W Marks Anniversary With New Book Fifty Years Fifty Stories

Written by Armand Limnander

 The cover of Fifty  Years Fifty Stories, featuring Tilda Swinton, photographed by Tim Walker. Court...
The cover of Fifty Years Fifty Stories, featuring Tilda Swinton, photographed by Tim Walker. Courtesy of Rizzoli.

Allow us, for a moment, to toot our own horn. For the past five decades, as the fashion and publishing industries have been dramatically transformed, W has held firm on its essential mission: larger-than-life storytelling. That doesn’t mean, of course, that the magazine hasn’t evolved over time. Fifty Years Fifty Stories, a new tome published by Rizzoli, out this month, tracks key moments in the publication’s history.

W was founded in 1972 by John B. Fairchild as an offshoot of the fashion trade newspaper Women’s Wear Daily. Printed on oversize, posterlike pages, it chronicled how glamorous people lived and amused themselves—what they wore, where they went, who they saw, what they gossiped about. But unlike many of its competitors, W wasn’t always fawning. Fairchild became famous for biting columns like “Fashion Victims,” which took to task those who were seen as trying too hard to make a sartorial statement, and “In & Out,” which declared with ruthless indifference who or what was, well, in or out.

In the 1980s, W made a point of needling the newcomers who had not quite become established but were simply too rich to ignore: the infamous “nouvelle society.” Soon enough, however, beautiful young women who required no surnames—Cindy, Linda, Christy, Kate, Naomi—were the talk of the town, and supermodels joined Upper East Side doyennes, royals, and fabulous upstarts in our pages. W invited the world’s most daring fashion photographers to publish their work, free from the restrictions that more commercial publications often imposed.

If the ’90s were the height of the supermodel, the aughts were all about celebrity worship—a phenomenon that has only intensified with digital media. Here, too, W put its own spin on the trend. Every year, in a special issue, we survey the actors who are dominating the conversation. We also invite leading directors to photograph stories for W, as if creating stills for a movie. Going behind the scenes with these talents gives us a peek into their creative process and reveals just how much is needed to bring original ideas into the world.

Contemporary art is another field that is influencing society more than ever. In the past, artists operated largely within their own bubble; nowadays, they routinely engage in cross-disciplinary collaborations with fashion houses and furniture designers. They are also often agents of change, with the power to anticipate and respond to social movements. Flipping through the pages of Fifty Years Fifty Stories, you get a taste of the ways in which W has covered that realm.

Society, fashion, supermodels, Hollywood, design, art...these are the components that seamlessly come together to make up W—and as our hyperconnected world continues to expand, so will our purview. We may be celebrating a big birthday this year, but really, we’re just getting started. Toot!

Here, a sneak peek of the commemorative book celebrating W’s five decades in the world of style.

W, September 2003.

Kate Moss, photographed by Juergen Teller, 2003.

W, January 2019.

Timothée Chalamet, photographed by Tim Walker, 2019.

W, May 1982.

The “Party Stars” column, 1982.

W, June 2007.

Naomi Campbell, photographed by Steven Klein, 2007.

W, April 2021.

Elle Fanning, Kirsten Dunst, and Rashida Jones, photographed by Zoë Ghertner, 2021.

W, September 2021.

“Birds of a Feather,” photographed by Rafael Pavarotti, 2021.

W, July 2005.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, photographed by Steven Klein, 2005.

W, May 2014.

Pharrell Williams, photographed by Joshua White, with artwork by Urs Fischer, 2014.

W, May 2002.

Beyoncé, photographed by Michael Thompson, 2002.

W, January 1982.

“In & Out,” 1982.

W, November 2007.

Britney Spears, artwork by Richard Prince, 2007.

W, August 2019.

“The Height of Fashion,” photographed by Willy Vanderperre, 2019.