Yesterday’s news that the high-end fashion glossy W and fashion trade-title Women’s Wear Daily were finally breaking up their strange marriage of staff and resources has sparked a lot of buzz in the industry. Not just because people have been wondering for years when the divorce would happen, and how it would work — the long-suffering W relies heavily on the staff and finances of WWD — but because with the announcement of the split came news that Fairchild veteran of over 30 years, Patrick McCarthy, would be leaving at the end of the year. McCarthy was the editorial director of the Fairchild Fashion Group division of Advance Publications, which includes W, WWD, and a cadre of other trade magazines. Sources with insider knowledge of the situation disagreed over whether McCarthy was forced out or simply decided to retire from this career, but it’s evident that in recent years, he was more and more of an absentee leader at W.
“A lot of people were surprised it didn’t happen sooner,” said one staffer. “Patrick was very behind the scenes, was very hands-off. He had all these people right below him so that they could be his conduit to the rest of the staff, because he wasn’t communicating directly.” In fact, multiple current and former workers at the magazine described the day-to-day workings of the title to be conducted in separate “fiefdoms,” led relatively independently by Creative Director Dennis Freedman (art and design), Executive Editor Bridget Foley (fashion), and Deputy Editor Julie Belcove (words). While Patrick was well-liked personally by the staff, some described the working situation as “dysfunctional.” Recently, one staffer told of a cover meeting in which Si Newhouse himself vetoed a more risqué version of the magazine’s current Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler cover — an unprecedented move. (“That was always the cover,” a publicist told us.)
In addition to being out of the office, it seemed that McCarthy tired of some of the other requirements of the job — the ad meetings, the dinners, the seeing and being seen all the time. One former staffer spoke of a time he skipped a dinner at the last minute where he was supposed to be seated next to Gwyneth Paltrow, outraging an advertiser. “They want someone who is personally sort of commercial and will be out and about. For the W brand, as a business decision, that’s important,” said one staffer. “It’s not like Patrick was hosting a lot of dinners with Dolce & Gabbana, for example.”
The long-awaited split between the two magazines may have been the brainchild of Gina Sanders, a rising star at the company (and Newhouse family member) who was installed as head of the Fairchild Fashion Group last month. But the person officially in charge of hiring McCarthy’s replacement is Condé Nast editorial director Tom Wallace. A former Condé publisher explains that this is merely code for assembling candidates to run by the man on top: “Si will choose the person,” the publisher explained. “100 percent.”
So who will Si choose? W is a title that could go a few different ways right now. Born out of WWD’s society coverage, in recent years it grew into almost an art book — where photographers were encouraged to do as they pleased, and where the giant size and lengthy spreads gave opportunity for stylists and artists to run luxuriously amok. While nobody in the office we spoke to seemed to have any hard information on the candidates, sources say WWD editor-in-chief Edward Nardoza told some of his staffers that the candidate would come from outside the company. Other than that, rumors inside Fairchild are running wild. Candidates will need to have a combination of business savvy (or at least personal marketability) to pull W out of the advertising hole it’s fallen into, and impeccable fashion connections. With the departure of Bridget Foley to work on WWD full time, there’s a hole at the top of the masthead in that department. Here are some names getting mentioned:
Carine Roitfeld: The French Vogue editor has reason to want to be in New York: Her children are here, and W’s circulation is more than triple that of her current magazine. She’s not much of a words editor, but W has of late stood out much more for its edgy fashion and legendary photography than its features. Si Newhouse reportedly has his eye on her, so this wouldn’t surprise many.
Stefano Tonchi: The T editor has made a lot of money for the New York Times, and is very well-regarded. As one former staffer observed: “You couldn’t have a male editor at Vogue. You can have one at W.” Tonchi, who fills T with small articles and celebrity features, also seems like a good fit, and along with Roitfeld is one of the most buzzed-about names in the office.
Sally Singer: It would be a stretch to regard Vogue’s features director as an “outside” candidate, but she’s smart and would fill the fashion gap well at the top of the W masthead. She’s also worked with Anna Wintour for years, and it would no doubt be helpful to have someone with that experience onboard as W moves into the Condé stable, nestled right next to Vogue.
Katie Grand: Former Pop and current LOVE editor Katie Grand knows edgy, and she knows photography. She’s an editor with a vision, and that’s something W is going to need moving forward as it tries to streamline and stay afloat.
Joe Zee: Elle’s creative director would have to tread carefully in order not to butt heads with W’s own highly paid creative director Dennis Freedman. But again, his fashion and styling cred would seem like a good fit for the W job, and is part of why his name is getting mentioned so often this week.