ANARCHY ON THE FASHION RUNWAY

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I think I may have gotten out of fashion journalism just in time.

There on the fashion page of The New York Times were these photos of the beautiful people taken at the recent VH1 Fashion and Music Awards.

Among the beautiful people pictured were a tall transvestite in a swell "winged dress by Bob Mackie" (when I knew Bob he was dressing the likes of Ann-Margret, but never mind), Karl Lagerfeld, who is the anointed successor to Coco Chanel in Paris, wearing shades and a queue and wielding his trademark lacquered fan, another Paris designer all in leather including what seemed to be a rather prominent codpiece, and "Jean-Paul Gaultier, a presenter of the awards...."

Monsieur Gaultier, who designs clothes in Paris, is a skinny gent of a certain age who sort of resembles actor Ray Walston, and in this shot he affected a fetching costume of striped undershirt, double-breasted blazer, high-heeled leather boots and a skirt. In the Times photo he was lifting his skirt demurely to show slightly hairy knees and thighs, and giving the camera an uncertain grin.

Oh, yes, Madonna, who always looks to me as if an occasional bath might be in order, was voted "most fashionable artist."

A day or two before the Times spread, a report ran on the business pages of the New York Post which said Disney, the new owner of Capital Cities/ABC, might be considering a sale of Fairchild Publications including Women's Wear Daily and its slick consumer spinoff, W.

Everyone denied the report or wouldn't comment.

But since I worked for Fairchild for 17 years, the last six or seven as the company's editorial director and publisher of WWD, you can bet I sat up smartly to take notice of that.

There are a number of great trade papers in American publishing. Certainly in its field, Ad Age is one, Variety another, in Detroit you have Automotive News, in New York the Law Journal. There is a wonderful banking paper and some rather arcane but powerful trades reporting on cyberspace and all that. But surely Women's Wear Daily ranks right up there with the most professional and most influential.

The original Fairchild brothers started out with a Chicago-based trade paper that focused on the menswear and textile trades and in 1910, when a garment industry strike was called in New York and both sides in the dispute, labor and management, vied in telling the biggest lies, the Fairchilds thought it might be a sensible thing to bring out a paper that told the truth about the industry and what was going on.

So began Women's Wear Daily.

The next thing of significance that happened was that John Burr Fairchild was born in Newark. He was the son of Louis Fairchild, a great gent who himself was the son of one of the founders. John went to Princeton, spent a year or two in the Army (I can't quite see John pulling latrine duty, but still....), and joined the family firm. This was important because John turned out to be a genius. It was he, more than his father or his "Cousin Edgar," who turned WWD from a solid, reliable trade paper into a phenomenon.

But for all its controversial coverage of the so-called "beautiful people," its arched eyebrow, its scoops, its Jackie-spotting, the little paper that could continued covering the nuts and bolts on a sprawling, worldwide industry.

Just for example, we had a man named Horace Farrar in Bradford, England, who stood leaning against a pillar in the wool exchange every day and pretty much all by himself set world prices for wool. Another man did likewise in Manchester for cotton. We had a man in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, reporting on sheep and someone else in Australia doing the same thing. Fairchild had 20 reporters and desk men and women in the Washington bureau, making it, after the three wire services, the Times, and The Wall Street Journal, the biggest news bureau in the capital. There were 20 reporters in Europe, on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Each night during certain seasons a London-based Fairchild reporter phoned Leningrad, Helsinki, Copenhagen and Stockholm for the mink prices at auction and cabled them to New York for the next morning's WWD. I know this because for almost two years this was one of my jobs. And in so doing, we at the newspaper set the world price for mink.

And of course WWD scooped everyone on the new fashion trends. Yves Saint Laurent would show us the new collection 24 hours before Vogue or the Times. Coco Chanel let us watch her design the new line. Givenchy and Balenciaga banned us because we wouldn't play by their release date rules. And we scooped their new looks anyway, smuggling pretty girls in to audition as models or to deliver bouquets to the studio, taking mental notes the whole time.

I know all this sounds sophomoric, but it was a thrilling time to be young and a journalist. Red Smith wrote sports for us and Eugenia Sheppard a fashion column and Rex Reed wrote about movies and Howard Kissel about theater and Kandy Stroud in Washington was nutty Martha Mitchell's late-night phone confidante and Rose Kennedy called to ask us to ease up on the Jackie-watch and Kissinger called to complain and both ended by giving us interviews. When Princess Margaret got married we "stole the dress!" and published a sketch a week in advance and Lynda Bird Johnson once inquired of me over dinner, "Why are you so mean to my mother and sister and me?" and when Soviet tanks rolled into Czecho both Jerry Dryansky and Barney Leason smuggled themselves in posing as fabric buyers and cabled and broadcast exclusive stuff from Prague for a week until they closed them down and threw them out.

And we spun off W, which was named by Chuck Mitchelmore, who's today a top guy at the International Herald Tribune but back then was one of our best & brightest.

Those were the days, my friends, when fashion journalism was something else.

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