c.2015 New York Times News Service
c.2015 New York Times News Service
MILAN — For an industry in the unbreakable slipstream of fashion shows, news of John Fairchild’s death broke slowly.
Fairchild died during fashion week here, a fact he might have liked, or at least deemed appropriate. So while the fact was spreading on social media Friday morning New York time, it was late afternoon in Milan, and most of the editors — including Fairchild’s successors at Women’s Wear Daily — were watching Alessandra Facchinetti’s collection for Tod’s.
“I’m sorry for the news,” said Diego Della Valle, the chairman of Tod’s Group, as the gathered masses made their way out of the show. It was the first he was hearing of Fairchild’s death. “He was one of the persons that built what you see today in the world, the fashion system,” he said.
When he met Fairchild, “I was young. I was nobody at the time,” he said. “I remember him as very kind with me.”
At the next show, Philosophy di Lorenzo Serafini (née Philosophy di Alberta Ferretti, who still owns the label but has passed along the reins of design), Ferretti was shocked and overwhelmed when told of Fairchild’s death. She begged the duration of the show to compose herself.
“It is very terrible,” she said afterward, shifting between Italian and English and speaking with the help of an interpreter. “Una brutta notizia. For me, he is the man who represents a real moment of quality in fashion. He was a person who dedicated his life to fashion.”
She agreed that Fairchild could be tough. “When we met in New York, I was shocked by this man who was so powerful in fashion, but then we had a beautiful relationship,” she said. “He tried to have some suggestions.” But, she added, “the right suggestions.”
Brian Atwood, the footwear designer who began his career in the studio of Gianni Versace, recalled meeting Fairchild in the late 1990s, early in his time at the house.
“I always remember, he’d come backstage and chat with Gianni,” he said. “He had such a discerning eye and input on the collection. It was great to watch.”
Asked if Fairchild ever gave Versace a hard time about the collection, Atwood said: “Oh, a little bit. You’re in that position for a reason.”
Laudomia Pucci, the interim chief executive of Emilio Pucci and Pucci’s daughter, attested to Fairchild’s particular mixture of kindness and cutting. “He was extremely, extremely nice with my father, whenever he talked to him,” she said. “But at the same time, he had that niceness and then this very dry sense of humor.”
She had been having drinks at the Four Seasons with a friend when the news reached her. Here in Milan, it had filtered, via word of mouth in addition to published tributes, from person to person among the more senior industry figures who had known Fairchild, although for many of the younger generation who people the party circuit, he was a more-remote figure, a legendary name from another time.
Rosita Missoni, co-founder and matriarch of the Missoni line, is of the older generation, and she had known him for decades.
“Before our name had meaning in fashion, it was my bible,” she said of Women’s Wear Daily, speaking by phone straight off a plane from Cape Town, where she had been a guest speaker at the Design Indaba Conference, returning for the Missoni show Sunday evening. “It was the only daily paper in the world at that time — I’m speaking about the ‘50s — about fashion.”
Her stories of Fairchild hark back to a bygone era nearly unimaginable today. She remembered Fairchild sending a Women’s Wear Daily writer and photographer to cover a Missoni family vacation on a tiny Dalmatian island in the late ‘60s. During dinner, she said, “We heard them calling, ‘Missoni, Missoni!’ They came out to this little island, just this spot of fishermen. They were sent to see what kind of holiday we were having.”
Later in New York, she and her husband, Ottavio, who died in 2013, were almost turned away from Le Côte Basque, the celebrated restaurant, because Ottavio Missoni was not wearing a jacket or tie. “At the next table was John Fairchild,” Rosita Missoni said. “He said: ‘This gentleman can teach you how to dress. Please don’t dare to send him out or put on him any kind of tie.'”
“We think we are all eternal,” she added sadly. “When I heard that he passed away, I really regret that I lost contact with him, not going to New York frequently. I have a very, very good memory of him.”
Those who had encountered him more recently found him unchanged.
“About two years ago, I saw him at the Ritz,” Donatella Versace, Gianni Versace’s younger sister and since his death the steward of his label, said in a note. “He waved at me and invited me to join him for tea. It was like time had not gone by for him, still the same bright, fun vibrant John Fairchild I always knew. I am so glad I had this moment with him, and now I will treasure it forever.”