Can Fairchild Recast Scruffy Glossy as W With Testosterone?

After Steve Florio, the president of Condé Nast, had made the grisly and somewhat surprising statement at the Details offices on Monday, March 20, he opened the floor up to the staff for questions.

The first to pipe up was Pamela Warr, a promotion associate. Ms. Warr had been helping set up a Hollywood party Details was throwing on March 24, along with Artisan Entertainment to celebrate Oscar and Independent Spirit Award nominations for the studio behind The Blair Witch Project .

For months, Ms. Warr had been calling publicists, lining up Whitney Houston, Milla Jovovich, John Waters, Vince Vaughn and Charlize Theron. “Well,” said Ms. Warr, “we have this really big event in L.A. on Friday–”

“No,” said Mr. Florio, “you don’t. You don’t have an event. You don’t have a magazine.”

Earlier that morning, the entire staff received an e-mail asking that it meet with publisher Linda Mason in the advertising conference room. The editorial staff had never met with her before.

The 65 or so members of the staff filed into the conference room to find Steve Florio at the front of the room. Mark Golin was there, too, standing off in a corner. What the Details staff didn’t know, yet, was that just minutes before, Mr. Golin had briefly met with James Truman, Condé Nast’s editorial director, and was dismissed .

Mr. Florio, “appropriately somber,” as one person in the conference room put it, started out with, “I hate these kinds of meetings.” Then, what was happening started to register.

“Looking around the room, people were almost giggling because it was so absurd on a level,” said one Details editor. “It’s one of these things where it’s happening, but you can’t quite process that it’s happening, so your reaction is to chuckle in this detached way.”

After the May issue, Condé Nast would stop publishing Details and the title would be transferred to Fairchild Publications, also owned by Condé Nast’s corporate parent, Advance Publications. And, it would become another kind of magazine altogether, one less kindred to the grungy, horny version of Details Mr. Golin had been hired to create and more like W , the giant glossy sister-of- WWD that has become a great success.

Mr. Florio gave a few business reasons for shuttering the title: Details was losing money (as it has for the decade Condé Nast has owned it) and added that paper and postage was going up 20 percent later this year. “He said at that point it didn’t seem like a viable business proposition anymore,” said one Details editor.

Mr. Florio told staff members they had until Friday, March 24, to tend to the magazine’s final affairs and then clear their desks. They would receive three weeks’ severance pay for every year they have been with the magazine. Most of the editorial staff was hired after Mr. Golin finally arrived last May. Mr. Florio said the Condé Nast human resources department would do everything it could to place them at other magazines. And he said he would even pitch in himself. He gave out his number and invited staff members to call him for recommendations.

It was significant to some that when it came time to fire the whole Details staff, along with editor Mark Golin whom Condé Nast so proudly raided from Maxim in February 1999, the bearer of bad news was not James Truman, Condé Nast’s editorial director, but Mr. Florio, the president and chief executive officer. And as the Details staff spent most of the rest of the day guzzling champagne and Absolut and dancing to Fatboy Slim in Mr. Golin’s office, Mr. Truman never dropped by to say goodbye.

After all, Mr. Truman has always had a special relationship with Details . As the first Condé Nast editor of the magazine, Mr. Truman became a star, putting together a hipster young men’s magazine and watching circulation increase from 242,278 in 1992 to 481,634 in 1994. That year, he was promoted to editorial director and, even after he got into the corporate suite, Details remained Mr. Truman’s pet project. And it was Mr. Truman who called up Mr. Golin early last year after the then- Details editor Michael Caruso boasted in the pages of the New York Post , “My numbers are so good, they are going to be giving me a big fat raise.” Mr. Caruso was promptly fired and Mr. Golin was installed in the post.

The official line at 4 Times Square is that it was Mr. Truman’s idea to shut down Details as a Condé Nast magazine and restart it at Fairchild Publications, which is also owned by S.I. Newhouse Jr., the head of Advance Publications.

And, in fact, it was injection of Fairchild and its 45-year-old editorial director into the reinvention of Details that threw most Condé Nast employees.

“I’m going to start fresh,” said Mr. McCarthy. He rejected comparisons to either of Fairchild’s leading consumer titles, W , the upscale, oversize book that grew out of the fashion industry coverage of Women’s Wear Daily , and Jane , Jane Pratt’s eponymous sequel to Sassy that Fairchild bought from the Walt Disney Company in 1999. ” Details will be the third model,” Mr. McCarthy said. “It’s not going to be W .”

About all that Mr. McCarthy is sure of is that Details will be a men’s fashion magazine. Nonetheless, he said, there will be a strong life-style component of his Details . “The days when a pure-play fashion magazine existed are over, even in women’s but especially in men’s,” he said.

Mr. McCarthy doesn’t have much interest in the every-guy jocularity that Mark Golin brought to Details .

“I want to get the sophisticated 20-year-old guy reading it,” Mr. McCarthy said. “Sophisticated in the sense that he’s interested in fashion, and he’s interested in the kinds of things we’ll write about.” Mr. McCarthy said those other things will be all the things that fall under the broad life style heading: clothing, music, movies and homes.

Mr. McCarthy said he thinks his Details should have a circulation of between 400,000 and 600,000. Wherever he expects to find these legions of 20-year-old esthetes, it’s not the current readership of the U.S. laddie magazines.

” FHM and Maxim , they’re great magazines,” Mr. McCarthy said. “Good luck, but that’s not what we’re interested in.”

First things first, Mr. McCarthy needs an editor. At the moment, it doesn’t seem he has anyone in mind. “I’m going to cast the net wide,” he said. “When a job like this opens, the first thing you get is every name you know. Everybody calls up and there’s always two or three names that come up and I’m certainly going to speak to them because I ought to, but I’d also like to cast it a little bit wider to people I don’t know or might be unexpected to edit a magazine like this,” he said.

As for the rest of the staff, Mr. McCarthy said, “I’m going to go where I always go, which is to the people I work with, and we’ll start fresh from that.”

Mr. McCarthy said he’s also interested in talking to some of the Details editors who will be unemployed as of Friday, March 24. “The top 20 or 15 people, I’m going to see and if they’re good and we get along and I think they have great ideas and they want to work here, if all those things come together, I’m going to hire them.” He’ll have some competition. When the news leaked out on the morning of March 20 that Details was folding, offers started pouring in. Bill Shapiro, the Details executive editor who followed Mr. Golin from Maxim last year, said, “I’m getting calls from every fucking dot-com on the planet.”

Soon after Mr. Florio’s meeting broke up, the staff adjourned to Mr. Golin’s office. They started downing shots of Absolut Mandrin, a magnum of Veuve Clicquot and a case of merlot. The advertising department came up with some Amstel Light and a case of Heineken turned up somewhere.

“Out of the woodwork came this amazing stash of booze,” said a staff member who partook in the grim bacchanalia.

As they started getting drunk, editors started taking turns sitting at Mr. Golin’s desk, wearing his sunglasses. They took Polaroids of each other to commemorate the occasion. Pretty soon, Fatboy Slim was cranking on the stereo and a few people started to dance.

In recent months, there were few signs that Details ‘ collapse was imminent. Both Albert Kim, entertainment editor, and Kendall Hamilton, a senior features editor, had been hired in December. An art director, Rockwell Harwood, who had left Esquire , was due to start on Monday March 27.

Back in January and February, rumors had been circulating through the Details offices that the magazine was in trouble. At the time, as Details editors understood things, the Condé Nast top brass, including Mr. Florio, Mr. Truman and even Mr. Newhouse, had assured Mr. Golin that he had two years to stop the bleeding at Details , which one insider said had doubled during Mr. Golin’s reign.

Earlier this year, according to insiders, the idea of folding Details had been floated, but the plan would have been to put the staff to work coming up with a brand-new title. Mr. Golin “was all for it,” said the insider.

What the staff did instead was go to work reposition the magazine. Earlier in March, Mr. Golin and his top six editors spent two days holed up in the Marriott Marquis hotel on Broadway and 45th Street, rethinking the magazine. Editors were planning to travel around the country beginning the week of March 27 conducting focus group sessions on the new ideas.

“Everything would have been anti- Maxim ,” said a Details editor, speaking of Mr. Golin’s previous magazine. “The field was getting more competitive. GQ had become much more babe-oriented, FHM has just started, so our idea was to come up with a magazine that just had more, more heart, something that offered more to the 24-, 25-year-old guy. Not just babes and beer, issue-oriented stuff, stuff about their life and their work, passions and career.”

The big changes were slated for the June issue, the Details home and apartment issue. The May issue had just closed Friday, March 17. “The June issue wouldn’t have had a babe on the cover,” said the editor. “It would have been something conceptual.”

The change would have been just one of many during the tumultuous decade at Details . In the six years since Mr. Truman was moved up to editorial director, four editors have churned through the magazine. With them, Details has been thought of as everything from a possibly gay-oriented men’s magazine, to Maxim wannabe to an anti- Maxim steered by the former Maxim editor. Now it’s Fairchild’s turn. And the odd thing is that Fairchild already had one shot at this category: It formerly ran M , a style magazine for men that developed from the business magazine Manhattan, inc . that Clay Felker brought to Fairchild in the late 1980’s.