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Condé Nast: The Man Who Was Vogue

September 12, 2009
Condé Nast

Portrait of Condé Nast, photographer unknown

Though Condé Nast’s magazines, which include powerhouse names such as Vogue, Vanity Fair, and GQ, are some of the leading publications worldwide, many of their readers don’t know there was a person named Condé Nast. It was the perceptive innovations of Condé Montrose Nast, the company’s founder, that helped change the direction of magazine publishing and helped Vogue become today’s fashion icon. Nast believed the key to successful magazines incorporated the “Vogue Formula,” an approach that revolved primarily around service—the imparting of fashion information to readers as efficiently and clearly as possible.

Condé Nast was born in New York City on March 26, 1873. In 1875, the family moved to St. Louis, where he spent most of his youth. From 1891 to 1894, Nast attended Georgetown University, earning both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. In 1895, he enrolled in Washington University’s law program, and by 1897, after graduating and deciding not to practice law, Nast became involved with a small printing business in St. Louis.

Nast began his publishing career as the advertising salesman at Collier’s Weekly for Robert Collier, a friend of his from Georgetown. Nast quickly advanced from sales to advertising manager, and then to business manager in 1905. During that year, Nast quietly bought the Home Pattern Company and simultaneously began negotiations for the purchase of Vogue. Although Nast was making $40,000 a year at Collier’s, a tremendous salary at the time, he resigned in 1907 to concentrate on his new acquisition. By 1909, he had successfully completed the purchase of Vogue, a small, boutique New York society weekly that began publication in 1892.

From the June 24, 1909 issue of Vogue, the first issue to list Condé Nast as the publisher, Nast quickly began turning the 19th-century social gazette into a unique mixture of fashion, beauty, art, style, and journalism. While at Collier’s Weekly, Nast had developed the concept of a “special number” issue, which devoted an entire issue to a particular theme or personality, a concept he applied at Vogue as well.

<em>Vogue</em> October 1, 1910 cover, by Helen Dryden.

Vogue October 1, 1910 cover, by Helen Dryden.

Using work from artists such as Georges Lepape, Eduardo Garcia Benito, and Carl Erickson, Vogue cover art under Nast incorporated the emerging artistic movements of the day and created one of the first avant-garde publications. Nast believed that fashion should be presented with clarity and accuracy,[1] and through Vogue he also became a major contributor in the development of artistic and general photography. In 1910, Vogue began crediting photographic artists, and by 1913, Nast had hired Baron Adolphe de Meyer, under exclusive contract, to create fashion photography that was both romantic and feminine.

Around the same time, Nast purchased Vanity Fair (originally Dress & Vanity Fair), a social and political journal; and in 1915, he took control of House & Garden, an interior and exterior decorating magazine. With these periodicals, Condé Nast Publications had a magazine for every aspect of society living—fashion, interior decoration, architecture, art, theater, film, and literature. Nast wrote an article entitled “Class Publications”[2] for the Merchants’ and Manufacturers’ Journal, a Baltimore trade publication, in which he outlined his innovative and successful mantra: publications should cater to a specific demographic group, and all content, including imagery, editorial content, and advertising, should highlight the needs of that demographic group. This concept of the “lifestyle” magazine is now so deeply embedded in present-day publishing strategies that it’s difficult to imagine the industry without it. Yet it was Condé Nast who first formally laid down this idea, and went on to make it a reality in each of Condé Nast Publications’ growing list of titles.

For more information about Condé Nast’s life, see Caroline Seebohm’s 1982 biography of Nast, The Man Who Was Vogue.


[1] Caroline Seebohm, The Man Who Was Vogue. (New York: The Viking Press, 1982) 179.

 

[2] Caroline Seebohm, The Man Who Was Vogue. (New York: The Viking Press, 1982) 79.

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