NEW YORK — Let’s party.
That’s become the rallying cry of the fashion publishing industry, even as some magazines watch ad pages plummet, circulation fall and heads roll.
One day Anna Wintour’s jetting off with a legion of Vogue editors to fete both Johnny Depp and the Anne Klein collection, while Graydon Carter of Vanity Fair is hosting intimate dinners for Princess Margaret and planning a mega bash at Morton’s in Hollywood on Oscar night. Back East, Paige Rense of Architectural Digest, who’s actually based in California, is hosting her own Oscar party at Mortimer’s here, for 80 of her nearest and dearest (and biggest advertisers). And those with any energy left can head down to Harvey Electronics inside ABC Carpet to party with Kurt Andersen and the New York magazine crowd.
This week, Tina Brown of The New Yorker threw her own mogul and movie star extravaganza at The Bel-Air. In May, the boys from Elle are sponsoring the big AIDS Project Los Angeles gala at Mann’s Chinese Theater. And S.I. Newhouse himself, who hasn’t led too many conga lines in his day, is outdoing Elsa Maxwell with parties for James Truman, Ron Galotti and Tom Florio, plus all kinds of departing Conde Nast executives.
To some, all this nightlife is a waste of time and money, and smacks of Eighties excess. But to others — usually the ones giving the parties — it’s the Nineties way of doing business and is a comparatively inexpensive way of promoting their magazines.
The parties have become a selling tool, where publishers can hit on potential clients or reward those who have already bought big packages. Indeed, some advertisers are now insisting on promotional parties before they’ll sign a contract.
For some editors, it seems that simply editing a magazine isn’t enough anymore: “Party host” is now part of the job description. Often, a public relations person is part of the package to make sure the word gets out.
It is not an inexpensive proposition. Parties can cost anywhere from $10,000 for a smallish affair to steep six-figure sums, with many falling in the $40,000-to-$60,000 range.
Some credit publishing’s party phenomenon to Tina Brown, who, during her tenure at Vanity Fair, threw countless affairs to not only bring in business, but get close to potential interview subjects and raise the magazine’s profile. Others, however, point out that Vogue’s 100th anniversary party, hosted by Anna Wintour at the New York Public Library, was the biggest magazine extravaganza in years, costing at least $500,000.
It’s not just a Conde Nast creation. Hearst and Hachette are no wallflowers either. Hachette’s Elle, for example, threw its first gala last summer, under a tent in Central Park, reportedly costing in excess of $150,000, and Hearst’s Harper’s Bazaar is underwriting a major Richard Avedon exhibition this month at the Whitney Museum, easily expected to top six figures.
Do editors actually enjoy throwing these parties?
“I love giving parties, and I love to go to my own, but I do prefer other people’s parties,” said Anna Wintour, editor in chief of Vogue.
“You don’t want to do them too often, but you want to pick your moment and make sure they’re a great success. It’s a great boost for the magazine, both internally and externally,” said Liz Tilberis, editor in chief of Harper’s Bazaar.
Of HB’s upcoming gala for Avedon, Tilberis said, “I’m scared to death, 250 people are coming. But we have great support from Robert Isabel and Glorious Food.”
“It depends on the party,” said Art Cooper, editor of GQ. “Every once in a while we’ll throw a lavish one. We had the biggest and most successful party for Pat Riley, and I had a terrible time. The larger the party, the harder it is to have a good time. For me, the greatest parties are the small dinner parties for 20 people where we can sit and talk. Otherwise, you’re just going around like an official greeter.”
Ad agency execs aren’t totally convinced of the value of magazine parties.
“I’ve stopped going to those parties for the most part, unless a friend is going,” said Ed Taussig, associate creative director of Grey Advertising. “They don’t really impress me — it’s sort of like going to a trade party. If I’m going to be the star of a party, I want it to be for my sparkling wit and not because of the influence I have with clients. If you accept the premise of these parties — that you’re there to get hit on — it’s all right, but I’m not susceptible to the schmooze at this point.”
Roberta Garfinkle, senior vice president, director of print media for McCann Erickson Worldwide, noted that some of the big parties, such as those thrown by Tina Brown, “have no bearing on our life,” adding, ” Very few agency people are there.”
Steve Klein, partner and media director of Kirshenbaum & Bond, noted that some of the advertiser-directed parties “unfortunately” have an impact.
“This is a business of very underpaid people,” said Klein. He noted, however, that when magazines are entertaining “masses of media planners, it’s a little seamy.” For senior level parties, “it’s more of a networking thing and they’re appreciated.”
But Klein believes that fashion parties do serve a greater purpose. “A party is a way of positioning a magazine outside of its pages. If they can give it to you in 3-D, it’s a very effective sales tool. If they do it right, then they personify the magazine to their customer base. It’s hard to do that in a sales call. A bad party — an unfashionable evening — is a death knell.”
“You do it for business,” said Steven T. Florio, the new president of Conde Nast Publications. “In Tina’s [Brown] case, it was an editorially driven party, but the business department was there.
“I think parties can serve a purpose, but we must be very careful in how we invest our dollars,” he added. “As a whole industry, it’s getting a little out of hand. I think I’ll be a little more questioning when I hear about a big party.”
While Florio declined to estimate the cost of these parties, he noted that some of them are “serious six-figure commitments.”
Even at money-losing publications, party-giving is common. Mirabella, for example, threw a dinner party for 300 at the Four Seasons in Milan during the Italian collections this month, costing $20,000. The magazine also hosted a recent party for Broadway Cares, the AIDS organization, and is planning a major event to mark its fifth anniversary in June.
“You can spend $100,000 easily on a party. Other magazines do. We have a tendency to do smaller-sized parties,” said Lisa Pomerantz, director of PR and special events at Mirabella. “We like to do charity parties, entertain clients and do parties for the image of the magazine. They do get coverage.”
“We did [the party in Milan] because we want to sustain our presence. Given we’re a smaller magazine [than Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar], it’s very important for Grace [Mirabella] to see everyone,” she said.
While Conde Nast says it doesn’t negotiate ad rates, it will negotiate party rates.
“Many times these parties are less expensive than you imagine,” said Paul Wilmot, a spokesman for Vogue. “They know we give good parties, and they’ll break prices for us.”
Vogue co-sponsored a party with Anne Klein by Richard Tyler and Neiman Marcus last month for 1,000 people at the Smash Box in Los Angeles. The party benefited DARE. Afterward, Vogue threw a dinner party at Morton’s for 80.
“We’re trying to expose designers to young, hip L.A. We hadn’t done anything there in a while and it was a catch-up situation,” said Wilmot, citing such guests as Ben Stiller, Linda Evangelista, Juliette Lewis, Gianni Versace, Kate Moss and Roseanna Arquette.
“For us, it works because we get publicity out of these parties,” added Wilmot.
Hachette Filipacchi will spend several hundred thousand dollars on its AIDS Project Los Angeles gala honoring Isaac Mizrahi.
“Companies have to give something back,” said David Pecker, president and chief executive officer of Hachette Filipacci, who noted that the company has been “deeply involved” with DIFFA and AmFAR. “It was a perfect venue for us. I wanted to do something big in Los Angeles and this is our first big event in L.A.”
But do these parties help generate business?
“I think business people like to do business with honorable companies,” Pecker said. “It’s a strong commitment for us, even as a good-will gesture. People do business on the golf course. Throwing a party is a more relaxing environment to present something.”
Even the stately New York Times has gotten into the party spirit. In a break from tradition, the Times threw an elaborate gala in November under the Bryant Park tents to celebrate 50 years of fashion coverage in its Sunday magazine, and at the same time, feted Carrie Donovan, who was retiring as the magazine’s style editor. Just last week, the magazine threw another party in Paris to welcome Holly Brubach, the new style editor.
Travel & Leisure threw a party for 300 at mad.61 in January celebrating its first issue under editor in chief Nancy Novogrod. The party, which sources estimate cost between $30,000 and $40,000, had an eclectic guest list, including Evelyn Lauder, Mort Janklow, Sheila Metzner, Tama Janowitz, Carl Bernstein and Carrie Donovan.
“There’s not anything done without expecting to generate business, but that said, it was a PR, celebratory thing, and it worked. It should pan out with some additional pages,” said Travel & Leisure publisher Richard B. Barthelmes.