticut and during summers worked for WWD. At first he dropped out of Princeton, but later graduated after a stint in the army in 1950. In 1951, Fairchild became a WWD reporter in New York, and was ultimately assigned to the Paris office four years later and put in charge of all European coverage for all of the Fairchild publications. In 1960 Fairchild, then 33, was called to return to the U.S. by his father, Louis W. Fairchild, then president of the company, who was also retiring. Fairchild was made publisher of WWD and Daily News Record, which covered men’s fashion. In 1964, Fairchild became editor-in-chief executive of corporate publishing.
In 1968, the Fairchild family sold to radio and TV firm Capital Cities Broadcasting Corp. for $10.5M in cash and 600,000 shares of new stock then valued at $26.7M, making the deal worth about $37.2M, per WWD. In 1986, Capital Cities bought American Broadcasting Co. (ABC) for $3.4B. By 1996, Fairchild publications was folded into the Walt Disney empire when it acquired Cap Cities/ABC. A year after that, on his 70th birthday, Fairchild retired, becoming the final Fairchild to head the company founded by his family. Two years after his retirement, WWD was sold again to Advance Publications, a privately held company owned by the Newhouse family, which had a reputation in the fashion world with its Condé Nast titles Vogue, Glamour, GQ, Allure and Modern Bride. WWD reports that Fairchild publications sold to Advance for $650 million in 1997. After WWD sold to Penske Media, Fairchild remained a contributing editor.