When Condé Nast’s top brass formed its entertainment unit in 2011, it may have had this moment in mind: The division will premiere its first feature film, “The First Monday in May” at the TriBeCa Film Festival on Wednesday. The documentary chronicles the behind-the-scenes work of Condé artistic director and Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour and Andrew Bolton, curator of The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, as they conceptualized and planned The Met Gala last year for the exhibition “China Through the Looking Glass.”
The film’s release is fortuitous on a few levels, the most obvious being timing. It makes its just two weeks before this year’s Met ball takes place. Perhaps more important is what the film embodies for Condé Nast, which has been working to develop the company to be less reliant on revenues derived from its print magazine business and more from the digital realm.
“The original reason why [Condé Nast chief executive officer and president] Bob [Sauerberg] wanted to start this division is because we needed to look at the company as a media company, not just as a publishing company,” said Condé Nast Entertainment president Dawn Ostroff.
Since she joined the company four years ago, Ostroff has been closely watched by the media world — both inside and outside the Condé bubble. In CNE’s early days, many inside and outside the company were vocal about how editors in chiefs and their staffs rolled their eyes when the entertainment unit came knocking to create a video series “inspired” by their magazines. The New Yorker editor in chief David Remnick was one of the more vocal examples, but he has since warmed — and even embraced — CNE’s series “The New Yorker Presents,” which is produced for Amazon Prime.
“It’s about trust,” said Ostroff, acknowledging initial difficulties. “It’s about having some successes together and learning about what didn’t work and growing our businesses.”
Wintour offered: “I think for a lot of people, the Costume Institute has always been about the night of the gala. Yet the reality is that it is the curtain-raiser to a show that has been months and months in the making. Thanks to Condé Nast Entertainment, and the director Andrew Rossi, everyone can see for the first time just how much creativity and hard work Andrew Bolton and his team put into making a show happen, that they do far more than simply put clothes on mannequins.”
But part of the intrigue of the film — and growth of Condé’s business has centered on Vogue and, more specifically, Wintour. In “The First Monday in May,” director Rossi addresses her persona as she makes cutting remarks and swift decisions when she’s asked for input on the Met’s Chinese-themed decorations. She’s shown a mock-up of The Temple of Dendur, which is decked out in jade and red-toned objects. She remarks that it “looks like a Chinese restaurant,” which draws knowing smirks.
Rossi, who directed The New York Times’ documentary “Front Page,” later draws a parallel between how the West portrays Chinese women in films as cartoonish “dragon ladies,” then cuts to Wintour with some of her best dry lines.
But there are moments when Wintour’s passion for the artistry of fashion comes out, and it’s more apparent why the film is being made.
During the film, Baz Lurhmann, who calls Wintour’s manner her “work armor,” offers that “Anna’s gift is bringing culture, both high and low, to cross-fertilize.”
Rossi juxtaposes Bolton’s artistic view of fashion with the nuts-and-bolts operations of fashion that concern wrangling celebrities and big egos, which Wintour and her Vogue colleagues spend much of the film doing.
“In the world that we work in, you need the mixture of art and commerce,” Wintour noted. “You need both. Too much of one or the other would not work. They have to exist hand in hand.”
Three years ago, Advance took an 8 percent stake in Farfetch, which is the sponsor of the film’s TriBeCa debut, Siegel said. Farfetch learned about the film through its chief marketing officer, who used to work on Vogue’s business side.
“One of the nice things with AVP, with Advance and Condé and the others…is leveraging their intellectual capital,” Siegel offered.
Siegel, who said his group looks to invest $50 million in four to six new projects this year, said the partnership with Farfetch melds “technology and culture.”
Farfetch chief executive officer José Neves maintained that his brand operates independent of Condé.
“It’s a pure financial investment,” the ceo said, who addressed whether Farfetch is beholden to Condé. “But there’s the formal side and the informal side of things. We admire them and we like the people. Whenever things come up, maybe Farfetch is a little more top of mind…and vice versa.”
“Advance is strictly an investor. We do things with Hearst, Time Inc. and newspapers. This just happened to be Vogue,” said Farfetch chief marketing officer Stephanie Horton, who used to work at Vogue as its executive director of communications on the publishing side.
“For us it was an opportunity to do something new and different,” she continued. “Rather than throw an amazing dinner in London, we were able to offer a screening.”
Horton noted that the screening allowed the brand to bring in VIPs, influencers and celebrities — and “people we didn’t know.”
“It reached beyond putting a logo on the step and repeat,” she said.