Nast, Conde (1873-1942)

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Conde Nast was born in New York on March 26, 1873, to William and Esther Nast. When Conde was 3, his father moved to Europe to look for work, and his mother and the four Nast children went to St. Louis to live with relatives. With financial support from a wealthy aunt, the wife of William A. Gamble of Procter & Gamble Co., Mr. Nast attended Georgetown University. In his first year he became the first student president of the Yard, the university's athletic association, where he learned about scheduling and controlling finances, as well as about raising money.

While at Georgetown, Mr. Nast developed a friendship with Robert J. Collier, whose father owned Collier's Weekly, a journal offered as a premium to book buyers, and the Collier's book business. The two worked together on various projects, including the university's newspaper. After graduation in 1894, Mr. Nast remained at Georgetown to study law while Mr. Collier moved back to New York to work for his father.

Mr. Nast returned to St. Louis in 1895 to study law at Washington University, but quickly found he was more interested in a small, failing printing plant his family had invested in and left school.

Hearing of his friend's new interest, Mr. Collier invited Mr. Nast to move to New York and work for Collier's Weekly for $12 a week. In 1900, Mr. Nast became advertising manager of the magazine; when he left 10 years later, he had played a key role in boosting circulation from 19,159 to 567,073.

Mr. Nast believed that top writers and artists attracted readers, so the work of figures such as Upton Sinclair and Frederic Remington appeared on a regular basis. Color was added to make the publication even more dramatic. Mr. Nast also introduced the "special number," an issue devoted to a particular topic or individual. For example, in February 1904, Collier's published the "Gibson Number." The issue had 20 drawings, as well as a spread of exclusive drawings, created by Charles Dana Gibson, a popular illustrator of the time who was famous for his "Gibson Girls."

Mr. Nast was promoted to business manager in 1905 and by 1907 was earning $40,000 per year, a hefty sum for that day. He resigned that year.

A few years before leaving Collier's, Mr. Nast had also become VP of Home Pattern Co., a manufacturer and distributor of women's dress patterns (owned by the Ladies' Home Journal). Patterns had become a big business because they gave women access to fashions once available only to the wealthy, and one of Mr. Nast's goals was to find ways to sell advertising in the company's catalogs.

Through his pattern business, Mr. Nast became acquainted with a small society journal called Vogue that was targeted at the elite. In 1905, he began negotiations to buy the publication from its owner, Arthur B. Turnure, but before they could reach an agreement, Mr. Turnure died and the magazine was inherited by his sister-in-law, Marie Harrison, who had been editor of Vogue.

After four years of negotiations Mr. Nast finally purchased Vogue in 1909; by then, the publication had a slipping circulation of only 14,000 and annual ad revenue of $100,000. However, Vogue's readers included some of the most prominent members of New York society, an audience Mr. Nast wanted.

Mr. Nast cut Vogue's frequency from weekly to biweekly and raised the issue price from 10› to 15›. The first new department he added was called "Sale and Exchange," a place for personal messages from reader to reader. Vogue became the source for society news, including weddings and parties. In addition to pictures of every social event, the publication also started tackling bigger issues. For example, a new department was added featuring socialites helping the less fortunate.

The magazine averaged 100 pages an issue in 1911, compared with 30 when it was a weekly. Advertisers included Armour toilet soap, J.M. Gidding & Co. (women's apparel), Athena Underwear and Plexo cream. Vogue competed with publications such as Ladies' Home Journal, Harper's Bazar (which subsequently changed its spelling) and the Woman's Home Companion.

Mr. Nast's strategy was to charge top dollar for the "privilege" of advertising in Vogue. Nonetheless, Mr. Nast kept dress patterns a part of Vogue, knowing that not all women with taste could afford Paris couture. He maintained that good taste was not an exclusive attribute of people with money, but could also be exercised by those who aspired to wealth.

Mr. Nast bought an interest in House & Garden and Travel. Together with his old friend, Robert Collier, he purchased The Housekeeper in order to get its subscriber list for House & Garden. He then sold Travel and revamped House & Garden, converting it from a men's publication into an authority women turned to for help in decorating their homes.

In 1913, Mr. Nast bought Dress, a magazine he saw as a rival to Vogue, from Doubleday. He also snapped up Vanity Fair and combined the two in a publication called Dress & Vanity Fair, which debuted in September 1913. The magazine had articles on fashion, art, music, theater and international news considered too specialized for Vogue.

Vanity Fair ("Dress" was dropped from the magazine's name) published articles from up-and-coming authors such as Dorothy Parker, e.e. cummings and Clive Bell; well-known writers such as F. Scott Fitzgerald also were contributors. By the end of 1915, Vanity Fair carried more lines of advertising than any other U.S. monthly, according to Printers' Ink.

In 1927, Goldman, Sachs & Co. and Shearson, Hammill & Co. bought a substantial common stock interest in Conde Nast Publications, with Mr. Nast retaining a controlling majority. It proved to be a stellar year, with the stock almost doubling. But on Oct. 29, 1929, the market crashed, and Mr. Nast lost controlling interest in stock that was virtually worthless.

In an effort to rebuild, Mr. Nast borrowed to invest in better printing plants. He worked feverishly to bring the magic back. In 1930, however, Sidney J. Weinberg, a senior partner of Goldman, Sachs & Co., was named director of Conde Nast Publications, and control of the company passed into the hands of bankers.

In 1941, while his company was recovering, Mr. Nast was suffering from high blood pressure and needed an oxygen tank. In December, he suffered his first heart attack and died after his second on Sept. 19, 1942.

Biography

Born in New York, March 26, 1873; joined Collier's Weekly, becoming advertising manager in 1900; became VP of Home Pattern Co., 1904; bought Vogue, 1909; bought Dress and Vanity Fair, which he merged in what became the new Vanity Fair, 1913; Goldman, Sachs & Co. and Shearson, Hammill & Co. bought a substantial common stock interest in Conde Nast Publications, 1927; Mr. Nast lost control of his company to his bank partners, 1930; died in New York, Sept. 19, 1942.

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