For nearly 20 years Ingrid Sischy was the editor of Interview, the magazine founded by Andy Warhol in 1969 and nicknamed "The Crystal Ball of Pop". Latterly she and her partner, Sandra Brant, had co-edited the international editions of Vanity Fair in Germany, Spain and Italy for Condé Nast. A profile of Sischy by Janet Malcolm for the New Yorker in 1986 admiringly described her as "A Girl of the Zeitgeist".
She was born in Johannesburg in 1952, the third of three children of Dr Benjamin Sischy, an oncologist, and Claire, a speech therapist; her mother was involved in peaceful protests against the apartheid regime. The family left South Africa for Edinburgh following the Sharpeville massacre, when Sischy was nine, then moved again, to New York, in 1967.
She later said of her parents' vocations: "My family is so involved in concrete and social things," adding with a slight sense of guilt, "Art was a reward at the end of the day." For Sischy the world of art was shaping her future career: after graduating from Sarah Lawrence College she worked at a number of galleries in Manhattan and at Printed Matter, editing artists' books.
In 1979, aged only 27, she became editor of Artforum magazine, having been head-hunted from her internship as a curator at the New York Museum of Modern Art. "She was very fresh," Artforum's chief executive Anthony Korner recalled of their first meeting.
Under her editorship the magazine diversified from its arts-only focus towards a broader coverage of culture in general. "Much of that impetus came from what artists themselves were looking at, talking about, and creating," Sischy recalled. "If you look at our very first issue [February 1980], we handed the editorial pages over to artists and alternative art magazines. We didn't ask them what they were going to do before they sent in their projects."
Her ground-breaking experiments at Artforum included putting Issey Miyake's bamboo cowboy dress on the front cover – the first time clothing had featured on the cover of an arts journal – commissioning Brian Eno to compose music for the magazine and photographing break-dancing in a series of step-by-step images.
Interview had been founded by Andy Warhol and the British journalist John Wilcock in 1969 and centred on Warhol's fascination with the cult of celebrity. Sischy admired the magazine's DIY approach to journalism, calling it, "a simple but brilliant invention. A magazine that was just tape recorder and camera."
Following Warhol's death in 1987, Sandra and Peter Brant bought Interview from the Warhol Foundation and appointed Sischy as editor. Her tenure brought some of the magazine's best features, with strikingly memorable covers to match, including portraits in words and pictures of Leonardo Di Caprio, Elizabeth Taylor and the singer Courtney Love, whom Sischy termed "a genuine rebel in music's world of fakes".
But being editor was not enough, and she remained actively involved in writing and interviewing for the magazine. Many of her subjects had become personal friends. She worked for over a year, for example, to coax an interview out of her friend John Galliano after he had been sacked by Dior after anti-semitic remarks he had made when drunk. The resulting piece is a moving insight into Galliano's public and sudden downfall. "What had started as self-expression turned into a mask," he confessed to Sischy, "I lived in a bubble. I would be backstage and there would be a queue of five people to help me. One person would have a cigarette for me. The next person would have the lighter. I did not know how to use the ATM."
Sischy was equally gracious in the rare moments when she herself became the interviewer's subject. She recalled of the 1986 New Yorker "Girl of the Zeitgeist" interview with Janet Malcolm, "We met once a week for a year and a half. It was amazing to have somebody to really talk with who cared so deeply about my work. It was the kind of relationship you expect from your analyst."
Sischy remained at the Interview helm until 2008 and oversaw the creation of a seven-volume anthology of the magazine's highlights, Andy Warhol's Interview: The Best of the First Decade, 1969-1979. This lavish 35th anniversary production included 77 interviews by Warhol himself with stars such as John Lennon, Michael Jackson and Sophia Loren.
She and Sandra Brant became partners during their time working together on Interview. Sischy had already come out in a review of the 1989 retrospective of photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe, The Perfect Moment. "I felt I owed it to my readers," she later recalled. "It was necessary to tell them where I was coming from... I find honesty about sexuality an utter necessity for my emotional survival."
The couple divided their time between a Stanford White-designed cottage on Long Island and their town house in Greenwich Village. In 2005 she was one of seven guests to witness Elton John's civil partnership ceremony and in 2011 she became godmother to his son Zachary.
Diagnosed with breast cancer, she had remained active with Vanity Fair until the very end. Her last piece, "The Boy Who Loved Chanel", about seven-year-old Hudson Kroenig, godson of Karl Lagerfeld, appears in the magazine's September edition.
Graydon Carter, a former colleague at Vanity Fair, paid tribute: "She could write about anything, but what interested her most were art and fashion, and she traversed those two hothouses like a bemused empress. She had a crisp mind and an almost uncanny focus when she sat down to write. She was a fun, conspiratorial gossip, but never with malice or envy - the working tools of so many gossips. That conspiratorial manner was evident in her work life as well. I adored cooking up stories with her."
Ingrid Sischy, journalist: born Johannesburg 2 March 1952; married 2015 Sandra Brant; died New York 24 July 2015.Reuse content