Hearst’s Eliot Kaplan: ‘We Are the Go-To Company Right Now’

The roster of media mavens, moguls and boldface names spotted today at Michael's.

lunch at michaelsThe coming monsoon didn’t deter the faithful from making the trek to Michael’s today. I haven’t seen the place that jam-packed in ages. Everywhere you looked there talking heads (Fox 5’s Greg Kelly and Rosanna Scotto), head honchos (Showtime’s Matt Blank), and the random actor (Campbell Scott, remember him?)

There was also an unusually large contingent of fashion folk who had plenty to chew on besides their Dover sole. When I stopped by to say hello to Mickey Ateyeh and her guests, which included the former heads of the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) and several designers (Angela Cummings, Jeffrey Banks) they were abuzz with the just-announced news that famed designer Alber Elbaz had stepped down at Lanvin. The general consensus is that he’s headed to Dior. A few tables down, Jaqui Lividini was dishing about the very same thing.

Eliot Kaplan and Diane Clehane
Eliot Kaplan and Diane Clehane

The long, heartfelt speech Alber gave last week when he accepted the Superstar Award at The Fashion Group International’s Night of Stars from Meryl Streep all makes sense now. (Full disclosure: I’m on FGI’s creative committee.) Was this his farewell to the troops? Sure sounded like it. He called out the industry for its ever-accelerating pace, for choosing ‘loud’ over quiet elegance (“I prefer whispering”) for killing creativity and for taking the fun out of fashion. After 14 years at the helm of one of fashion’s most iconic labels, his unanticipated departure is truly a shock to the fashion system. Fern Mallis told me that the industry is in turmoil, with its key players at a loss, not knowing what’s coming down the road. “Everyone is waiting for the other shoe to drop and they don’t know if it’s going to be a stiletto, platform or sneaker.”

Speaking of career development, I was really looking forward to my lunch with Eliot Kaplan, vice president, talent acquisition, for Hearst Magazines. His company bio lists his responsibilities which include “career development, succession planning and compensation overview.” With a job description like that, I knew we’d have plenty to talk about. “I basically made this job up,” Eliot told me between bites of Cobb salad.

Before ascending to the role of Hearst’s top talent scout, Eliot toiled at magazines for two decades, during which he served as managing editor of GQ under Art Cooper, where he worked with the magazine’s venerable stable of writers including David Remnick, Walter Kirn and Jennet Conant. He went on to become EIC of Philadelphia magazine for seven and half years. When it was time to move on, he explained, he realized he didn’t want to get another job where his name was on top of a masthead because, among other reasons, he “didn’t like being the face of a magazine and that’s where the business was going.” What he did enjoy was “working with young talent and established writers.”

That’s when he came up with the idea for his current gig and first discussed it with former Cosmopolitan editor Kate White, who told him at the time, “If you don’t do it, I will.” Kate became his first boss, hiring him to find her a news editor for Cosmo during the first dot-com boom that precipitated a mass exodus of editors in search of big time digital dollars. Eliot told me he originally intended to pitch the job to both Condé Nast and Hearst but Cathie Black, Hearst’s president at the time, “Got it right away.” A month later it was a done deal.

Now in his 16th year with Hearst, Eliot told me if he had to estimate, he’d say he’s been responsible for the hiring of two-thirds of the top editors and art directors for the company’s 21 magazines and start-up ventures. As you might imagine, he’s a very popular guy. “Print editors and designers come in and talk to me about a lot of different initiatives.” I’ll bet. Over the course of our lunch I discovered he basically knows every single person working in print today. “I’ve interviewed the kids of people I’ve interviewed—it’s come to that,” he joked of his long tenure at the company.