Ever since October 1996, when Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, the highest-grossing law firm in the country, announced that they would be abandoning their unfashionable Third Avenue world headquarters to cohabit at 4 Times Square with the glossy, bitchy magazine empire Condé Nast, the firm’s workaholic male associates and partners have spent a good deal of time mulling over an issue almost as consuming as their work on the 1989 consolidation of R.J. Reynolds and Nabisco. So, they mulled, will we be sharing a gym with those Condé Nast women?
At least those lawyers who actually knew what Condé Nast was were asking themselves that question. “I’m not up on pop culture in terms of models and whatnot,” one Skadden associate told The Observer . “To be honest, I’d never even heard of Condé Nast until I heard about the move. I’ve actually heard conflicting stories. Some people told me that it’s a modeling agency and that models go there. Some other people told me that it’s more the agents who go there rather than the models. I still don’t know, to be honest.”
He’s about to find out. “They will have their tongues hanging out,” said Douglas Durst, whose Durst Organization built 4 Times Square, of the Skadden males.
Meanwhile, true to type, the women of Condé Nast are playing it cool. “Skadden who ?” asked one Condé Nast fashion editor who asked not to be identified. “The only banker types I know are Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs.”
“My mother is probably more excited about the lawyers moving into the building than I am,” said Joey Bartolomeo, a 25-year-old staff writer for Women’s Sports and Fitness .
Rochelle Udell, editor of Self , dismissed the notion of the Condé Nast women panting after the legal eagles. “Now you marry an on-line entrepreneur,” she said. “Or for that matter, you become an on-line entrepreneur.”
While much has been written about Condé Nast’s new Times Square tower–most notably when, during construction, a length of scaffolding fell, broke through the roof of an adjacent hotel and killed an elderly woman–there has been scant mention of the fact that the women of Condé Nast are going to be sharing the building with about 600 of the city’s hardest-charging lawyers. And the guys get to be on top: Skadden will occupy the 24th floor and floors 27 through 48. Condé Nast should be all moved in by mid-August. Skadden will be settled in around January 2000.
At first blush, it would seem that there was some crafty real estate yenta behind uniting these two organizations under one 48-story roof. On paper, 4 Times Square is an ideal mating biosphere. Sixty-five percent of Skadden lawyers are male; 80 percent of Condé Nast employees are women under 35. The average Skadden partner takes home $1.3 million a year; Condé Nast women are not known for being averse to liquidity and, with the exception of upper-level editors, don’t exactly need a Louis Vuitton duffel bag to cart home their pay. The Millennium building, as it has been ominously called, could serve as a petri dish for one of the most radical genetic experiments yet embarked upon. The progeny (Condé Skads? Skadden Nasties?) could be a race of children with high cheekbones and firm buttocks whose first words are “billable hours” and who soon learn life’s eternal lesson: The self-tanner must never, ever, be used on the face.
Oh, the fun they could have together! There’s M&A lawyer Evan Stone asking if he can carry Vanity Fair fashion director Elizabeth Saltzman’s boxes from Scoop. There’s Morris Kramer, Skadden partner since 1975, trying his damnedest to remember which is which of those kittenish British Sykes sisters, Lucy and Plum, one blond, one brunette, from Allure and Vogue respectively. Hey, wasn’t that Attila Bodi, head associate on the Citicorp merger with Travelers Group Inc., sharing a radio car with Vogue fashion market director Wendy Hirschberg?
But will it work? Or will it be like throwing two pandas together and slowly coming to the realization that they will never, in a million years, mate?
The idea of a shared gym did come up. But, alas, Skadden nixed it: The firm cited security reasons, claiming its partners routinely discuss deals on the Stairmaster, as they huff and puff in their “Skadden Arps”-emblazoned T-shirts and shorts. Pilates classes with, say, Condé Nast editorial director James Truman would just create too many potential leaks. Some younger Skadden associates privately wonder if the decision had more to do with not wanting the women of Condé Nast to get a gander at the Skadden partners’ pale, lumpy bodies. So the building’s one gym will be Skadden territory.
And the young worthies should not expect to chow down together: The day that Condé Nast shares its legendary but yet-to-be-completed Frank O. Gehry-designed cafeteria will be the day Vogue editor Anna Wintour wears acid-wash jeans to work. Skadden will have a private dining room, on the 37th floor, but it will be the brave attorney indeed who first shows up to lunch with a willowy, Jimmy Choo-shod beauty editor on his arm.
Not that the women will necessarily be clamoring for an invite. And therein lies the deeper truth, a dark truth even, about this geographic marriage: The women of Condé Nast are likely to regard their cohabitors with the chilly scorn they reserve for younger brothers, slow waiters and Hearst editors. Especially when they realize that their cherished radio cabs will have to share scant curb space with Skadden’s own fleet.
“Maybe people are looking forward to working with more heterosexual men,” said Mademoiselle fashion director Evyan Metzner, “I don’t really know. But the women I work with at Mademoiselle are married or have boyfriends, and some kind of healthy social life. It’s not really a manhunt. I’m not thinking about meeting the man of my future going to work in the morning. Do you think I’m going to start wearing more high-heeled shoes to the office?”
Bruce Fowle, a principal in Fox & Fowle Architects, the firm that designed 4 Times Square, stood in the grand lobby four days before the first Condé Nast people arrived. He stood on the soap-colored polished granite floor under a ceiling of undulating waves of aluminum leafing. “We knew about the good-looking women at Condé Nast,” said Mr. Fowle. “I suppose, subconsciously, we kept that in mind. The elevator cabs are tall and slender, and not too flamboyant in their expression. They’re quite simple and subdued so those wonderful works of art will stand out.”
Condé Nast and Skadden Arps will not actually share any elevator cars, although the middle bank of elevators–the “intermediate low-rise”–will have Condé Nast cars right next to Skadden cars. “The lighting in the elevator will set a very different mood,” said Mr. Fowle. “It will take you from this grand large-scale ambiance into something which is focused downlighting, which doesn’t have the same level of brightness as out here.”
For those awkward lobby moments, here’s a cheat sheet for those Condé Nast ladies who think Skadden is a bank, and those Skadden fellows who think Condé Nast is a modeling agency:
Bony fashion plates of Condé Nast, gather round, and meet the nice young barracuda lawyers of Skadden Arps. The boys have a bit of an inferiority complex, because they have never felt on equal social footing with stiff-jawed old world firms like Cravath, Swaine & Moore and Sullivan & Cromwell. “For 50 years, Skadden has had this giant chip on its shoulder about the second-best nature of its founding lawyers in the eyes of the upper bar,” said Lincoln Caplan, author Skadden: Power, Money and the Rise of a Legal Empire . “At the same time it’s developed this no-holds-barred brand of corporate lawyering, it’s hungered for acceptance and acceptability.” Skadden is the law firm you hire when you want to scare the bejesus out of somebody, which Bill Clinton undoubtedly did when he hired Skadden lawyer Bob Bennett to handle his defense in the Paula Jones sexual harassment suit. If you decide you want a date with a Skadden lawyer, ladies, he will upgrade the meal from Dallas BBQ to Daniel if you mention the name Joe Flom. Mr. Flom is the Skadden partner all the young Skaddies want to be. The Brooklyn-reared son of poor Russian Jewish immigrants, Mr. Flom helped Skadden get a foothold in nearly every major merger-and-acquisition deal in the go-go 80’s, including R.J. Reynolds’ purchase of Nabisco–Skadden lawyers bagged $25 million for the firm in that deal. If you should form a relationship with a Skadden man, Condé gals, quietly start slipping him some of your Xanax. Their jobs tend to be … stressful. “Stressful?” one Skadden associate said. “Hell, yeah, it’s stressful. If you get away with having a whole week without fucking ripping your hair out, you’re lucky!” Hundred-hour weeks are not rare. Sometimes associates sleep in their offices. And beware: Though they can afford it, few Skadden associates bother to get summer shares in the Hamptons, realizing that they would rarely get out there.
And don’t expect them to accompany you to a Damien Hirst show downtown. “They’re worldly in a way young C.I.A. agents are worldly,” said Mr. Caplan. “They have a deep knowledge about something intricate and secret, which is hard for them to talk about, but which is framed as news in The Wall Street Journal and the financial pages of newspapers around the world. They know how that world is going to be reshaped before anybody else does.”
You might want to go easy on the lawyer jokes, at least until the third or fourth date. “There’s a Green Beret mentality there,” explained one former Skadden associate. “It’s an understanding that law is war and a feeling in the office much like I imagine the Israeli Army feels before they go into battle.”
O.K., now, guys, get out your legal pads. Condé Nast is the magazine empire owned by S.I. (Si) Newhouse Jr. It has a lingering reputation as a finishing school for young women of the leisure class. Representative Clare Boothe Luce and Representative Millicent Fenwick, Republicans of New Jersey, were early Condé Nast editors. To give you an idea of how the Condé Nast woman expects to be treated: Newspaper magnate Sam Newhouse, father of Si, plunked down $15 million for Condé Nast in 1959 after his wife Mitzi told him that all she wanted for their 35th wedding anniversary was Vogue magazine.
These days, the regimen of a Condé Nast fashion editor usually involves a prework workout at Equinox, haircut by John Sahag (Gwyneth Paltrow’s stylist), a curl-relaxing “blow-out” by the Brazilian women at Color and Cut, $205 facials from Bliss, a Cartier Tank watch, Manolo Blahnik shoes ( heels only at Vogue , dearie!), a little Prada or Gucci ensemble, and in the summer, finished off with a Brazilian bikini wax courtesy of the J. sisters. And after all that work–helped along by the rhinoplasty they got on winter break while at Smith–they look to die for! To eat with a spoon! Very expensive!
But Skadden ponies, beware! Many, many men have been boning up on Condé Nast for years, while you’ve had your heads buried in tort reform. An editor from a Condé Nast fashion magazine said that one day as she was leaving the building, she saw an attractive male friend idling in his Jeep in front of the Condé Nast building. He told her he was “just browsing.” An editorial assistant said she knew a graphic designer who would infiltrate the building and ride the elevators all afternoon. “And these are not schlubby guys!” the editor said. “These are interesting, attractive, fun guys–the kind you would go to a fund-raiser to meet.”
But don’t feel bad if the Condé Nast women reject you, Skaddies, you are not alone. According to a Condé Nast editor, the few straight single men who do work there are also an aggrieved bunch. “They feel they work with all these good-looking women who just end up going out with these Wall Streeters,” she said.
So, can this marriage work? David Marglin, a former Skadden associate who is starting his own Web company in Boston, thinks it just might. “Cash for cachet,” is how he described a possible Condé-Arps romance. “I’m sure that there are women who are not heiresses working for these magazines that are not paid all that well, comparatively, so there’s going to be a lot of well-paid Skadden people with no social life and underpaid Condé Nast people with excess social life. The trade is going to be cash for cachet.”
Gay men at Condé Nast have also been pondering their new neighbors. “There’s a sense in general that this is a pretty ugly group of lawyers, not physically ugly, but a kind of grinding, big-money law machine,” said a gay editorial assistant in his 20’s, who said he has a gay friend who works at Skadden. “A lot of people say there are a lot of gay lawyers there, but my friend says No, it’s kind of an uncomfortable place to be gay. He said he feels lucky to be the kind of person who passes flawlessly.”
He said it would be nice to get some new blood, even though Skadden lawyers have a reputation as “lousy dressers.” “I know that my gay Condé Nast friends find the usual Condé Nast man to be a little odious, since they’re all wearing the same Prada sport shoes, the same Helmut Lang pants,” he said. “I won’t be bothered at all when I see the Skadden men filing in, in their ill-fitting suits.” He said the sexual culture at law firms and banks was different than the relatively open attitude at Condé Nast. “I know from my friends who work in banks and law firms, there’s a strange set of sexual rituals that take place in the office. People have a desire to masturbate at their desks after everybody else is gone, or a desire to go into the bathroom a lot in order to quietly discern and understand other people’s bathroom rituals. It’s all very creepy, but it’s undeniably true of a place where you spend 12 hours of your day trying to pretend you’re not a human animal with carnal needs.”
Perhaps the strongest factor working against the Skadden men is that even the Skadden women don’t want them. And to many Condé Nast women, if you didn’t steal your boyfriend from another, he’s not much worth having.
“Well, first of all, they’re all short,” said a second year Skadden female associate in her late 20’s, of her male colleagues. “I don’t know why. It must be a lawyer thing.” She said she was hard pressed to name a Skadden man she thought was attractive. The only two had fled Skadden to join investment banks. “I guess we’re just an ugly firm,” she said with a sigh, adding that many of the men apparently have trouble getting their shirts properly pressed, and sported what she called “that seersucker suit, drip-dry look.”
To the women of Condé Nast, she said, “Take them. Date them. We don’t care.… If you can lower your looks standards, you’ll be fine.”
Joey Bartolomeo, the Women’s Sports and Fitnes s writer, said she doesn’t really know much in the way of specifics about “the lawyers,” as she and her mother have been referring to them. “Aren’t those guys like fancy lawyers? I don’t think they’re ambulance chasers,” she said. “I’m expecting them all to be in suits. I think that’s how we’ll be able to them apart from the people who work here. And they’ll have briefcases, stuff like that.”
Ms. Bartolomeo, who is 5 feet 2 inches tall, was asked how she feels about dating short men. “Why? Are they all short?” she asked. “I wouldn’t be looking for a short guy in particular. What? Is there some height requirement for working there? You must be under this height to work here?”
A male executive at a Condé Nast fashion magazine thinks the big shot lawyers will likely go home each night empty-handed. “Were things such as the Internet not happening now, I might say, Yeah, it could happen. But the reality is, these guys make peanuts compared to the newbies on Silicon Alley. If money is indeed the ultimate aphrodisiac, I’d say these guys are going to be shit out of luck, because they just don’t have the money. I realize these Internet guys are serious pocket protector stuff. But it’s like a make-over for the women, which is what editors are paid to do. What you and I may see as a four-eyed geek, they see as a reclamation project with several zeroes attached to him.”
Which raises a question: Has Skadden unwittingly arranged its own eventual downfall by moving in with Condé Nast? What effect will being surrounded by 6-foot-tall beauties who spurn them have on the Skadden lawyers’ self-confidence? Will Skadden start to lose in court, will its mergers unmerge, as its attorneys carry around a heavy caseload of self-doubt?
As a male associate at another large firm put it, “I think if lawyers at firms like Skadden asked themselves questions like, ‘Is there some reason I can’t interact socially with these people, date them, or be intriguing to them?’ they would quit. They’d leave the firm, or leave law altogether. I think they’d realize that they were living a socially depraved life.”