NEW YORK — In an announcement that stunned the publishing world, Condé Nast Publications said Wednesday editorial director James Truman had resigned and was being replaced by Thomas Wallace.
Wallace was formerly editor in chief of Condé Nast Traveler.
Truman resigned unexpectedly Monday after 11 years in the post. A former editor in chief of Details, he was only 36 when he succeeded the renowned Alexander Liberman as editorial director in 1993. Recently, after playing midwife to a trio of shopping magazines —Lucky, Cargo and the not-yet-launched Domino — he tried to pour some of his enthusiasms into a prototype for a new magazine about art, architecture and film.
“I thought it was some of the best work I’d done here,” he said of the prototype.
But S.I. Newhouse Jr., chairman of Advance Publications Inc. (parent of WWD) and of Condé Nast, while expressing interest in the project, apparently showed little inclination to put real resources behind it. Truman eventually concluded that his boss had no intention of moving ahead with the launch, a realization that played a large part in his decision to quit.
“It played into a slight disillusionment about what can be done — how magazines innovate, how the magazine industry innovates,” he said. “For me, introducing new formats and new subjects and new ideas is what turns me on. I don’t find the magazine marketplace at this point very open to new ideas.”
Newhouse, for his part, said he had not decided against launching the art magazine, and will hold a meeting in several weeks to determine its fate. “It certainly is by no means going to disappear,” he said in a phone interview.
But Newhouse acknowledged that Truman’s decision, delivered in person Monday morning, was “not a total surprise. I and many of the editors that he worked with were aware that he was restless. Part of his brilliance as an editorial director is that he has a restless streak in him.”
Meanwhile, Truman, who invented a new genre of magazines with his much-imitated concept for Lucky, said the stalling of his pet project was only one of several factors that prompted him to resign. “By nature, repetition is not my strongest suit. It was time for me personally to open a new chapter in my life, and to take a break from the New York media world, which I find somewhat insular.”
This story first appeared in the January 6, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
A native of England, Truman plans to spend the next year living in Spain — either Seville or Valencia — with his girlfriend, Leanne Shapton, a graphic designer and artist.
But his tenure at Condé Nast hasn’t been without its ups-and-downs. Prior to the launch of Lucky, he was needled by outsiders for his involvement in the Frank Gehry-designed cafeteria at Condé Nast’s new headquarters in Times Square. And while Lucky has been a huge success, such Truman ideas as Women in Sport never took off, the last redesign of Mademoiselle missed the mark and the title was eventually closed and House & Garden remains problematic.
Truman’s portfolio encompassed magazine development as well as oversight of all Condé Nast’s titles except Vogue, Vanity Fair, Architectural Digest and The New Yorker. Wallace’s portfolio will be the same, equally excluding those titles.
Kim France, editor in chief of Lucky, worked closely with Truman during the magazine’s start-up phase. “He was fun to work with. He helped ease you into the idea that you were running things,” she said. “He loved the idea of making the unusual choice.”
France said she respects Truman’s decision to walk away from the job, which reportedly comes with a $1 million-a-year salary.
“He’s a real seeker. People are sometimes ready to make fun of that, but he isn’t looking for the easy answers in life. I hate to sound as corny as this, but having a job in New York and being able to get the right table at a new restaurant isn’t a way to really learn more about yourself and explore.”
Truman seemed to recognize this in 2002, when he made a much-publicized visit to a Buddhist retreat in Woodstock, N.Y., for a month.
Wallace is one of Condé Nast’s longest-serving editor in chiefs, succeeding Harold Evans, Traveler’s founding editor, in 1990. An announcement about who will replace him at Traveler is expected within a week.
Newhouse said he did not seriously consider anyone else for the editorial director’s job, including Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour or Vanity Fair editor in chief Graydon Carter. Both have been mentioned in the past as possible candidates for editorial director.
“Anna and Graydon, as well as [New Yorker editor in chief] David Remnick and Paige [Rense, editor in chief of Architectural Digest] are so involved in their titles that they weren’t appropriate for the job,” Newhouse said. “Tom has a wonderful personality, he’s intelligent, he’s wise, which isn’t the same thing, and he has a terrific manner.”
Carter on Wednesday agreed with Newhouse’s assessment of his interest in the job. “For my part, there’s nothing better than being a magazine editor,” he said, adding of the editorial director’s post, “it’s a strange job. You don’t get much of a chance to deal with the successful magazines. You end up spending all your time on start-ups and the ones that aren’t doing so well.”
Condé Nast insiders said Wallace is among the company’s most business-savvy top editors. That makes him a good fit for the management style of Charles Townsend, who has run the company with a closer eye to the bottom line since succeeding Steven Florio as president and chief executive officer last year at this time. Indeed, Townsend recently cited Traveler as an example of advertising-editorial synergy that others in the company should emulate.
Wallace said he was called into Newhouse’s office Monday morning, not knowing that Truman had resigned.
“He said, ‘I have a proposition for you. Would you like to be the editorial director of Condé Nast Publications?’ I hesitated for about one second. I said, ‘I’ve considered it, and I accept.’”