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13th May 2022

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Edward Enninful

Condé Nast’s top editor has declared the reshaped magazine publisher is ready to return to its heyday of profitability and influence as the world enters a “Roaring Twenties” of post-pandemic indulgence.

Dame Anna Wintour, the Vogue editor and an all-powerful figure in the fashion industry, told the Financial Times that “lines around the block” at reopened Gucci and Dior stores in London showed pent-up demand for the luxury lifestyle Condé Nast titles have long chronicled.

“People have been locked up for a long time and they are going to go out and want to spend. They are going to want to travel . . . to get dressed up,” Wintour said, in a rare interview.

“I don’t think it’s about being old fashioned, it’s about enjoying everything that life has to offer. It’s wrong to think of Condé Nast as an elitist company; we’re a company that believes in quality and the best storytelling.”

Wintour is at the centre of a wrenching overhaul of the magazine publisher, which is attempting to pull together disparate editorial operations across the globe, expand its digital businesses as print advertising declines and meet sweeping calls for more diversity in its workforce and content.

After dominating the pre-internet age with zeitgeist-shaping magazines that made celebrities out of editors such as Wintour, Condé Nast has been reckoning with less certain business prospects as entertainment has drifted online, often for free.

The billionaire Newhouse family that owns the group in 2019 ousted its chief executive, merged its US and international businesses and brought in its first outsider, Roger Lynch, to steer the century-old publisher into the future.

“It’s a new day for the company,” said Wintour, as she laid out how the group would consolidate editorial teams, a process that began with her recent promotion to chief content officer, putting her in charge of all Condé Nast’s brands globally.

Speaking on Zoom alongside five other Condé Nast executives located in London, Paris, Dubai, New York and Taipei, Wintour described it as a transformation of a sprawling editorial network, which for Vogue alone spanned 27 separately run editions. “We were certainly all very collegial . . . but we did not collaborate,” she said.

Examples of the new approach include leaning more on local newsrooms for coverage of London, Paris or Milan fashion weeks, or co-ordinating bids for celebrity interviews, with content then shared across editions.

Adam Baidawi, deputy editorial director of GQ, said “so much time” had been wasted before “competing for global stories with the same celebrities and designer interviews”. A more unified approach would also give local journalism a bigger global audience, he said.

The company behind Vogue and The New Yorker, which is private and does not publish accounts, has lost hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years as print advertising declined.

While this year will also be lossmaking, the company expects to break even in 2022 and reach double-digit operating profit margins by 2024, according to people familiar with the matter.

Wintour said Condé Nast will “definitely” return to the profitability levels of its former prime. “We are already seeing extraordinary growth,” she said, citing ecommerce sales at titles such as Architectural Digest during the pandemic, as well as the commercial promise of video and membership events.

Condé Nast faced criticism last year over allegations of racial discrimination and pay inequity at Bon Appétit, its cooking title. The controversy captured a broader struggle at the group, which rose to power by selling a luxury lifestyle, to stay relevant during a devastating pandemic and industry-wide reckoning over race and inequality.

Edward Enninful, European editorial director of Vogue, said the publication could capture the lives of ordinary readers as well as promote luxury brands © Getty Images

More recently there was fresh turmoil over the hiring of journalist Alexi McCammond as editor of Teen Vogue, after racist and homophobic tweets she made in 2011 resurfaced. McCammond resigned last month, just days before she was to start the job.

Wintour declined to comment on Teen Vogue, but pointed to Condé Nast’s progress on diversity in hiring and content. “Like other companies, we’ve had to look inward over the past year and to learn from what’s happened,” said Wintour.

Condé Nast last year hired its first-ever diversity and inclusion officer, and 50 per cent of candidates for new jobs across the company are now required to come from under-represented and diverse backgrounds. Among Condé Nast’s senior leadership team, 30 per cent of the group is LGBTQ and 30 per cent come from ethnically diverse backgrounds.

“You can give gloss, but you can also give something that’s real and local that resonates,” said Edward Enninful, European editorial director of Vogue, pointing to a Vogue cover last year showcasing essential workers. “We’ve been in lockdown for a long time, and now we’re out in a new world, and we all have to meet the moment with our stories.”

When asked about her own future at Condé Nast, where she has worked since the 1980s, Wintour, 71, demurred. “I’m presently really enjoying the process and working closely with Edward and everybody else,” she said. “Right now, I’m focused on tomorrow rather than five years from now.”

2021-04-20 09:00:25

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