We are all (probably!) informed about the most renowned international publishing empire that produces Vogue, Allure, Glamour, Vanity Fair and many, many more. Condé Nast is a trademark, worldwide-known brand, but did you know that Condé Nast was a person? Born in March 1873 in New York City, as the third of four children, he abandoned his family at a young age in search for a new, better life in Europe. Without any income, a shy, dutiful, hard-working boy became a disciplined, charming and of the world’s great champions of women. It was the roaring Twenties and, as luck would have it, Condé was chosen by his spinster aunt to receive a college scholarship. When I say chosen, I mean the struggle was real! She put Condé and his brother Louis through a test. Each boy was given a vegetable patch on one side of her garden path. Disciplined as he was, you can imagine Condé’s patch. With his obsession for neatness and order, it was perfect. Louis’s was a mess! She put him through Georgetown where, thanks to a stroke of good fortune, he became close friends with Robert Collier, scion of the Collier magazine empire. Condé was given the job of advertising manager of Collier’s Weekly in 1900, and by 1910 he had turned the advertising income from $5.600 to $1 million! But, that was only the beginning.
He wanted to start his own business, so he decided to buy society newspaper called Vogue in 1909. It was a dying 24-page weekly. His vision was clear- turn Vogue into what he called ‘a class publication’ that defined the fashion of the age. He had to compete with the wave of women’s magazines flooding the market, but experience at his previous job lead him to a pretty good start.
‘If you had a tray with 2 million needles on it and only 150.000 of them had gold tips, which you wanted, it would be an endless and costly process to weed them all out. Moreover, the 1.850.000 which were not gold-tipped would be of no use to you; but, if you could get a magnet that would draw out only the gold ones, what a saving.’
(From Nast’s notes, found at his apartment)
Vogue was his magnet. He invented modern magazine promotion. It was the state of art. He was the first to do color and double-page printing. By 1914, his readership had branched across the Atlantic; every month, thousands of copies would be shipped to London. Surprisingly, the outbreak of the First World War boosted sales, but just as the numbers were rising, non-essential shipping between the UK and America was banned. He was not about to give up on the success Vogue was experiencing in London, so he established British Vogue (which Condé Nast and his employees affectionately referred to as Brogue!)
With years, he acquired many more magazines that were (just like Vogue used to) barely surviving at the market. He launched Vanity Fair in 1913 and House&Garden in 1915. After buying a luxurious duplex penthouse at Park Avenue, the new era in his life began. Condé’s home became the IT party place in New York. Charlie Chaplin, Grace Moore, Cecil Beaton and Dorothy Parker are just some of the celebrity names that regularly attended his Gatsby-esque parties. As his guest dined, drank and danced, he was often to be seen standing alone, surveying the scene in his three-piece suits and stiff-collared shirts.
For all the glamour he created, Nast was quite a shy, unassuming figure. He loved nothing more than to escape all the glitz.
At the height of his wealth, a crash came and he just couldn’t handle it. On a faithful night in October 1929, his stock plummeted from $93 to $4.50 and he was forced to sell his company. For all his entertaining, he was very private and managed to hide his financial losses from the society around him. He spent the last 10 years of his life at the helm of a company he no longer owned. He, however, continued to run the empire, having been bailed out silently by the British press magnate Lord Camrose who loaned him $300.000 to pay off his debt. While it must have been incredibly painful for Condé to lose control of his beloved Vogue during his lifetime, his legacy lives on. Vogue is still the most successful fashion magazine in the world. His magazines still stand for something more than triviality of momentary fame or fashion.
Cover photo: Condé Nast
Vogue Covers: September issue, 1898.
Copyright: Vogue magazine