Fairchild headed his family's publishing business, Fairchild Publications Inc., for more than 30 years, including a long stint as the tyrannical editor in chief of WWD and founding chief of W magazine.
The outspoken Fairchild started at Women's Wear in 1960, summoned from his reporter job in Paris by his father, Louis W. Fairchild, who headed the company at the time.
The son was credited with not only transforming WWD but also the fashion industry itself, bringing designers out of the shadows of ateliers and making them celebrities in their own right. Among those he helped propel: Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta and a young Yves Saint Laurent.
The Fairchilds had other publications as well, daily and weekly trades ranging from fashion to electronics, WWD's Mort Sheinman wrote in a story published Friday. Other titles included Jane and Details magazines.
Fairchild wrote occasionally after he took over, mostly using the pen name and persona of Louise J. Esterhazy in WWD and W, Sheinman reported. It was a byline he first created in the early '70s and he used to skewer the world, from fashion designers to social climbers, according to Sheinman.
Among his zingers, in just one 1995 column, was his reference to Hillary Clinton's "hairdo roulette," Barbara Bush's "WASPy righteousness," ''middle-aged men who always wear faded blue jeans" and "children on airplanes ... (who) should be shipped like freight."
He unabashedly turned on friends, insisting at one time that the late de la Renta had added "de la" to his name, a rumour Oscar vehemently denied.
But he also had many admirers.
"It is difficult at this most democratic moment in the history of fashion journalism to understand the power John Fairchild wielded and the fear he commanded," Vogue's Anna Wintour said in a statement released Friday by WWD.
"Designers literally quivered in his wake. I remember him, however, as a delightful and wickedly funny lunch companion, a devoted husband and father, and an unrepentant Anglophile who loved to discuss all things English. I will miss him," she said.
Fairchild wrote several books, including memoirs. Among his numerous accolades was the Council of Fashion Designers of America's lifetime recognition award in 1997.
The Fairchild holdings, including Women's Wear, have changed hands over the years. Last fall, Conde Nast sold WWD to Penske Media Corp. Fairchild remained a contributing editor.
He is survived by his wife, Jill, three sons and a daughter.