How to Lose Friends and Alienate People
Shortly after I arrived a senior editor initiated me into the black art of snagging free theatre tickets. Apparently, you didn't simply call up the theatre's press agent and ask for a complimentary ticket—any rube with a press card could do that. Rather, you called him up, identified yourself as an editor at Vanity Fair, and asked to 'purchase' house seats. The press agent would be so impressed by your willingness to pay, not only would he immediately offer you two free seats, they would be the best seats in the house. It went without saying that no Vanity Fair editor should be expected to sit in anything less.
At the very top of the tree, Si's elite corps of editors-in-chief live like Pashas. In addition to their huge salaries—Graydon was paid $775,000 in 1995—Si buys them the cars of their choice and pays for chauffeurs to ferry them about. He also gives them interest-free loans so they can purchase the kind of homes they need now that they're Conde Nast machers. It's almost as if Si is an old-fashioned monarch rewarding his favorite courtiers with Baronial estates. When Graydon was appointed editor of Vanity Fair in 1992, Si loaned him $450,000 so he could afford to renovate his house in Connecticut and live in a flat in the Dakota—the same building on the Upper West Side that had housed John Lennon. Art Cooper, the editor of GQ, borrowed a cool million to purchase his country house.
The Queen Bee at Conde Nast is Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue, in 1996 her salary hit the $1 million mark, making her the highest-paid editor in the world. Born in 1949 into an upper-middle class English family—her father, Sir Charles Wintour, was at one time the editor of The Evening Standard—Anna's first job was in the fashion department of Harpers & Queen, aged twenty. After five years she crossed the Atlantic to work for a succession of fashion magazines before becoming the creative director of Vogue in 1983. She moved back to London in 1986 to take the helm of British Vogue then returned to New York in 1987 to edit House & Garden. She eventually landed the top job at the Conde Nast flagship in 1988.
Stories of Anna's notorious froideur are legion. Take the case of the Vogue department head who got her sixteen-year-old daughter a job as an intern in the summer of 1994. The teenager was ambling along a corridor one afternoon, minding her own business, when she saw Anna powering her way towards her. Now this, I can tell you from experience, is a frightening sight. After the girl had overcome her initial shock, she picked a spot somewhere over Anna's left shoulder and, by concentrating on that, hoped to get through the next thirty seconds. Suddenly, just as they were drawing level, the heel of one of Anna's Manolos snapped and she was sent sprawling to the ground, landing at the intern's feet. The girl's first impulse was to ask Anna if she was alright, but then she remembered what her mother had told her: that under no circumstances was she to speak to 'Ms. Wintour'—ever. Consequently, she gingerly stepped over Anna's prostrate form and carried on down the corridor. As soon as she turned the corner, she sprinted to her mother's office and explained what had happened. Had she done the right thing? Yes, her mother assured her. She'd done exactly the right thing.
I lapped up these gossipy tales. Here, at last, was Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous in the flesh. Or was Anna emulating Diana Vreeland, Vogues most celebrated editor? According to a Voguette I befriended, Anna often sends her assistant into the men's lavatories to hunt down male members of her staff who are late for meetings. She's also notoriously squeamish about the smell of food and it was a rule on the 13th floor that no one was allowed to eat at their desks until Anna had left the building. Tights, too, were verboten. Her extravagance—at the expense of the company—is legendary. As the editor of British Vogue, Anna had continued to 'live' in New York, commuting back and forth on the Concorde. In her current job, she's said to employ an interior decorator to rearrange the photographs on the wall of her office Perhaps the most persistent rumor of all is that Anna's trademark Chanel dark glasses never leave her face. (I can confirm this. I once spotted her sitting in the dark in the front row of a New York cinema with her sunglasses on.) It's as if she's taken Diana Vreeland's maxim to heart: 'Never fear being vulgar—just boring, middle class or dull.'
Of course, the privileged lifestyle of the Conde Nasties has its downside. It is customary for the staff at Vanity Fair to complain about the enervating effect of all this luxury, referring to the magazine as 'the velvet coffin.' Conde Nast editors have developed a whole vocabulary to convey their bitchy, slightly camp worldview. An inadequately-decorated restaurant, for instance, is an 'airport lounge' or—worse—a 'McDonald's,' while an overcrowded club or party is a 'rat ' or a 'cluster .' A person who's less than drop-dead gorgeous is 'scary looking' and anyone who calls twice in one day, no matter how urgent their business, is a 'stalker.' It's as if they're celebrities having to contend with troublesome fans. The worst epithet that can be applied to anyone is that he or she is 'over.'
During my first few weeks at Vanity Fair I was shocked by how openly contemptuous people were of those lower down the food chain than them. On the British magazines I'd worked for, any member of the officer class who sneered at the lower ranks would have immediately been branded a 'toffee-nosed wanker.' Snobbery ot any kind was completely taboo. Not so at Vanity Fair, where no effort is made to camouflage the rigid office hierarchy. On the contrary, people are never really allowed to forget their place in the Pecking order. The senior editorial staff treat the fact-checkers like uppity housemaids.