Remembering a fashion editor who was stylish

CHICAGO — Genevieve Buck entered the newspaper business when it was still a raucous, male-dominated world in which women were considered secondary.

But over the next decades Buck would prove to be an influential and internationally admired fashion reporter and editor, business reporter and columnist, and feature story writer. She did so with a memorably deft touch. And she was as stylish in person as in print.

Columnist Mike Royko, her colleague and friend when both worked for the Chicago Daily News in the late 1960s, once observed, shortly after Buck had exited the elevator in which they and others had been riding, “There goes the classiest dame in this whole building.”

Buck died Sept. 6 in Northwestern Memorial Hospital after a cerebral hemorrhage and more than two decades coping with failing health. She was 89.

“Gen was ‘fashion’ for the many years I worked at the Tribune,” said former Tribune writer Judy Hevrdejs, who worked with Buck. “She had a great attention to details — in the details of a designer dress, of the trends showing up on the streets of Chicago and beyond, and most importantly in the details of a story she was writing.”

Genevieve Carol Wisniewski was born Dec. 18, 1932 and raised in Joliet, the daughter of Hattie and Leo Wisniewski and the youngest of their four children.

She stayed close to home for school, attending St. Francis Academy and earning a scholarship to College of St. Francis, where she edited the school paper and was a cum laude graduate in 1954.

As she would later tell an interviewer, “It never occurred to me, when I was majoring in English literature, that I might work for a newspaper.”

But she joined the public relations department of the American Institute of Laundering and there began to learn and write about fabrics and fashion. That led to a job as a reporter in the Chicago bureau of the national publication Women’s Wear Daily.

In 1962, she married Robert Buck (they divorced in 1993) and two years later left her job to raise two children, Greg, born in 1964, and Michelle, who arrived two years later.

In 1967, she was hired by the Daily News as a fashion reporter. In 1971, she was lured away by the Chicago Tribune, where she worked for more than 30 years as fashion writer, fashion editor, features writer, and business reporter and columnist, writing the popular “House Hunter” column. In disclosure, Buck was a colleague of mine for some years, including when I was editor of the Tribune’s Tempo section and she was one of its staff writers.

Her fashion duties took her across the country and the world. She got to know such famous designers as Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass, Ralph Lauren, Karl Lagerfeld … the list is long. She formed a close relationship with the late photographer Victor Skrebneski.

Many awards came her way, including induction into the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame. Accepting a prestigious 1991 prize from the Council of Fashion Designers of America, she wrote in the event’s program: “I like the people behind the clothes more than I like the clothes themselves. I am fascinated by creativity, by learning why designers — artists really — do what they do. Writing about people, their styles, even fads, is a way of keeping a finger on the pulse of the times. And that’s invigorating.”