When I saw the text from Charlotte, I knew. I knew Richard Buckley was dead.
Charlotte Blechman, long a friend to Richard and his husband Tom Ford, and the chief marketing officer of Tom’s brand, texted to say, “Call me when you can. It’s important.”
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I knew even though when I’d last seen Richard, onscreen in May, he was in fine form, his dry wit, as always, a cover for his genuine interest and concern. He asked how I was adjusting to post-WWD life and about my daughter’s writing pursuits, while delivering acerbic bon mots with his signature direct charm. He spoke in a low, near-whisper, his voice impacted by the illness that first surfaced many years ago, while he was still an editor at WWD.
Richard was the ultimate elegant WASP — observant, even-keeled, droll, impeccable in his appearance. He was beautiful, with silver-white hair framing refined features and an intense blue gaze. He and Tom met, famously, on the roof of the old Fairchild office on East 12th Street, during one of WWD’s economically produced shoots for which a designer’s assistant would schlep a packed garment bag down from Seventh Avenue. A WWD editor would dress the model and take her either outside on the street or to the roof to be photographed. Tom was working for Cathy Hardwick and brought the clothes; Richard, was the editor in charge.
I wasn’t at that shoot. My love affair with Richard predates his with Tom. We met when we were both enlisted to work on the launch of a youth-oriented publication called Scene. Richard was renowned in the industry as the Paris-based European editor of DNR, Fairchild’s men’s publication. “He was something of a legend,” according to Ed Nardoza, who became that title’s editor in chief soon after Richard left. “His features and shoots were so sophisticated and original. He raised the taste level and the quality of DNR.”
Richard was thus summoned to New York by the Fairchild powers that were. He was to be editor in chief of Scene; I don’t remember my title, but I was effectively the fashion editor, a sudden upgrade from anonymous immersion in the junior sportswear market. For myriad reasons, the project was a flop. It was launched quickly and, one could argue, without clear definition of what, exactly, it was all about. Richard and I knew it wasn’t working — our guts told us, as did numerous boisterous dressings-down by our expressive boss in the open newsroom. Our workdays devolved from tough sledding to seriously stressful. Richard and I took solace in each other’s presence, and a deep bond formed. I feel that bond today, one unique to my relationship with him. Perhaps it’s the difference between sympathy and empathy. It seemed that everybody on the third floor felt for us; only we knew what it felt like.
One day, a personal matter kept me at home. Given our standard 14-hour days, my absence was noticed. When I returned the following morning, Richard relayed his exchange with a sweet, guileless young editor. She had asked about me, and he told her that I wouldn’t be in. She nodded knowingly and said, “Oh, she had a nervous breakdown.” When I laughed at what I considered the absurdity of the comment, Richard raised an eyebrow and deadpanned, “Do you seriously think that anyone would be surprised if either of us had a nervous breakdown?”
We were always at the office together, weekends often included. One Saturday we were to go over the clothes for a shoot. I took my daughter, Grainne, in with me. An inquisitive two-year-old, she wrought havoc on the clothes and shoes, messing it all up. As nothing about Richard’s suave demeanor indicated tolerance for toddler behavior, I expected him to get annoyed, not with her, but with me. Instead he scanned the spartan office for child-safe knickknacks that would hold her attention. He came up with a stack of photo-projector carousels. These had been meticulously filled with slides from a W shoot, to be reviewed by other editors on Monday. (In the olden days of the late ’80s, photographers often shot slides). Of course, Grainne found emptying the numerous carousels of hundreds of slides a delight, and Richard calmly helped me refill them all before we left for the night.
I’ve often thought of that moment when I think of the Buckley-Ford family, and what a wonderful father Richard must have been to Jack. Tolerant. Creative. Making a mundane moment interesting and fun. Tom told me once that almost from the moment Jack was born, Richard made sure he’d stop to smell the roses. Literally — the roses, lilies, freesia, orchids and whatever other flowers might come into view. As a result, Jack has developed quite the nose, and now shows a serious interest in fragrance. More important, Richard nurtured Jack to find joy in sometimes underappreciated wonders.
But then, keen observation was a great strength of Richard’s. He might focus in on a small, ignored piece of art in the corner or a dress by an emerging designer no one had heard of, or an unknown person who would make a compelling editorial profile. Richard and I didn’t last long on Scene. In short order, we were both reassigned (and not long after, Scene folded). Richard became editor of The Eye, WWD’s iconic social coverage. His first big event was the American Ballet Theatre’s gala featuring “Gaîté Parisienne,” for which the young Christian Lacroix had done the costumes. Lacroix had become the darling of international fashion while at Jean Patou. The Eye was deeply established as a pillar of WWD, and John Fairchild took daily notice of all aspects of its coverage. Often, he weighed in with judgments that one might call mercurial. On the morning after the ballet premiere, I eagerly asked Richard all about it, and how he intended to cover it. “You mean, did I like it?” came his wry response as he glanced at Mr. Fairchild, now beckoning him over. “I guess I’m going to find out.”
The Eye proved the perfect outlet for Richard’s droll wit and sharp cultural acumen. He cut a debonaire figure through a New York social scene in transition, balancing his coverage between Nouvelle Society’s ladies who lunched by day and swanned at endless galas clad in Oscar, Bill and Lacroix by night, and the new, pluralistic constituencies then emerging from counterculture into the mainstream, which would dramatically redefine New York nightlife and the overall culture.
Richard moved deftly across those worlds while keeping journalistic distance in his reporting. In truth, that distance was as much innate as acquired professional skill. He understood style and glamour, and he radiated both. He enjoyed his work and his lifestyle, but he was never overly impressed by either. “Water under the bridge,” he observed when noting changing circumstances. Yet he cared deeply about his world, and was always exacting about fashion. Once, after he and Tom had moved back to Europe, and he was editor in chief of Vogue Hommes International, I bumped into Richard at a show. He told me he’d read a review of mine, and I’d mistaken culottes for a skirt. “It was a fine review,” he said, “but not perfect.”
When I saw Richard on Zoom in May, he was as direct and elegant as ever, and as dryly funny. As we talked, I thought of our Scene days, when we were alone together in a busy newsroom. We were young and tough — or tough enough. We had each other’s backs. He had my heart then. He has it now. Rest in peace, Richard.
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