It was her first day in the snazzy new Conde Nast Building in Times Square, and the senior editor at one of the fashion-and-beauty books was trying to sound brave. Yes, the move from the old headquarters on Madison Avenue had gone quite smoothly. Yes, the new offices were spacious and bright, and there were coffee machines on every floor dispensing free round-the-clock espresso.
Still, her sense of dislocation was keen. Poignant. "It's just the way Times Square feels," the editor mourned. "Omigod, we're across the street from places where you can buy a Snoopy doll dressed up like the Statue of Liberty! We're in a tourist trap! People are bewildered."
Of course they are, poor lambs. For close to 30 years, the mother ship of the Conde Nast magazine empire was 350 Madison, around the corner from Saks Fifth Avenue, with the Prada and Gucci boutiques a short lunch-hour sprint uptown. Even as the list of Conde Nast titles lengthened--Vogue and Glamour being joined by Allure, Self, GQ, Details and the New Yorker--and its overstuffed headquarters spawned satellite offices, almost everyone remained lodged on the genteel East Side. Three-fifty Madison's immediate neighbor, comfortingly, was Brooks Brothers.
The new skyscraper into which the company's nearly 2,000 style arbiters are moving is, geographically speaking, only three crosstown blocks away, at the corner of Broadway and 42nd. It's alien territory, nonetheless. Conde Nast's neighbors, now that "revitalization" has given Times Square all the authentic urban edge of a mall in Tulsa, include Disney and Warner Bros. tchotchke stores, acres of neon, a full complement of pizza places and--coming soon!--a World Wrestling Federation theme restaurant. Plus, odd remnants of the old sleaze: One of the district's few surviving adult video stores ("private viewing rooms--25 cents") glows a bit forlornly opposite the building entrance. "It's a mixture of Disneyland and Jersey City," an Allure editor groused, not exaggerating.
Naturally, some anomie accompanies any relocation, and this one has been, by design, protracted. In June, House & Garden, Bride's and Women's Sports & Fitness became the first to make the switch to 4 Times Square, a $500 million, 48-story monolith; they were followed by the corporate high command. More magazines have joined them each week this month--Mademoiselle, Vanity Fair and the Vogue business staff are the latest transplants--and the moves continue until Aug. 13, when the New Yorker arrives. (Besides being the last to relocate, the lofty weekly also gets the highest floors--two of them--not that anyone's counting.)
As the Conde Nasties check out their new environs--where one might conclude that women are not permitted into the elevators unless they're wearing skinny black pants and black slides with platform soles--they are, understandably, somewhat homesick. (Also somewhat reluctant to be publicly critical; most pleaded for anonymity.)
They miss Helmut and Margit Larsen, who ran the newsstand at 350 Madison. Even though they tended to berate people who dared to leaf through magazines they hadn't bought, the Larsens were valued: They remembered precisely how many bottles of Evian to send up to staffers at Mademoiselle and how many of Poland Spring; almost as crucial, they were an important intelligence source. "They knew who'd been axed the minute it happened," a Mademoiselle editor confides. They did not, however, submit the winning bid to operate the lobby newsstand at 4 Times Square.
The transplants also miss certain amenities of real consequence to those whose job is instructing others in how to look. On Madison "we have three separate places to drop in for a quick blow-dry," says Glamour beauty director Charla Krupp. "And two nail salons."
And windows, they miss windows. In the new building, a number of the senior editors and writers who previously had offices with daylight will now join lowlier staffers in Dilbertian common areas, or be assigned interior offices that have translucent glass doors but no windows. "The editor in chief has windows; the managing editor has windows," a Self editor sulked. "The art directors have windows; they need light." She does not have a window. "I'm sure Anna Wintour has a window." Pause. "She probably keeps the shades drawn." (A wee joke: Vogue editor Anna "Nuclear" Wintour is rarely seen in public without sunglasses, outdoors or in.)
One hears the occasional murmur, too, about the so-called curse. Last year, while under construction, the Conde Nast Building suffered a series of serious accidents: A crane buckled and crashed into a building across the street; a carpenter died when an elevator fell on him; a construction scaffold tore away from the facade and knocked over an elevator tower, part of which struck a nearby hotel for the elderly and killed a woman. Lawsuits--some dismissed, some pending--and a municipal investigation ensued. By the time a small fire broke out this spring, the New York Times was writing about a construction crew member who crossed himself and prayed each day before reporting for work.
"We've been sort of joking about it in meetings," said the Mademoiselle editor before that magazine moved. "We don't think we can really burn sage"--reputed to vanquish evil spirits--"because we can't open the windows. But we're definitely bringing a few armloads."
In general, however, the target of most lamentations isn't the building, which was designed by architects Fox & Fowle. It has its fans--by early next year, the place will boast a probably spectacular titanium-and-glass cafeteria by renowned architect Frank O. Gehry, his first commission in New York--and the old one, truth to tell, was no longer particularly elegant. "It needed a make-over," says Krupp, adopting the beauty mag vernacular.
When she and other Glamour editors toured the new digs a few days ago, "I was just wowed," Krupp says. "When I was a kid growing up in the suburbs of Chicago and dreamed of having a career in New York, this was the building." The lobby's polished-granite floors and silvery aluminum-leaf ceilings do, as fashion folk say, Make a Statement.
If only the Crossroads of the World weren't quite so thronged, and with all the wrong people. "Half of them are from Oklahoma, gawking at all these Disney attractions," says the Allure editor.
And where are the refugees supposed to eat? They're not, for the most part, the sorts to frequent the ESPN Zone, a vast theme restaurant about to move into 4 Times Square's southwest corner. "Conde Nast is highly sushi-dependent," says former Glamour writer MP Dunleavey. Now and then, she swears, editors actually suffered Sushi Fatigue. Since sushi is not big in the new nabe, lunching editors may have to taxi all the way back to their old precincts or reanoint the nearby Royalton, long the company's unofficial canteen but losing its aura of late. Meanwhile, insiders predict hot competition for a table at the even closer Osteria al Doge, though its prices are dismayingly reasonable.
Management is taking a philosophical approach to the whole thing. "You get a variety of responses: some people who miss Madison Avenue and some who find this engaging and different and livelier," says spokeswoman Maurie Perl. "This seems to be the new media center of New York, and some of the staff is pleased to be part of it." Indeed, the new Reuters headquarters is going up on the west side of the square, MTV is a block away and "Good Morning America's" new street-front studio will open this fall.
To ease the transition, each new arrival gets a welcome packet, including a neighborhood guide from the Council of Fashion Designers of America, disclosing Oscar de la Renta's favorite sandwich shoppe and Donna Karan's coffee connection.
Still, it all takes some getting used to. One magazine staff moved in and encountered a view of a colossal Warner Bros. billboard advertising "The Matrix" on the opposite side of Broadway. Very . . . different, a staffer said: "We look directly out onto Keanu Reeves's crotch."