NEWS: The Classic Countess

Countess Louise J. Esterhazy was the perfect dessert to the fashion meal that was W magazine during my youth. I had a drawn-out system for reading my monthly fashion bibles.

The first read consisted of tenderly flipping through the pages. I read the table of contents, noted any changes to the masthead or overall design scheme, took in the editor’s letter and enjoyed the images. I didn’t read anything past the masthead on the first read, not even the credit lines. The second read I allowed myself to read the shorter, front-of-book pieces, Q&A’s and well stories. I must admit, however, that the beauty pieces never interested me much. As an 11-year-old, I didn’t have much use for cremes and standing appointments with facialists and dieticians. To this day, these sections bore me the most. I tried to understand the connection between the visuals and text, and noted the credits and who was tasked with weaving together each feature. It took some time before models and stylists were credited. The third read permitted reading the features, cover story and last page. Don’t fret though, the entire process was not as regimented as I make it out to be, it really was just a means of making each magazine last for as long as I could.

The last page of each monthly was and still is the final word before you flipped the back cover shut and sat in disappointment that yet another month’s issue had been consumed.

Vogue printed the “Last Look”, Harper’s Bazaar compiled “What’s In, What’s Out” and W had “The Last Laugh.” For “The Last Laugh,” a small illustration (by Gary Hovland) accompanied a column written by one, Countess Louise J. Esterhazy (via the pen of John Fairchild, son of Edmund Fairchild, founder of Women’s Wear Daily). Esterhazy/Fairchild asserted an old-world perspective on modern fashion and society, often making that month’s subject or topic seem childish or misguided.

The Countess, as she is referred to, used the column to expound her thoughts on societal norms or current events. The most brilliant and entertaining part of her monthly divulge was her honest, gossipy tone. In my head her words sounded exactly like my grandmother reading Tiffany’s Table Manners For Teens aloud to my brother and me.

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Over three decades the Countess turned phrase after phrase, rolling wit and wisdom into her columns and proving that she was not to be counted out of any modern day conversation. When her she retired her pen in 2010 (Before knowing Louise as Fairchild’s mouthpiece, I always pictured some poor assistant painstakingly transcribing her handwritten columns — mailed to the W offices on impeccable stationary held in an envelope with her wax seal — into a Word document), I wept while W reflected on some of the Countess’ more notable observations.

In January of this year, W‘s sister publication, Women’s Wear Daily announced the Countess’ return to their revered pages. Readers are told the Countess writes in from her perch in the Swiss Alps or from wherever she may be traveling at the moment her inspiration strikes her. The Countess opened her next volume of missives with an anecdote between herself and Coco Chanel. Not a bad way to open, huh? Welcome back, Countess.

Who do you think is behind the screen?

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