“For a few weeks in March and April, a strange fad took hold in the headquarters of Condé Nast Publications at 4 Times Square,” wrote Warren St. John in The New York Times during the spring of 2003. “After sharing elevator rides with Anna Wintour, the editor in chief of Vogue, Condé Nast employees sat down at their desks and typed accounts of their vertical journeys with the fashion icon,” he continued.
St. John was describing Gawker’s Elevator Chronicles and, more broadly, a new swath of New York media — what he called the “New York School of bloggers.” The Elevator Chronicles and other Gawker posts moved the cult of personality around Condé Nast editors online. That same year, Lauren Weisberger published “The Devil Wears Prada,” and the book became a movie. Four years later, Condé Nast published the thickest September issue of Vogue ever and that book became a movie, too. The blog and book were snarky, yes, but they were also an homage to the company’s power.
Then the seas changed for the magazine world. McKinsey consultants and magazine closures followed and this year the company lost its position as this city’s top privately held fashion magazine publisher in terms of market share to less-glamorous Hearst. Over the years, Condé Nast intrigue online has turned more than a few corners.
But last weekend, more than eight years after the genesis of the Elevator Chronicles, someone on the Internet again began recording vignettes from Condé Nast’s elevators. This time, instead of sending their elevator stories to a poorly salaried blogger working at home, Condé Nast employees were sending the fruits of their eavesdropping to a Twitter account started and maintained (most likely but not certainly) by one of their own. Someone inside Condé Nast had taken up the mantle of mythologizing the company on the Internet.
An audience emerged immediately. The @condeelevator account grew fast — 10,000 followers turned into 30,000 in one 24-hour period and the audience climbed over 60,000 in the accounts’ fifth day. ABC News, The Daily Beast, The New York Observer, New York Magazine, The New York Post, the Dutch edition of Elle magazine, Russian Vogue and the Daily Mail among others wrote about the feed. Twitter was aroused by this weird taste of 2003 in 2011. The Internet felt punk again.
Then muscle memory went to work. Gawker, which has moved on to writing about things that get more page views than elevators at media companies since 2003, started to dig around for the anonymous elevator tweeter’s identity. Other blogs joined in and by Thursday, speculation about who was running the account brought it to an early end.
“Love my job. Better stop,” the anonymous tweeter wrote, signing off. But the fear of the company — scary Condé Nast — retaliating was largely imagined online. One Condé Nast freelancer, Andrew Krucoff, remains the only person to ever lose a job, a research gig, for leaking to Gawker.
If anything, the company actually seemed delighted by the attention that was coming from the anonymous feed. “We have no idea if this is real or made up and don’t know who is behind it, but it certainly suggests that many people care a great deal about what happens at Condé Nast,” a Condé Nast spokeswoman said in a statement to the outlets that were writing about the feed on Wednesday.
“There was no concern, and there was no witch hunt,” Patricia Steele, Condé Nast’s senior vice president for corporate communications, said on Thursday afternoon.
Comparisons between 2003 Gawker and an anonymous Condé Nast staffer on Twitter in 2011 can’t go very far. The @condeelevator had none of the bite of the Gawker version. The vast majority of the quotes from inside the elevator weren’t sourced to real people, just Condé Nast archetypes (the dudeitor; someone in a linen blazer; the intern). The feed was more interested in saluting the relics of the company’s past — Town Cars, helicopters to the Hamptons and small lunches of lettuce and carrots from the Frank Gehry cafeteria. One of the most prescient tweets out of @condeelevator’s short life came from one of the feed’s fans, someone named Breanna Monique, who tweets as @dungeon_dragonb and has nothing to do with the company. “The funny thing about that @condeelevator is I was just Wikipediaing Anna Wintour and watching the ‘Devil Wears Prada’ yesterday,” she wrote on Thursday.
The feed’s brief time represented a medieval moment for the Internet, a recycling of culture to the point that it’s difficult to remember what was so great about the original. Meanwhile, a company that often seems to be wrestling with not capitalizing on the Internet had a definitely brief but nevertheless self-deprecating and attention-grabbing moment on Twitter.
The Internet was once again intrigued with Condé Nast and it was a nice harkening back to the salad days of 2003. A Hearst account emerged on Thursday. At presstime, @hearstelevatorz had just more than 500 followers.