A couple of years back, you may recall, the big news from the annual Vanity Fair Oscar party was what Editor in Chief Graydon Carter chose to wear: a standard-issue black tuxedo jacket paired with, of all things, green plaid pants. In thumbing his nose at the masculine dress code for his own party, he thrilled the bloggerati, which gleefully attempted to decode his baffling sartorial statement. The consensus: He was projecting a Hugh Hefner-esque air of ironic entitlement. As in, This is my party, damn it, and if Hef can wear his silk robe and slippers at the Playboy Mansion, I can wear my pj bottoms at Morton's!
If there ever was a moment for Graydon to top himself, it would have been at this year's Vanity Fair Oscar party. After all, he's come off his blazingly successful first full year as a moonlighting restauranteur, with his Waverly Inn in New York's Greenwich Village attracting a nonstop procession of celebrity A-listers and endless mentions in gossip pages. In the nearly 16 years he's been editing Vanity Fair, he's surely never been more comfortable with his own mogulhood, his own invincibility (remember, it was just a few years ago that he was under siege for extracting a $100,000 payment from Universal Studios for having passed along the idea for "A Beautiful Mind" -- a brazen conflict of interest that would have gotten just about any other glossy editor shit-canned).
But then Graydon, a couple of weeks before the writers strike was settled, pre-emptively canceled this year's Oscar bash. "It is an act of solidarity against those studio fat cats," he told the Washington Post. "We'll take a year off. Maybe they'll appreciate us even more."
Oh, they will (or at least they'll make a great show of appreciating Graydon more) next year. In the meantime, they can still kiss his ring at the Waverly Inn -- if they can get a reservation. It is, of course, Graydon's success with the Inn that empowered him to dispense with his indispensable party. The restaurant has allowed Graydon to create, in his own backyard (the Inn is just blocks from his townhouse), a shrine to himself -- a shrine to the Graydon brand -- on a nightly basis, if he so wishes. It's a place where he's always the most powerful star in the room by virtue of his controlling the stage.
Who needs the Oscar party? Not Graydon, anymore. Take that, Hollywood! (Graydon giveth, and he taketh away.)
It was, of course, the Oscar party, which he launched in 1994, that essentially invented Graydon Carter, that transformed him into an icon. Sure, other factors have contributed to his mythology (the trademark hairdo, his previous success as the co-founder of Spy magazine), but it's worth noting that in his early years at Vanity Fair, his work as editor was vastly overshadowed by the legend of his predecessor, Tina Brown.
The true genius of Graydon Carter may be that he grasped the awesome power of event marketing more keenly (and earlier) than most of his competitors in this age of rapidly declining cultural power for magazines. For the legions of nonreaders in Hollywood (who might skim the captions in Graydon's very, very wordy publication if they happen to find it in an airline seat pocket), the Oscar party is the Vanity Fair brand.
That's why, it suddenly occurs to me, it's possible to write a whole column about Graydon Carter without ever really discussing his actual product (though, for the record, I think it's a damn good magazine).
Meanwhile, Graydon, next year, for your triumphant return? I'm thinking a tuxedo jacket paired with culottes.
Or, hell, you're the emperor -- maybe no pants at all.