GRAYDON BUTTS OUT: Vanity Fair staffers feel like they’ve been seeing more of editor in chief Graydon Carter than usual these past few weeks and some think they know why: After presiding over a 22 percent drop in newsstand sales in the second half of 2004, Carter, the theory goes, is under pressure from above to right the ship. There’s even talk that he will abandon his longstanding resistance to pretesting of covers.
Carter pish-poshed the speculation Thursday, insisting it’s business as usual in Vanity Fair’s offices. (The magazine is a unit of Advance Publications, parent of WWD.) “It’s basically a blip,” he said of the newsstand slide. “We realized we were probably putting too many men on the cover. We had three men in a row [Jude Law, October; Johnny Depp, November, and Leonardo DiCaprio, December]. The simple fact is women tend to sell better than men on our covers.”
He added that virtually no other magazine with a cover price as high as Vanity Fair’s — $4.50 — sells nearly as many copies on the newsstand, usually in the 300,000 to 400,000 range.
As for the alleged pressure from upstairs, Carter said, “Si [Newhouse, Condé Nast’s chairman] and Chuck [Townsend, its president] have been around long enough to know that anytime you have a good year, chances are it’s going to be followed by a year that may dip a bit. You cannot guess correctly every single month.”
Maybe not, but you can avoid the occasional dud by testing covers beforehand. Carter confirmed that he entertained discussions last year about pretesting but said he remains a focus-group skeptic. “I’d rather still fly by the seat of my pants for the time being.”
That doesn’t mean absolutely nothing has changed at Vanity Fair. Amazing virtually everybody, Carter, a militant opponent of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s workplace smoking ban, gave up the habit cold turkey five weeks ago. “I’m having an anxiety attack every four to five minutes, but other than that I feel fine,” he reported. “I’ve probably gained weight, but I’ll tackle that next time around.” — Jeff Bercovici
MARC’S MEA CULPA: Marc Jacobs may have shown a bit of cheek in his Web site apology for the 90-minute wait for his show during New York Fashion Week, but in private he was more contrite. This week, Jacobs sent handwritten letters with very personal messages to a number of top fashion editors asking their forgiveness for the delay. Several prominent showgoers, including Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour and In Style fashion director Hal Rubenstein, made their displeasure about the wait known after the show.
According to a source, Jacobs explained in the letters that he postponed the start of the show not out of disrespect for his audience but out of an unwillingness to shortchange the many designers, sewers and stylists who had worked so hard on the collection. It would have been unfair to them, he said, to begin the show before all preparations were completed.
A spokesman for Jacobs did not return calls, and several recipients of the letters declined to comment. — J.B.
ALL YOU CAN STOMACH: Editors who judge National Magazine Award entries always get treated to plenty of great food writing, but great food? Not so much. Perhaps not surprisingly, people who subsist on Cobb salads from Michael’s and $40 DB Bistro burgers were less than thrilled with the buffet at the Millennium Hotel, where they holed up Tuesday and Wednesday for the first round of judging. Lunchtime offerings ranged from ceviche made with artificial crab meat to fishy-tasting salmon to a hand-carved ribeye that “had a worse fat-to-meat ratio than the latest issue of Vanity Fair,” in the words of one editor, who was in from out of town. But nothing drew more scorn than the rubbery pierogies, served “absolutely slick with the culinary equivalent of Astro-Glide,” according to the visitor.
With entrees like these to choose from, it was no wonder several editors opted to fill up on desserts, which included not-bad banana cream pie, Rice Krispie treats, brownies and cheesecake.
“In general, it was like being at a hotel in Cleveland,” commented another judge.
An employee of the Millennium, which doesn’t allow outside catering unless it’s kosher, said the food was the hotel’s standard “club dining” fare. To be fair, not everyone thought it was awful. “I’m no foodie, but I thought it was fine,” said one Condé Nast editor. (Perhaps he just missed the taste of garlic — banned from the Condé Nast cafeteria.)
Marlene Kahan, executive director of the American Society of Magazine Editors, said she remains satisfied with the Millennium — with one reservation. “We’ve been doing it there for years, and the food has been exceptional,” she said. “I happen to agree about the pierogies, though.” — J.B. and Sara James