When Tina Brown turned down a five-year deal to stay on as editor of The New Yorker in 1998, she was reportedly living in a $4 million East 57th Street maisonette with four bedrooms, a library, six baths, three maids’ rooms and a large garden—all bought with help from her employer, Condé Nast, which put up their mortgage on the place.
If you want to employ the “Queen of Buzz,” you have to give her a good salary—something Condé Nast chairman Si Newhouse is famous for. And you have to give her something Condé Nast is less famous for: a castle.
Because a million-dollar salary may seem like a lot. But when you’ve got Tony Blair, Paul Wolfowitz, Judith Regan, Salman Rushdie and Tom Brokaw to entertain, it’s just mad money.
And at Condé Nast, entertaining on that scale is part of the job.
But what happens when an editor leaves? The late, great Neal Travis used his column in the New York Post to try to get to the bottom of Ms. Brown’s domestic arrangements with Mr. Newhouse when she left the company to go work for the Weinsteins and Miramax.
“I couldn’t get any reliable guide to what Brown will be earning at the Disney-owned Miramax, but a figure of $2 million a year was being bandied about,” he wrote.
But that was nothing.
“More important, I understand the studio will pick up the paper on the $3 million East Side townhouse Newhouse financed for Brown and her husband, Harry Evans, when Harry was running Si’s Random House.”
And that’s still nothing.
“Miramax will also cover a parcel of other loans and advances Newhouse made over the years when Brown was his magazine star. (Remember, the studio’s parent company paid Mike Ovitz something like $130 million to go away after one year on the job—in comparison, Brown’s deal is pocket change.)”
When her new magazine debuted, it was called Talk. Who wants to talk in a mangy two-bedroom on West End Avenue?
And as anyone who has perused the real-estate sections in recent years knows all too well, that’s very likely where you might live on a million a year.
It happens all over the company. Over 20 Condé Nast executives, editors and even a couple of writers have either been loaned money directly by the company (sometimes listed as the overarching corporation, Advance Publications) or had the media giant secure mortgages in order to purchase properties, according to city records. With Condé Nast acting as the secured party, buyers can potentially get far better rates than going through the process as an individual.
And it speaks volumes about the differences between Condé Nast and its closest competitors that no other Manhattan media company seems to do as much to thrust its editors into whatever social milieu they are meant to be writing for and about.
Last week, The Observer reported that Ariel Foxman, the former editor of the recently defunct men’s shopping magazine, Cargo, got some help from Condé Nast in securing a loan to purchase a West Village co-op apartment. Indeed, in February 2005, about a year and a half after the magazine launched, Mr. Foxman bought an oversized one-bedroom spread that had listed for $625,000. That sounds about right for Cargo!
As one of the largest privately held companies in the country, Condé Nast does not have to justify real-estate loans to a roomful of nitpicky shareholders, like those who might fill a board meeting over at Time Warner. In addition, Condé Nast has no fiduciary duty to even turn a profit, leaving their (notoriously secretive) company practices their own business.
And they are unwilling to explain things to the press either.
“As a privately held company, we do not discuss our policy,” said Condé Nast spokeswoman Maurie Perl. (On a personal level, Ms. Perl did not feel obliged to discuss her own policy, including the purchase of a West End Avenue co-op in 2001, where Advance served as the secured party).
The practice stretches back at least as far as Alexander Lieberman, the renowned art director of Vogue who later became editorial director. His mortgage on an East 70th Street home was secured by the company.
Whether it goes much further back, into the era when magazines really were a gentleman’s profession, populated with people rich enough and influential enough to cover the spheres they lived in, rather than be moved into the spheres they were covering, is hard to tell: Records are spotty before the early 1990’s.
Back then, when James Truman—who quit his position as editorial director after not being given an art magazine to run (and subsequently fled to Andalucía)—purchased his West Village loft, the company secured the loan.
At the time of the purchase, Mr. Truman was still the editor in chief at Details; however, Condé Nast promoted him shortly after to editorial director (and Mr. Newhouse reportedly gave him a silver Porsche as a token of his affection).
Located in a prewar building, Mr. Truman’s 2,000-square-foot apartment includes three bedrooms and two baths, and was purchased for $715,000. Thankfully, Mr. Truman didn’t end up selling it when he left for Spain, because the 47-year-old editor is now back in New York working for the Canadian über-publisher of the art world, Louise T. Blouin MacBain.
Although Vogue editor Anna Wintour reportedly makes $2 million per year—and enjoys a clothing allowance, chauffeur and ritzy hotel stays—it costs a lot more to maintain a luxurious Manhattan lifestyle.
In 1983, Ms. Wintour and her future husband, Dr. David Shaffer, purchased a MacDougal Street townhouse. That same year, Ms. Wintour made the leap from senior editor of New York magazine to creative director of American Vogue.
After a stint in England editing the British edition, she returned to the States in 1988 to assume the helm of the American edition. That year, the couple took out a $200,000 mortgage on the Greenwich Village townhouse, with Condé Nast lending the money, according to city records.
A few years later, Ms. Wintour left MacDougal Street but stayed in the neighborhood.
In May 1992, Ms. Wintour purchased a four-story townhouse on Sullivan Street for $1.4 million. But the 22-foot-wide townhouse also provides; Ms. Wintour with access to the lush private garden that borders MacDougal and Sullivan streets.
In February 1993, Ms. Wintour took out a $1.64 million mortgage, with Condé Nast serving as the lender. To date, there’s no record of a mortgage being paid off, according to city records. (When the couple separated in 1999, after 15 years of marriage, the renowned doctor dropped $1.7 million on a four-story townhouse on Downing Street.)
Of course, while Ms. Wintour has a reputation for not partying late into the night, she has hosted a number of stylish soirées in the Sullivan Street home. Among the countless boldface names attending were Bill Clinton, David Bowie, André Balazs, Oscar de la Renta, Sarah Jessica Parker, Barry Diller, Diane von Furstenberg and Richard Gere.
Despite the luxurious digs and famous faces chomping on hors d’oeuvres, things haven’t always gone smoothly on Sullivan Street.
In October 2004, Ms. Wintour’s former nanny, Lori Feldt, was awarded $2.2 million in a settlement over the inhalation of toxic fumes. The nanny was rendered unconscious due to fumes from the paint thinner used to remove red paint doused on the sidewalk and steps by animal-rights activists (who have hounded the fur-wearing editor for years).
According to city records, a top Vogue staffer also received loans from Condé Nast. Creative director Grace Coddington borrowed over $400,000 toward her West Village apartment.
For Graydon Carter, who ascended to the editorship of Vanity Fair in 1992, the Newhouse family has always been especially generous.
Through two loans, Mr. Carter and his wife Cynthia were reportedly able to live in a first-floor apartment in the Dakota, the legendary Upper West Side co-op whose most famous resident, John Lennon, was murdered outside of it in 1980.
But in February 1999, the couple gave up apartment living and headed downtown. They purchased a four-story townhouse on Bank Street for $2 million. At the time, the sprawling home had been listed for $2.5 million and had lingered on the market for about half a year.
Built in 1844, the Greek Revival townhouse includes six bedrooms, double parlor, sitting room, terrace and several fireplaces.
Shortly thereafter, the couple took out a $3.841 million mortgage, with Advance lending the money, according to city records.
But the good life didn’t last too long; in the summer of 2000, the couple separated. However, it took almost five years to figure out who would get the house.
In February 2005, Mr. Carter—who remarried a few months later—purchased the townhouse from his estranged wife for $3,018,076. And his dealings in the West Village have continued: In December 2005, it was reported that Mr. Carter is investing in a new restaurant, located at the now-closed Ye Waverly Inn.
In July 1998, Pulitzer Prize–winning author David Remnick—who had been penning New Yorker features for the previous six years—took over the helm of the magazine after Ms. Brown left (and Michael Kinsley didn’t accept the job fast enough, according to a widely circulated e-mail at the time).
While Mr. Remnick and his wife, Esther Fein, were already living in an Upper West Side co-op, the couple decided to upgrade to a prewar building 14 blocks uptown.
Almost two years after taking over as the fifth editor in The New Yorker’s storied history, Mr. Remnick signed a contract for a West 86th Street duplex that had been listed at $3.25 million, according to a database shared by real-estate brokers. And Advance secured the loan, according to city records.
Built in 1905, the 14-story building includes a full-time doorman and concierge and a roof deck with exceptional views. Mr. Remnick’s 2,500-square-foot apartment features four bedrooms, three bathrooms and a wood-burning fireplace.
But Mr. Remnick is not the only New Yorker editor who has been helped by Si and Co.: Deputy editor Pamela Maffei McCarthy was lent $180,000 by Advance toward the mortgage on her Brooklyn home.
And when Adam Gopnik—best known for writing about bohemian life in Paris—purchased an Upper East Side co-op apartment, the company secured the mortgage.
While things haven’t worked out as well for Mr. Foxman, Lucky editor and company “It” girl Kim France continues to rule the magalog world.
Ms. France—who covered music and pop culture for the much-lamented Sassy and later at Spin—was first asked to create a prototype shopping magazine in the late 1990’s. By February 2001, Lucky became a monthly and started raking in the advertising dollars.
A little over a year later, Ms. France and her former husband, Michael Morse, purchased a three-story townhouse in Carroll Gardens. The 16-foot-wide home includes 2,960 square feet of interior space, according to city records.
Shortly after the deed was filed, the couple took out a $1.351 million mortgage, with Advance lending the money.
After splitting up, Ms. France and Mr. Morse sold the house in December 2004 for $1.793 million. On the same day, they paid off the mortgage.
In the summer of 2005, Ms. France—who has now moved back to Manhattan, on lower Fifth Avenue—discussed the divorce in her Lucky editor’s letter.
In 2003, Jim Nelson, who was then executive editor of GQ, took over the position of editor that was filled for years by the legendary Art Cooper.
About a year after taking over as editor, Mr. Nelson moved into a co-op apartment in a Chelsea brownstone, with Advance serving as the secured party, according to city records.
The five-story, 22-foot-wide building includes 10 residential units.
—additional reporting by Riva Froymovich