editorial slavery

So, What Really Happens After You Assist a Top Condé Nast Editor?

This week, Jonathan Kelly, the longtime former assistant to Vanity Fair’s editor (since 2004), can officially turn his back on 4 Times Square. He’s joined up with the new Bloomberg Businessweek, as “Senior Editor of Etc.” That’s his actual title; Etc. is the culture section. Congrats, Jon!

The most notorious Condé assistant of all, of course, is Lauren Weisberger, who parlayed her traumatic time as Anna Wintour’s assistant into a best-selling roman à clef and a massive international movie. At the end of the movie version of The Devil Wears Prada, Anne Hathaway’s character, Andrea Sachs, lands her dream job at a newspaper with a little secret help from Wintour’s character, played icily by Meryl Streep.

But are these success stories the norm? We tracked down what happened to the last handful of assistants to four of Condé’s top editors.

Graydon Carter, Vanity Fair:
For more than a decade, Carter has been served by a rotating roster of two assistants, several of whom have left VF. Punch Hutton is still around, as Fanfair and Fairground editor, as is Dana Brown, a senior articles editor. When Matt Trainor left in 2003, after three and a half years, he eventually became an associate editor at Departures, and is now the editor-in-chief of digital media at Ralph Lauren, steering the company’s online fashion writing. The next to go was Meg Nolan, who now lives in Amsterdam, works for PlumTV as a travel journalist, and writes books for Rizzoli. “I was indeed told there was a future at VF for me, on a number of occasions,” she says. “That is, until I declared I really wanted to pursue travel journalism, and then I was promptly moved along, out the door.” In came Leigh Herzig. After her stint, she and her brother launched a watch line, BobbyHBobby, which has since gone on hiatus. Which leads us to Jonathan Kelly, who started at Bloomberg Businessweek last week.

Anna Wintour, Vogue:
Did the Weisberger experience prompt Wintour to keep her ex-assistants close? Since 2003, the scariest boss in the business has had about ten aides, and many are still on the magazine’s staff. Sylvana Soto-Ward climbed quickly and is now the director of special events, meaning she plans the mythical Met ball. After her: Lawren Howell, who’s now the West Coast fashion editor. Next: Jessica Sailer, an associate fashion editor at Vogue, and Sophie Pera, a fashion assistant. After 2008, either the aforementioned girls took all the good jobs, or Anna’s assistants went downhill quickly. There was Jessica Nagin, who wouldn’t respond for comment, though friends tell us she’s currently in nutrition school. Then there’s Asia Baker, who also wouldn’t respond, but who has recently made Vogue’s weekly best-dressed list and goes to a lot of parties (she’s throwing one for the Kentucky Derby, if anyone wants to send us an invite). Last up? Claiborne Swanson, of the television-dinner fortune, who says she is “presently working on a personal photography project” and hopes to one day return to Vogue in a creative capacity.

Cindi Leive, Glamour:
When Leive arrived at Glamour in 2001, she inherited Bonnie Fuller’s assistant, Kirk Shannon-Butts, a filmmaker who apparently goes by “Boi Wonda” to his friends. After a few years, Leive helped him move into Glamour’s fashion department, then he left to focus on his first film, Blueprint, a gay drama. Leive’s other assistant at the time was Michelle Pacht, who is now an English professor at LaGuardia Community College. Cindi’s next set of assistants stuck around. Margarita Bertsos managed an astounding four years, before flexing her, uh, muscles as the magazine’s Body by Glamour program. She lost a ton of weight — this was before Glamour was on the plus-size train — and she’s now an assistant editor, editing health coverage and interviewing Chace Crawford. “Yes, I’m deeply indebted to Cindi,” she says. So, too, is Tiffany Blackstone, who climbed the rungs as an associate editor before going freelance to spend time with her two children. She still writes often for Glamour.com. Then there’s Kristin Koch, who explains: “I moved to Park City, Utah, with my boyfriend after he was laid off (he was in investment banking) and we spent the season skiing there.” She’s currently freelancing and interviewing for magazine jobs, even if this whole Park City thing sounds a bit more, well, glamorous. “We actually had dinner with Cindi and her husband when they were skiing for New Year’s.”

Lucy Danziger, Self:
Lucy only has one assistant at a time (versus the two or three other marquee editors keep), and they tend to stick around for years. Soon after Danziger joined Self in 2001, she hired Stephanie Davis Smith, whose dream was to work at GQ — Danziger helped make it happen after ambushing GQ editor Jim Nelson at a party. Smith is now the editor-in-chief of Skirt, a magazine in Atlanta that’s some combination of liberal, Southern, and feminist, and the desk outside Danziger’s office has been replenished with women who are all somehow connected back to Smith. Cristina Tudino is now Self’s psychology editor, and after her came Kelly Mickle, who is currently the associate health-and-nutrition editor.

So there you have it. A mixed bag — some editorial fairy tales, other escape stories — but no people with serious complaints with where the job left them. Best of luck to the new batch of assistants, especially these two.

So, What Really Happens After You Assist a Top Condé Nast Editor?