Late last year, the magazines formerly known as Fairchild Publications moved from their headquarters at 7 West 34th Street to a new home at 750 Third Avenue. Left behind were the four portraits of Fairchilds—starting with founders E.W. and L.W. Fairchild—that formerly greeted visitors. They have been returned to the Fairchild family; in their place, the new lobby will feature modern art.
So goes the de-Fairchilding of Fairchild, under the ever-expanding reach of Condé Nast. Back in September, S.I. Newhouse announced he was restructuring his magazine empire: The Advance Magazine umbrella, which had hung over all his divisions, would be furled; henceforth the glamorous Condé Nast name would cover everything, including the 114-year-old, down-to-earth Fairchild.
Now, most of the obvious elements of the Fairchild brand have been eradicated. Switchboard operators answer the phones with “Condé Nast Publications.” About a month ago, workers installed Condé Nast signage throughout the Fairchild space. An architect-designed cafeteria, echoing Condé Nast’s fabled Frank Gehry one at 4 Times Square, is in the works.
“The consolidation is going very well,” Condé Nast spokeswoman Maurie Perl said. “We’re pleased with the progress, and we continue to move forward as one company.”
Organizationally, Fairchild lives on as a truncated division, including W magazine, Women’s Wear Daily and seven other trade publications, such as Footwear News and Supermarket News. On the strength of those business titles, Condé Nast executives are weighing whether to allow Fairchild to sprout back, hydra-like, as a pair of subdivisions—one for the fashion trades and the other for the retail ones.
In January, Fairchild C.E.O. Mary Berner exited the company. Patrick McCarthy, the editorial director and former chairman of Fairchild, remains, but with a smaller portfolio, handling W and WWD. In a nod to autonomy, he is on the brief list—along with Graydon Carter, David Remnick and Anna Wintour—of magazine chiefs who report directly to Mr. Newhouse, bypassing Condé Nast editorial director Thomas Wallace.
But Fairchild’s public presence is fading fast. And there remains a stepchild’s wariness about the merger. “Condé Nast is a club,” one former Fairchild staffer said. “Since when does Condé Nast want to let more people into their club?” Publishers of WWD and the other trades were not invited to this year’s Christmas lunch hosted by Mr. Newhouse at the Four Seasons, though publishers of Fairchild-born Jane, Details and Cookie did attend. The trades were also left off the guest list for the annual publishers’ meeting held in Miami in January.
Condé Nast—with its exquisitely protocol-minded and hierarchical culture—has been trying to figure out what to make of Fairchild ever since Mr. Newhouse bought the division from Disney in 1999, for a reported $650 million. In novelist Ted Heller’s 2000 send-up of the Newhouse empire, Slab Rat, the narrator—an editor at a bottom-rung title for “Versailles Publishing”—described the corporate relationship: “The only thing lower than wasting away at Here is working for Versailles’ sister publication company, Federated Magazines …. [T]hey’re in another building and I think that building might be in another city. Nobody ever talks about them—it’s a superstition. I don’t even want to mention them.”
Fairchild, meanwhile, prided itself on being the place “where staffers took the subway home,” as one former Fairchild editor put it. The 34th Street offices were an open newsroom—loud and often messy, embodying the swift-moving spirit of the company’s daily trades. Even W, for all its glossy up-market finish, was produced in a newsroom setting.
“It was less glamorous, less sane,” a former Fairchild staffer recalled. “It was totally harried. You know, the heart of Fairchild is a newspaper— WWD. That really was the controlling ethos of the whole place. When it expanded into consumer magazines, it kept that whole ethos.”
Fairchild was founded in Chicago by Louis Fairchild in 1892. By the turn of the century, it had relocated to New York, where it carved out a niche as a hard-charging business-news organization. The Fairchilds sold the company to Capital Cities Communications in 1968, but continued to put their stamp on its operations.
“The Fairchild family was very prominently on the scene,” recalled former WWD editorial director and publisher James Brady, who spent 17 years at Fairchild, leaving in 1971. “The Capital Cities guys didn’t come in with jackboots hiring and firing and telling us how to run our business.”
“The culture at WWD and W was [former WWD publisher] John Fairchild’s sensibility,” said New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley, who worked at WWD in the 80’s. “It was a little like working on a high-school paper, where you sort of gave special space to the popular crowd. I don’t think he was guided exclusively by personal affections or affinities; he had a very specific aesthetic. John would have lunch with a major advertiser one day, and the next day give a blistering review of their show.”
That aggressive approach helped separate Fairchild’s fashion coverage from that of its more soigné, laudatory rivals.
“We were a bunch of very young people who didn’t make a lot of money, but we were asking people who made a lot of money cheeky questions about their lifestyle,” said Lisa Anderson, a former WWD retail reporter who is now the Chicago Tribune’s New York bureau chief.
As of December, though, the bare-bones newsroom days were over. The new building is still undergoing renovations, but the new atmosphere is already apparent. The cubicles are beige, with nameplates on the desks, and collectively take up smaller patches of floor. Glass doors separate W from WWD. The break areas include modern kitchens, with round modernist tables, angular chairs and stainless-steel G.E. Mongorame refrigerators.
When the lobby is finished, it will feature a touch-screen directory and a trio of two-story marble pillars rising from the marble floor. The elevator cabs will have stone floors as well.
And, yes, there will be a cafeteria. On the building’s second floor, a cacophony of whizzing drills and banging hammers echoed through the halls recently. Architect Roger Duffy, a partner at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, is designing the space, with W’s creative director, Dennis Friedman, overseeing the project—just as Condé Nast’s then editorial director, James Truman, orchestrated Mr. Gehry’s work.
Mr. Duffy, 49, was part of the SOM team that submitted a design for Ground Zero, and has designed projects that include a terminal at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv and the Sidney Frank Center at Brown University. Where Mr. Gehry used titanium as his signature element, Ms. Perl said, the Third Avenue space would be distinguished by Mr. Duffy’s use of glass walls and ceilings.
The 150-seat space, currently a tangle of construction material, is scheduled to open in July. Restaurant consultant George Lang will design the menus, which will be catered by Restaurant Associates, the same company that operates the 4 Times Square cafeteria.
“And there will be no garlic at this cafeteria, just as there is no garlic at 4 Times Square,” Ms. Perl said. “We expect Si to be eating there as well as here.”
Pungent foods aren’t the only thing to go. Condé Nast has also canceled Fairchild’s annual company-wide gathering, Fairchild First. And it has scuttled the yearly event at which any staffer could pitch a magazine concept—though Cookie reportedly was born from such a session.
On the other hand, Fairchild staffers did receive the official Condé Nast Christmas gift—a glass bowl designed by Lena Bergstrom—which was a first. And they were given the Condé Nast calendar, with paydays marked in blue and holidays in brown.
And some welcome the demise of other Fairchild traditions. A few years ago, Fairchild organized a Valentine’s Day celebration in which a hired Cupid paraded through the office, doling out candy and posing for pictures with staffers.
“You had all this tremendously corny shit geared toward ad-sales incentive,” a Fairchild staffer said. “It was like, ‘What I learned at my Corporate Management 101 retreat.’”
In any event, the old divisions will soon be sharing more than nameplates and holiday traditions. Later this year, House and Garden is scheduled to relocate from 4 Times Square to 750 Third Avenue—making it the first Condé Nast title to move from the Condé Nast Building to the other Condé Nast building.
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