By  on February 21, 2002

NEW YORK -- Carl Portale, senior vice president and Elle Group publishing director, said Wednesday that he plans to take early retirement, effective Friday. His departure comes as Elle continues to slip down the rankings of fashion titles in ad pages.

Portale, 63, said he plans to consult for a few months with the new group publisher -- who is expected to be named next week -- and will assume an equity position with an international company next month, which he declined to divulge.

"I'm very excited about it," said Portale, who spearheaded the publishing side of Elle for the past eight years.

Portale's early retirement wasn't unexpected, but it appears to have come a bit earlier than planned. "When Jack [Kliger, ceo of Hachette Filipacchi Medias] started here three years ago, he asked me how long I want to work here, and I said I want to leave Hachette when I'm 64, and I'm 63." Portale turns 64 next December.

Kliger confirmed that he had been talking with Portale about succession plans for a while. "He [Portale] has had a great run and has been a wonderful executive. He knows my job is to plan for the long-term future, and considering what the economy looks like, we thought it was best to look at it now," said Kliger.

Kliger said he has spoken to a "select number of people" both inside and outside the company, and said it wasn't imperative that the person be part of the fashion community. "We're looking for someone who can be not only the publisher, but manage a multifaceted brand, and be part of a big global network+.I don't have a problem making a choice that is not orthodox. I've been reformed for quite a while."

Sources said one of the leading candidates for the opening is Carol Smith, acting vice president and general manager of elle.com. However, some observers say she may not take it. Smith couldn't be reached for comment.

Portale was named to his most recent post in December 2000 when Kliger reorganized the brand under the management of a group publishing director. The Elle Group includes Elle, Elle Decor and Ellegirl. Portale joined Hachette in 1994 as senior vice president and group publisher of Elle and Mirabella, prior to which he was publisher of Harper's Bazaar from 1991 to 1994.Portale leaves Elle at a time when the magazine has slipped into fourth place among the fashion titles.

When Portale assumed his role at Elle in 1994, the magazine was solidly in second place in the fashion category after Vogue. Since then, both In Style and W have surpassed Elle in ad pages. In 2001, Elle carried 1,913.3 ad pages, down 16.1 percent, trailing Vogue (3,179), In Style (3,024.1) and W (2,123.1), respectively, according to Media Industry Newsletter.

Like all the big fashion magazines, Elle was hit hard in the first quarter of 2002, when its ad pages declined 30.6 percent, to 311. For the quarter, Elle slipped into fifth place among the fashion titles, trailing Vogue (665.6), In Style (533), W (419) and Harper's Bazaar (359.5), according to MIN. For March alone, Elle's ad pages were off 28.8 percent, to 211.

When Portale arrived at Elle in 1994, the magazine carried 1,515 ad pages for the year, according to MIN. Under Portale's watch, ad pages peaked in 2000 at 2,280, but fell back to 1,913.3 in 2001.

Portale noted that the magazine has been doing well in endemic categories, but "it's nonendemic advertisers that are killing us. Automotive, liquor and electronics are all down, but fashion, accessories, fragrances and cosmetics are fine."

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