Is Conde Nast still relevant in 2018?

When NAA had their yearly convention in Toronto for the first time, I had two students from the college I was teaching at the time get accepted in their week-long internship program (one student was one I taught personally; the other was not). There were ten students altogether, with eight coming from Ryerson and the University of Toronto.

It was an interesting convention with the late Peter Jennings and then Vice President Dick Cheney as keynote speakers, and there was a soiree hosted by Parade magazine. I remember it will as I came in a newsprint Moschino t-shirt and a pair of black slacks, while the other female quests were in outrageously expensive gowns. The shirt caught the attention of one of the Newhouses, who shouted, "Moschino!" startling me. I had no idea who she was at the time until I looked at the name tag and then got a cordial nod from SI Newhouse at the same time, as if it were a divine wink to confirm the woman's identity to me. She was complaining that her newsprint Christian Dior scarf wasn't as defined as my Moschino top.

I had a fondness for Conde Nast publications. Not all of them, but I read Wired and Vanity Fair voraciously at the time, and the exchange was a memorable one. 

Once upon a time, it was the publisher that defined what was sophisticated. It decreed which celebrities finally arrived. It decided what was fashionable, and Vogue was a fashion bible, and I grew up reading it cover to cover as well as Architectural Digest which had been one of my mother's favourite magazines, and I also devoured those as a kid as well as GQ, which was the counterbalance to Vogue.

Conde Nast was the guide to the middle class what they should aspire to if they wanted to live the good life. The company spent lavishly, and it vetted popular culture and acceptable thought through the pages of the New Yorker.

In a way, it had the same role as Dr. Watson did in Sherlock Holmes stories: it was the eyes and ears of what mysterious properties were beautiful, as it made sense of the baffling white noise of pop culture, trends, and fashion. 

But as Dr. Watson had a gift to describe things a reader couldn't see, so did Conde Nast.

However, just as movies turned Dr. Watson's role into a redundant one, he was turned into a bumbling sidekick, Conde Nast's purpose has diminished with the Internet: publicity was a reward for those who fit the vision of modern chic, but now when anyone can get publicity, the publication has floundered and lost their power.

Vanity Fair is letting go much of its staff, most likely to replace them with fewer employees who are cheaper. There is talk that Apple will acquire it, though there isn't a need for it: people work Instagram to achieve what a Conde Nast approval once did.

The power has been diluted to more people, of course, and the impact is not as powerful, but it is, more diverse and equitable. It is a tradeoff, and one that is more in tune with modern times.

Conde Nast was like an Aaron Spelling drama: focussing on the "beautiful people" who "fit" a certain patriarchal narrative. People who were left out finally got their revenge with social media, and the ways and vision of the once powerful publisher is no longer in tune with the world -- even if they now try to clumsily emulate them...