John Fairchild turned his family’s dry fashion trade journal, Women’s Wear Daily into one of today’s most influential fashion publications. The 85-year-old looks back on his controversial career:

“Unlike in Paris, where couture designers were revered, Seventh Avenue was then dominated by garmentos while the designers toiled in the back rooms as relative unknowns. Fairchild set out to change that dynamic. ‘John came back from Paris and went to the fashion houses here and said, “I don’t want to talk to the manufacturers—I want to talk to the person who makes the dresses,” ’ says de la Renta, who was working for Elizabeth Arden at the time. ‘For all of us, there’s a great debt to be paid to John Fairchild, because he’s the first one to put American designers on the map.’

“WWD began publishing personality profiles of the designers, elevating them to celebrity status, writing about their travels, vacation homes, and, in titillating fashion, love lives. As one veteran WWD staffer puts it, ‘Mr. Fairchild always likes to know, “Who’s doing the boom-boom?” ’ The newspaper covered society in cheeky and irreverent fashion. Rummage through the archives of WWD and W at the company’s Third Avenue offices and, even a half-century later, the ‘Eye’ columns are deliciously entertaining, filled with gossip and photographs of ‘the ladies who lunch’ and ‘Jackie O’—phrases coined by Fairchild. He is widely credited with coming up with such catchy phrases as ‘hot pants,’ ‘walkers,’ the ‘social moth’ (for Jerry Zipkin), and ‘the Cat Pack,’ a takeoff on the Rat Pack. Fair­child and his writers went for the jugular, proclaiming that ‘Jackie O is now Tacky O,’ criticizing her taste in clothes and announcing that her jewelry had become vulgar. Fair­child launched the popular trend of running flattering and unflattering photos of socialites with suggestive captions such as: ‘It is hard to believe that the matronly frump in the white wool dress is the same tightly coiled Gloria Vanderbilt of today. Gloria swears that her metamorphosis has nothing to do with surgery but simply weight loss.’”