Mourning The Loss Of Condé Nast’s “Gilded Age”

4timessquare.jpgThe New York Observer‘s John Koblin has gone deep within the depths of 4 Times Square to examine the changes McKinsey & Co. hath wrought at Condé Nast.

After interviewing anonymous sources on the edit and business side of the company, as well as editors like Glamour‘s Cindi Leive and The New Yorker‘s David Remnick and CEO Chuck Townsend, Koblin has uncovered some disturbing examples that illustrate the recent cutbacks at the magazine giant that may hint at things to come. Most troubling to Condé staffers? Seeing Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter in the cafeteria and having their free Orangina replaced with Poland Spring, and then (gasp) tap water. Reports Koblin:

“When I started, there was this little refrigerator, and it was stocked with amazing drinks,” said one ad-sales source. “Pellegrino, Orangina, Red Bull. And like the water wasn’t Poland Spring, it was like Fiji. I remember when I started working here, I emailed everyone I know and I was like, ‘I have to tell you about the drinks!'”

But then in December, a few months after Condé Nast ordered publishers and editors to cut 5 percent from their budgets, the drink supply emptied out. That Fiji water turned into Poland Spring. Worse, instead of the fridge, the water bottles were stowed in a warm closet.

And then: “I just found out today that we are on our last batch of Poland Spring,” said the source. “We won’t have any more after this. We have to start drinking tap water.”

What’s more, the Monday morning flower deliveries are gone, expensed dinners at Nobu and mani-pedis are out and employees are thinking twice about taking company-provided towncars. Still, Townsend argues that the quirkiness of Condé, not the Orangina, will help the company stand out from its competitors.

“The Red Bulls and Oranginas are maybe no longer there, but what’s the difference?” he asked. “It’s still the quirkiest place on the face of the earth. A lot of that quirkiness makes us special. A lot of that quirkiness makes for interesting observations. But it has absolutely nothing to do with anything, so where’s the line drawn? I don’t want to lose the speciality or the quirkiness, but a lot of this stuff that has been part and parcel of it is just meaningless.”

Like us, Koblin wondered exactly what Townsend meant by that comment. You should read his story to find out.