Let us begin with the cover of Portfolio. It's a gilded city image, a metropolis of lit-up office windows in earth tones, oddly, as it is supposed to be an homage to Berenice Abbott. (A funny reference, as she was told that New York City was too toxic for her to live in and so she left.) Publisher David Carey and Editor in Chief Joanne Lipman are shown in the Times this morning comparing their cover favorably to a recent Fortune cover, with Carey saying, "We're not giving you peas and carrots. We want to capture that glamour." By that measure things are certainly already a success; the magazine certainly weighs as much as Glamour.
Inside that cover, there are a healthy eleven pages of ads before Lipman's Editor's Letter, ranging from the stolid (GE, Chevron, Fidelity, etc.) to the sexy (BMW, Visa's line of luxury cards). Lipman's letter is almost aggressively boastful about the vapidity of the content that you'll find within the book; Portfolio is apparently the brilliant girl in high school who acted dumb to attract the boys. "Today's 24/7 news cycle bombards us with information but gives us less time to process it," says Lipman, who notes that:
We chose a monthly frequency for Cond Nast Portfolio so we can offer you deep dives into important subjects, providing you with the most compelling—and most useful—information. After this issue, we take a break and begin publishing monthly with our September issue.
The Radar-acity! Also, her dad just died, so we'll try to be nice.
After a three page Ralph Lauren spread we come to the Table of Contents page. As is this case with most upmarket titles aimed (ideally!) at people who want to have something to flip through while their driver hies them to Teterboro, the T.O.C. is broken up by ad pages. We pass by Rolex (one page), Armani (spread), Canon (spread), Travelers Insurance (spread), hit the second page of the T.O.C., and then it's a Hermes one pager and a Cartier spread to take us to the Contents' conclusion. We're certainly feeling an urge to consume! Up next is a foldout ad for Grey Goose. We're certainly feeling an urge to become incredibly drunk! There's an ad for Think Tank ("an exclusive forum for Conde Nast Portfolio readers to share their thinking") that directs you to the Portfolio website, where you can join this virtual community. (Sure, Conde may be shelling out upwards of $100 million on a new print mag, but they get the Web.) Calvin Klein has a three page ad, Van Heusen is in for one, DeBeers takes a spread, Portfolio.com gets another plug (they get the Web), IBM has four pages and then, lo and behold, there's an ad for Portfolio.com (they get the Web)! A two page Prudential "Red Zone" ad follows and looks like nothing so much as a promo for Old Spice.
And then is something called "Photo Genesis." It's about how "the biggest names in business can be tricky to photograph," presumably because they are all vampires for whom sunlight represents the ultimate enemy. Is this section some kind of contributor's page for the photogs? Probably! FedEx is in for a page, Goldman Sachs gets a spread to show how much they love developing countries, which they illustrate with eight pictures of children who will no doubt be adopted by Angelina Jolie in the immediate future. Hyatt Place—a new hotel designed around you—takes a spread. BlackBerry's got a single-pager starring the CEO of Capital Management Group.
Then it's the second page of Photo Genesis. Look, there's Tom Wolfe! And Bill Ford! Also, business people only ask for one photographer by name: Annie Leibovitz. Why? She's the only one they've ever heard of.
Cargill goes for a spread and then we reach the Index of Companies and People mentioned in the magazine, which is presumably placed here to remind you that there's some sort of business element to the book. The index is, of course, interspersed with more ads (four pages for Ameriprise Financial), but we did note that Conde Nast is not included. David Geffen gets three mentions, apparently, and Peter Guber one. We're starting to get a better idea of what the magazine is about.
Banana Republic has a spread—the pastels make our eyes happy—and then it's the masthead. Let's give a random shout-out to Art Assistant Paloma Shutes as we whiz by. CreditSuisse has a foldout ad, which is backed by THe FILe, "events + promotions + news from our advertisers." Um, what the hell else has the magazine been thus far? Ermenegildo Zegna does four pages, in two of which well-dressed gentlemen are shown reading the Financial Times. Ooh, showing a real business publication in the pages of Portfolio. This magazine is ballsy!
The second page of THe FILe directs you to, yes, Portfolio.com (who gets the Web?). An Omega watch ad surrounds the business masthead, and this time we're gonna give a wave to Events Director Elise Mehrige. Lincoln takes four pages, CA gets one and then... Contributors!
This is an odd layout. The writers are shown on a map of the world with datelines underneath their names signifying where they reported from. It's a little jarring:
looks like a nametag you'd see on a server at an Applebees. (Also, Gabriel Sherman looks kind of like Macaulay Culkin if he were just about to be molested by Tom Wolfe, which, for all we know, may be the plot of Home Alone 5.)
Samsung, John Hardy and UBS account for four pages, and then we get "MAY AGENDA," which, at page 87, can be fairly said to be the first piece of real content in the magazine. Our first impression is that we have mistakenly picked up the world's heaviest New York: there's something about the layout and line art that feel vaguely Mossian. But what's on the calendar? The Kentucky Derby's on May 5th, and there's "speculation that Queen Elizabeth II will be on hand." There's a gala for the Met on the 7th. The iPhone launches in June, but we'll not see another Portfolio until September, so best to cram it in now. (Incidentally, this counts as one of the two mentions of Steve Jobs in this issue, if the Index is at all accurate.) There's a goofy icon of the Google boys (shareholders' meeting on the 10th, y'all!), and then it's back to the ads.
Four-page foldout for Accenture featuring Tiger Woods. THe FILe gets another page. 650 Sixth Avenue—the first piece of real estate advertising we've seen thus far!— does a one-pager. It's "gallery style condominium living," which sounds incredibly hip and happening. Plus it's right near The Container Store! Northwestern Mutual does a spread, Patek Philippe has one page, and now we're at brief. The magazine may actually be starting for real this time!
Stick with us, we're not doing this for ourselves!
Brief is: "WHO'S DOING WHAT TO WHOM AND WHY." Wow, that's Us Weekly's mission statement too! Apparently this is the "front of book." Jesse Eisinger does a bit on how private equity firms are doing such gigantic deals that they can no longer avoid scrutiny. It's broken up by a Xerox spread, so we sort of lost the thread in the middle, but there's half-page graphy/charty thing on the other side that, again, looks like it came out of New York.
After an Intel ad we get a brief interview with Sirius CEO Mel Karmazin. (Kudos to the editors for going with "Siriusly Speaking" rather than "The Karmazin' Race.") Mel claims to have learned "nothing good" from former employer Sumner Redstone. Interviewer Nancy Hass asks some toughish questions, but stuff like "You are a man with an urge to merge" doesn't exactly go for the jugular. Below the interview is a photo-laden timeline that could have come from Radar, Spy or Vanity Fair, actually.
Microsoft has a page, and then there's a photospread on the ad people who will make the big decisions at the television upfronts. Unilever's Laura Klauberg has nice legs. A Microsoft spread following up on the previous ad gives way to a page on architecture ("Mine's Bigger") that is both chart and list on the "ridiculous race to build the world's tallest building." Canali has a page. The next page has a cartoon! It's about corporate-cafeteria health-code violations! (Advertiser Credit Suisse, as well as Newsweek and Verizon get mentions, but there is nothing about the Conde caf, which we're sure is spotless.)
There's a then-and-now charticle (So many entry points!) concerning Bubble 2.0 (FAVORITE POL: Then: Bill, Now: Hillary. You get the idea). After another page of THe FILe, there's a humorous collection of real excuses corporations made for not meeting estimates, which is slightly less amusing when you realize that the item atop it is all about MINING DEATHS. Well, we guess they both do fall under the "WORKPLACE" rubric.
Nic Cage is selling Montblanc watches? What, they couldn't find anyone creepier? Anyway, that ad is followed up by a four-page Merrill Lynch thing. Their slogan is "TOTAL MERILL" which seems an odd choice when it's placed directly next to a giant bull. Anyway. There's a full spread about China's preparation for the 2008 Olympics, which mainly consists of a giant picture of the still-under-construction stadium. Helpful logos at bottom bring you information about how much steel is being used, daily worker pay, etc.
Porsche has an ad spread. There's a page about exit compensation that tries to muster some outrage about the giant sums given to underperforming executives upon their departure that would be more convincing were it not placed aside an ad for Audemars Piguet watches, which are apparently made for the rich executive with Asperger's. That ad continues on for three more pages, and is followed by an ad from Portfolio.com thanking its "digital partners" for "embracing innovation."
"THE LAST WORD" in brief is an Alexandra "Daughter of Tom" Wolfe piece on "the past year's most extravagant bar and bat mitzvahs." As our co-editor Emily said, "I remember reading 'there are lavish bar mitzvahs' articles when i was PREPARING FOR MY BAT MITZVAH. And they had better headlines." (This one is called "Mazel Top This," so we're inclined to agree.) Still, you're not going to see pictures of Snoop Dogg and Liza Minnelli in fusty old Forbes, are you?
We don't read Forbes, so that's an actual question.
Burberry: One page. Mass Mutual: a spread. And, here we go. Columnists. John Cassidy tackles Economics (Global warming might not be as bad as we think, economists say. Oh do they.) Jesse Eisenger covers Wall Street (Will derivatives fuck up the market? Maybe not! But probably!). At this point we're just gonna stop counting the ads unless there's something really sexy or egregious, but trust us, there's one on every other page. We're not sure what they're charging over at Conde, but even if it's pennies they've probably already earned out on that 100-million-dollar investment.
Gabriel Sherman (NAPLES, FLORIDA) profiles Bruce Sherman (no relation). Sherman's the CEO of Private Capital Management, and he's got newspaper owners everywhere pissing in their Ermenegildo Zegna trousers (wow, those ads really work!) as he tries to
destroy the industry force news conglomerates to become more efficient through the bullying tactic we currently refer to as "shareholder activism." Sherman has already been successful in forcing Knight Ridder to sell itself off. Now he's teaming up with Morgan Stanley's Hasan Elmasry in an attempt to do the same to the New York Times Company. (Good luck with that. No seriously, good luck!) This is a lengthy, detailed profile that may be of interest to the casual reader who knows little about mysterious asset managers who are trying to change the way newspapers focus on their bottom lines. Not being among such we cannot judge it on its merits, but again, long and detailed. So points for that.
Sheelah Kolhatkar wonders why there aren't more women making the deals for private equity firms. (Answer: Men are bad.) It's a spread with a big picture of the six women who apparently have made it in the man's world, and there's a chart on the following page of the men who run the show. We don't really follow finance all that closely and we still feel like we knew everything in this piece. Still, it's mercifully brief, so we're giving the same amount of points that we did to the Sherman thing.
Michael Lewis, who made his name writing about finance and then revitalized his career by writing a book about finance as it pertains to sports, has an article about sports finance. It's a little logo-heavy, but so long as he's not writing about his children, we've always found Lewis extremely readable. You could do worse!
Special four-page Mark Ecko advertorial supplement. The sound you hear is us skipping over the pages with the celerity of Paul Rubens at a masturbation contest. Kolhatkar returns with a piece on Ken Griffin, "hedge fund wunderkind." It starts off with this: "The people who run hedge funds, as everyone knows, are tight-lipped." We did know that! You know who else is tight-lipped? Bruce Sherman, asset manager. Still, he talked to Portfolio, just like Ken Griffin, who untightened his lips long enough to talk about his wife and his art collection. Will he take Citadel, his hedge fund, public? "It's a strategic option." We feel somehow less informed.
Someone should tell the people who do print ads for Loews Hotels that color photographs superimposed over silver tint makes for a jarring, hideous ad.
"Behind the Green Doerr" is an article about John Doerr, a venture capitalist who wants to help the environment or something. We refuse to read any more articles about "green" anything—seriously, fuck the environment—so we can't evaluate this one, but it begins with Bono, which may give you some idea of where it goes.
Art! There's an art piece! It's about Marianne Boesky, the daughter of Ivan, whom older readers may remember as Wall Street's 80's symbol of greed gone wild. This one is sort of interesting. Also the art industry can be as cut-throat as the financial industry. We're going to go back and really read this one later. Also, it seems like Mike Ovitz comes off as a dick, which is always enjoyable.
Former Time writer Matt Cooper is still working his fifteen minutes of Plame. Matt was so totally ready to go to prison over the leak of the CIA agent's identity, right up until the moment where he spilled everything to stay out of jail. Best line: "As [Judy] Miller was hauled off to jail and I was let go, I told her to stay strong." Ever the comedian, we don't doubt that Cooper added something about not bending down for the soap.
There's a ten-page Lexus ad. If nothing else this magazine makes you realize how little money you have in your savings account. Or, we suppose, how much.
Here we are at page 227. We're in the final third of the damn thing now. It's culture | inc. (WHERE art MEETS commerce). Quick piece, complete with charticle, on the ins-and-outs of arts patronage. Alexandra Wolfe looks at the Chinese art market: Is it inflated? Some say yes! Others are unsure! A little infobox with five contemporary Chinese artists adds value, we guess. Investing in the theater: It's a risky proposition! Eileen Daspin introduces you to some folks who think that Legally Blonde: The Musical will somehow help cover their nut. Graphical box included for your pleasure. "DECONSTRUCTED PROGRAM" does the annotated document thing so popular with editors these days. Portfolio chooses to examine who's funding the Seattle Symphony. The answers may surprise you, particularly if you don't know anything about Seattle. Or the Symphony. Or people who might care about those two things in combination.
Level Vodka ad. Mmm. Vodka.
How is Time Warner CEO Dick Parsons helping to turn around the fortunes of the struggling Apollo Theater? A photicle (you know, the big picture accompanied by the small, numbered line art drawing that tells you who everyone is) may provide the answers!
There's a piece about the private equity/asset management guys who own Octone Records, which is responsible for Maroon 5. Bastards. Also, "This Love" is now stuck in our head. MOTHERFUCKERS.
Now it's THE GOLD Standard, Portfolio's Strategist. Things you should buy your rich fat ass this month: Tennis rackets, cameras, watches, and Nassim Nicholas Taleb's The Black Swan, a book about our inability to accept that life is essentially random. Having waded this far through Portfolio we are entirely convinced. A few capsule book reviews trail after.
And now, ladies and gentlemen, direct your attention to page 267, where Tom Wolfe examines the NEW MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE. Guess what? They're hedge fund managers! Do you like Tom Wolfe writing about rich people? Then go buy Portfolio, because he's doing it some more in this issue.
What else! The ruler of Dubai likes horsies. Horsie dynasty graphic included. Is Ford fucked? We're not sure, the article jumps to the back. Eira Thomas is a Canadian diamond mining magnate who is styled in green gown and mining boots. She lives in two different worlds! John Hockenberry wants you to know that if you pay taxes you are helping to fund the military/industrial complex. Ryan Kavanaugh is some red-headed 32-year-old standing on the corner where Hollywood meets Wall Street. (This one might actually be interesting, we see Harvey Weinstein barking in it.) Harry Hurt III writes about someone other than himself for once: Texas legend T. Boone Pickens. Oh, look, here's the rest of that Ford piece. Yeah, it's probably fucked. We're almost there! Look, an ad for Portfolio.com on your mobile! (They get the etc.) Okay, back page! It's "the demystifier." It's a charticle explaining the credit default swap. We still don't get it. Final ad: four page Cadillac foldout.
So, Portfolio? Honestly, this really is the Vanity Fair for the finance set. With the resources they're planning to pour into it, we don't doubt it'll survive for a couple years at least. Is it a good magazine? That depends! If you think Vanity Fair and New York are good magazines—and many people seem to—then, yes, you will find this a good magazine. By the standards of Manhattan, it certainly reeks of overclass success: fat, healthy, holding up a glass of high-end vodka with a $15,000 watch weighing down each wrist.