CAFETERIA MANIA: There hasn’t been this much frenzy over a new building in New York since, well, Condé Nast moved into 4 Times Square six years ago. But Hearst’s newly completed headquarters building, designed by Sir Norman Foster, generated endless column inches last week, including three separate stories in The New York Times. The Times stories culminated in a Friday architecture review that praised the Hearst tower as a “muscular symbol of corporate self-confidence.” All the attention prompted one fashion editor to exclaim, “Hearst is the new Condé Nast!”

But the real question fashion insiders were asking last week had less to do with Foster’s use of glass and steel and more with a simpler matter: How do the cafeterias stack up? Remember, Condé Nast’s Frank Gehry-designed eatery, which reportedly cost $10 million, was for a time the hottest — and most exclusive — restaurant in town.

Physically, the two spaces could hardly be more dissimilar. Hearst’s soaring, plaza-like cafeteria has the feel of a stylish European airport — and about as much personality. But even with the water temporarily drained from the tiered-glass waterfall in the entryway, the first glimpse is impressive. The dimly lit Condé Nast eatery, in contrast, is more cutting-edge, with oversized tables and typically Gehry-esque psychedelic curves.

And while the Hearst cafeteria succeeds on a large scale, some of the smaller details are off. Asymmetrical trays, combined with heavy china, make for a tricky balancing act. The room offers a wider range of seating options than its Condé Nast counterpart, but the library-carrel-style tables for one seem a bit antisocial (though no doubt useful for editors with page proofs to polish off). The food, meanwhile, is not noticeably better or worse than that dished up at 4 Times Square — although presumably Hearst’s dishes can include garlic.

The verdict: The Condé Nast cafeteria is fashion-forward in a manner that can be intimidating, while the Hearst version is tasteful to the point of slight blandness. Any parallels to the qualities of the companies themselves were, no doubt, unintentional.
Jeff Bercovici

FROM PAGE TO SCREEN: With the magazine industry sputtering, the temptation to decamp to greener pastures is growing. That’s what former Elle publisher John Rollins is doing, signing on with a new Web television company called ManiaTV.com. Rollins, who was let go from Elle last month in a bit of streamlining, said Friday he had accepted a post as executive vice president of sales for the year-and-a-half-old venture. “When I knew I’d be leaving Elle, I felt I wanted to investigate the Web side of the business,” said Rollins, who is also former group publisher of Vibe and Spin. “They really need a sales staff created largely from scratch, and that’s what I’ll be doing.”

This story first appeared in the June 12, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Based in Denver (although Rollins will operate out of New York), ManiaTV was started by Drew Massey, the entrepreneur behind short-lived men’s magazine P.O.V. Unlike Internet sensation YouTube.com, which relies on user-supplied content, ManiaTV has a full roster of original programming. A group of investors led by Benchmark Capital has put $15 million into the launch, said Rollins.
J.B.

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