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The Interview Situation, Laid Out in Full

>> Interview has had a major case of rotating door syndrome in the last month or so.  While its owner, Peter Brant, is in the midst of a messy divorce with Stephanie Seymour, editorial director Glenn O'Brien has been replaced by his former co-editorial director, Fabien Baron, who was allegedly fired from the magazine last Fall for going over budget; Michael Amzalag and Mathias Augustyniak of M/M Paris, who were brought in to replace creative director Karl Templer when he left alongside Fabien Baron last Fall, are now leaving the magazine so that Templer can come back (and also because they were supposedly owed three months pay plus expenses); editor-in-chief Christopher Bollen is being pushed out as editor-at-large so that executive editor Stephen Mooallem, who has been at the magazine for six years, can be installed as editor; and fashion director Joe McKenna is also rumored to be leaving. On top off all that, O'Brien is now being sued by Interview for giving interviews after his departure, violating a non-disclosure agreement he says he didn't sign.

So what exactly is going on? »

So what exactly is going on?  WWD reports. After more than a decade of profitability, the magazine has slipped "significantly" back into the red, according to Brant Publication's acting president Ryan Brant, though a company says it is "more profitable now" than in 2008.  It has seen a dip in ad sales as advertisers cut back, especially since as a niche title it is not a main priority for fashion brands. Peter Brant, who is Interview's ultimate financial support, has withdrawn himself from the company while mired in divorce proceedings — and may come back with significantly less money to work with.  And it has been slow to pay both freelancers and staff — besides M/M Paris, Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin had not been paid for their August 2009 cover story earlier this month, and when he was with the magazine the first time around, Templer considered legal action after nonpayment.

When Brant's ex-wife Sandy Brant and Ingrid Sischy were running the magazine pre-O'Brien and Baron from 1989 to early 2008, they didn't pay contributors much money because talent could be attracted by the boundless creative expression not allowed in their more lucrative commercial assignments rather than the size of the paycheck.  Before Baron was fired in the Fall, he oversaw some expensive shoots — some sources say the issues he oversaw ran anywhere from $100,000 to $300,000 over budget. O'Brien, too, was fiscally loose, recruiting photographers for the magazine's website who charged $5,000 to shoot an item or neglecting to discuss rates beforehand, according to one insider: “Ingrid was smart about getting people to work for free. Glenn would say, ‘OK, I have this friend; talk to this person about coverage,’ but then wouldn’t discuss rates. We were in the position of always defending our rates to his friends.”

And though Baron and O'Brien were supposed to be working together, it didn't work out, says O'Brien: “We were supposed to be equal partners and that only works if you get along and see eye to eye, and we didn’t."  Insiders cite O’Brien's vision of Interview as an art magazine covering his friends and indie artists, while Baron wanted more celebrities and high-gloss fashion. To illustrate, Baron's issues featured Marc Jacobs, Kate Moss, and Eva Mendes on the cover, while O’Brien’s featured Zac Efron and Bjork. O’Brien was also put off by Baron's view of professionalism. “We went on many sales call that turned into a Baron & Baron pitch. He would go so far as to criticize the advertisers. If you’re going to engage in both fields there has to be a fire wall, a line you don’t cross."

Now, with Baron back on his own, he still has an uphill battle: fashion advertisers believe his return brings Interview credibility, but as one media planner told WWD, “the last thing a media buyer wants to do is put pages into a book they think might close. That’s like running an ad in the last issue of Domino.”  But he should be able to keep bringing in talent: “A photographer wants a good relationship with Fabien because he does all the ad campaigns,” said one fashion magazine's creative director. “You want to work with him because maybe, perhaps you’ll work on the Calvin Klein campaign.”

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