Hamptons Heat Wave: The Power and the Glossy

To hear him tell it, Randy Schindler doesn’t much care for parties anymore, but to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Hamptons, the magazine’s editor and publisher made a few exceptions. The revelry began Tuesday at Donald Trump’s 1 Central Park West penthouse, where demi-celebrities like Shoshanna Lonstein toasted the glossy with tepid white wine (someone forgot the ice) and Wesley Snipes doffed his shirt (someone forgot the air-conditioning). The scene then shifted to the Hamptons after-party at Life, where limos double-parked on Bleecker Street and Schindler’s new partner, Jason Binn, made a brief 3 a.m. appearance with his “dear friend” Sean “Puffy” Combs. Three days later, hundreds of the same jeunesse dorée lined up outside the Southampton nightclub Tavern for an anniversary bash hosted by Andre Harrell and Russell Simmons, where the VIP room stayed open past dawn. And for those who were awake later the same day, Schindler hosted a star-studded Hamptons clambake – strictly invitation only.

Outsize and insidery, glitzy and gauche, packed with celebrities and hangers-on, these soirées were perfectly in sync with the self-congratulatory chronicle of surf and society that is Hamptons magazine. And pulling all the strings was Schindler himself, the dour, cigarillo-smoking publisher who fancies himself the social arbiter of the Flash Hamptons. “All I do,” says Schindler, “is give my readers what they want.”

Over two decades, Schindler has reflected – some might say abetted – the transformation of the Hamptons from a bohemian summer camp for writers and artists to a playground for Manhattan’s rich and socially striving. An energetic entrepreneur who claims Calvin Klein, Neil Hirsch, and Donald Trump as his friends, Schindler has built a $3 million-a-year empire on party photographs, series like “It Persons,” and features on Billy Joel’s latest home renovation. Hamptons is the kind of magazine in which captions on pictures of pretty girls read “Lookin’ good!”; entire articles have gone to press in Latin dummy type; and a few weeks ago, David Dinkins was identified in a photograph as Nelson Mandela.

Just the same, as soon as the copies are distributed on Friday night, Hamptons moves – snatched from the front steps of the Polo store, the doorway of Bobby Van’s, and the sidewalk outside Loaves & Fishes. “I love Hamptons,” confesses super-publicist Peggy Siegal. “It captures what’s happening, the young, hip, sexy, swinging scene. But you can never find it – it’s so annoying.” The unabashedly trashy magazine has become a guilty pleasure for People With Influence, whose daily plans include checking to see whether they’ve made “The List,” an utterly arbitrary roll call that can include anyone from supermodel Irina to Oscar Wilde to fashion stylists at Allure – and which the editor refers to with typical tact as “Schindler’s List.”

Indeed, Schindler’s formula has proved so lucrative that he’s facing serious competition this summer, most notably from mogul Marvin Shanken, the deep-pocketed publisher of Wine Spectator and Cigar Aficionado and the new owner of the rival Hamptons Country. The week of the magazine’s release, Shanken took out three full-page ads in the New York Times, the opening salvo in what promises to become an all-out war.

Though neither Hamptons nor Country submits to independent publishing audits, each claims a circulation of more than 35,000 and revenues of several million dollars. Schindler brags that 64 percent of his readers earn over $100,000 and 72 percent are college-educated. Though the actual rates paid by advertisers at both magazines vary widely, the Hamptons rate card lists $7,900 for a full-color ad; at Country, the going rate is $6,000. But Schindler was here first. “It might all be junk food, but Randy single-handedly created this whole niche,” says a former Hamptons editor. “The magazine is his candy store, and time has proven him right.”

Randy Schindler was just 22 and still in Southampton College when he put out his first issue of Hamptons in 1978, beginning it “innocently enough on a Queen Elizabeth crossing to Cherbourg, France,” as he muses in the twentieth-anniversary issue. “Torn between sculpting in Montmartre and returning home to pursue a career in publishing, I sailed around Greece and Turkey listening for the sound of one hand clapping. I didn’t hear it.” Back in the States, Schindler and Roberta Stryhas, the high-school girlfriend he would later marry, created the magazine from their Shelter Island home. The first issue ran twelve pages, featuring Q&As with Roy Lichtenstein, Willem de Kooning, and Larry Rivers – all of whom Schindler had studied with at school. Stryhas’s uncle owned a computer-typesetting business, so the magazine was relatively cheap to produce, and the couple wrote, edited, and photographed the whole thing themselves. “It was just fun and games,” says Schindler. “When I sold my first ad, I felt like I was selling my soul.”

As the eighties wore on and the weekly’s influence grew, the earnest young editor from Baldwin found himself caught up in the social whirl. “I was just a kid from the suburbs, so glamour and celebrity blew my mind,” says Schindler. “I thought the celebrities were as excited to meet me as I was to meet them.” He became a fixture at East End discos like Danceteria, Hurrah, and Le Mans, migrating to the city for coke-fueled benders at Studio 54 and Xenon and splurging for nights at the Plaza or the Mark.

“As the Hamptons evolved, Randy evolved,” says an employee who roomed with Schindler. “He got rid of his hippie wife and started dating models. I used to wake up to different naked models strutting past my door every morning.”

After he moved out on his own, Schindler moved into high Gatsby mode, hosting immense parties on the weekends. “Randy was the best friend to have if you wanted to meet models,” says former assistant editor Alex Kramer. “He would throw everyone a bone.” Before long, Schindler found himself with a cash-flow problem – one he temporarily remedied by calls to his bookie. He began gambling away his summer profits during the winter months until they hovered near zero, but each summer brought a new liquidity. It was a cycle he would repeat for several years. “The man would gamble on a fly crossing a windowpane,” says an old friend.

Eventually, his antics became a regular staple of the city’s gossip columns. There were horror stories of Schindler angrily ripping shelves off the wall, debating editors’ anatomies at meetings, and driving employees to near-nervous breakdowns. By then, Randy had become a familiar figure at the Suffolk County courthouse. “No deal was ever done with Randy until the money was in your pocket,” says Mallory Crosby, a former editor. “He felt that if he was paying what you had agreed upon, he was getting cheated.” But as writers, editors, and salespeople lined up to sue him for unpaid fees, they discovered that he actually owned nothing, had no credit card, and had his car registered under an assumed name.

In 1994, in an attempt to force Randy to pay regular child support for his daughter, Ursula, Stryhas sued for receivership of Hamptons and won, though Schindler settled out of court before she took possession. By then Schindler was remarried to a Next model named Matesi Michelson. According to press reports at the time, Schindler married her in a “bogus off-shore ceremony” presided over by a suspect sea captain. Schindler insists that it was all aboveboard. “We made vows to each other on the boat, but Matesi knew it was not a real marriage,” he insists. Michelson could not be reached for comment; in any case, it turned out to be a prescient move. The couple split up a year later, after a Christmas Eve altercation that landed Schindler in the Southampton jail.

But all this is ancient history, Schindler says. After several efforts to clean up, he has became a regular at AA meetings and meditation groups on the island. “I like to go to what’s really the most beautiful place in the world, the Siena Spirituality Center in Water Mill, and meditate with the nuns,” he says. “Funny, right? A nice Jewish boy like me.” Even detractors admit he’s been a doting parent to his 4-year-old son, Xander, whom he won custody of after a court battle with Michelson. Friends say he has mellowed considerably and his behavior is less erratic. But while he severely curtailed his nightclubbing, Schindler still managed to pop up in party pictures, a feat he accomplished by ordering his art director to Photoshop him in, Zelig-like, beside unsuspecting celebrities.

“Let’s do a nice neon yellow for the head here,” says Schindler, squinting at a mock-up of the Hamptons “Beauty and Fitness” issue, which features Miss USA in a blue Speedo two-piece. It’s noon on a Sunday, and Schindler is huddled with several chain-smoking editors in the magazine’s wood-paneled offices on Southampton’s Main Street. “Vogue and Elle do that neon yellow in the summer, and I figure they’ve done their market research,” says Schindler. They ponder the photo. “Bring out the dark blue in her bathing suit,” says one. “How ‘bout taking it off completely?” giggles Schindler.

Such is the introduction to the publishing world that Schindler has offered neophyte editors, many of whom happen to be young, female, and well-born. His current managing editor is 21-year-old Mandolyna Theodoracopulos, Taki’s daughter. “He’s got these beautiful 19-year-old debs basically in bondage,” says a writer who recalls police being summoned after Schindler and one such editor got into a violent spat.

But over the years, Schindler has also been able to attract a stable of name-brand writers – including George Plimpton, George Wayne, David Mamet, C. Z. Guest, and Candace Bushnell. “I’d get teased mercilessly out on the softball field with Mort Zuckerman and Ken Auletta,” admits Jay Severin, the Republican consultant who wrote the magazine’s political column for several years. “But the important thing is that they read it.”

As Hamptons prospered, and Schindler looked for ways to fill up his winter months, he sought to reinvent himself as a resort-town Citizen Kane. He considered starting a magazine in Aspen, and in 1997, he launched a Waspy version of Hamptons in Palm Beach. Last year, he entered talks with Jerry Finkelstein’s News Communications, hoping to trade 40 percent of Hamptons for a majority interest in Manhattan File. He wanted to combine all three into a new company, Hamptons Media.

Though he did not yet own the title, Schindler played publisher at Manhattan File for two months this winter, where he swamped editor Cristina Greeven with such editorial suggestions as a tag line for the magazine – “Do you smoke after sex?” – and a decree that every issue of the magazine should feature a starlet puffing on a cigarette. A year earlier, in retaliation for a slight, Schindler had electronically altered a Hamptons party picture to make Greeven look obese. “Randy allows his competitive nature to get the better of him,” Greeven says now. “If he’s bitter about something, he’ll go out of his way to get you back.”

By April, Schindler’s grand plan had begun to collapse. His bid for Manhattan File was aborted after Hamptons printer Wilcox Press won a $311,000 settlement against Schindler, charging that his company hadn’t paid its bills. Schindler asked News Communications to pay a portion of the judgment as part of the deal, but the company refused. “Eventually,” says a well-placed source at News Communications, “we realized he wasn’t worth all the aggravation.”

So Manhattan File is now owned largely by Greeven. And Palm Beach rests in the hands of Miami’s Ocean Drive owners, Jerry Powers and Jason Binn. A perpetually sunglassed Roslyn Harbour native, Binn (né Binnstock) announced this spring that he was also becoming Schindler’s partner in Hamptons. A manic 30-year-old schmoozer who shares a Southampton house with Russell Simmons and Andre Harrell, Binn has lured dozens of high-profile advertisers to the magazine this year, including Cartier, the Gap, Hugo Boss, and Tommy Hilfiger. Binn’s office is filled with hundreds of photographs of himself with “friends” like Cindy, Sly, and Madonna – in fact, he never travels anywhere without his Canon Elph. “Tony Shafrazi and Peter Brant and Dennis Hopper were just telling me that I’m just like Andy Warhol – y’know, totally in touch,” says Binn, calling from his cell phone. “I took it as a compliment.”

Together, Binn and Schindler are aiming high. “We’re going to make Hamptons look better each week,” Schindler vows, “so we can make a deal with Time Warner and start building the kind of company we dream of. I’d like to create a publishing group with national clout, to move Hamptons Media into TV and records, and producing would be fun.” He mentions the script he’s written for a Hamptons-based soap opera – but of course, he “can’t go into the details.” Not everyone is so optimistic. “Even Hachette was courting Randy,” says a former editor. “But he couldn’t do it. He’s one of these guys who always has a gun pointing at his foot.”

To make matters worse, there’s someone waiting to pull the trigger: Marvin Shanken, who recently bought three-year-old Country as a centerpiece for his upscale consumer empire. Shanken is a fiercely private businessman whose office includes a wine cellar, JFK’s half-million-dollar humidor, and one of the world’s best collections of vintage French posters. “Look, we’re not looking to get into a pissing match here,” he says. “But we’d be amateurs if we couldn’t do better than what’s in the Hamptons right now.” Like Hamptons, Country features spreads on real estate, copious pages of party pictures, and gossip columns written by publicists. Unlike Hamptons, it is printed entirely in color on heavy paper stock and geared for an audience more coMFortable at the Maidstone Club than at Jet East.

Schindler seems to revel in his new underdog status. “Shanken has the big bucks and he’s marketing the Hamptons like we never have, but we’re Hamptons magazine. Get it? So he’s actually marketing our product. And I couldn’t be happier about it.” He warms to the subject. “We’re like the Vietcong out here. It makes me crazy to think about some fat cat sitting in an office in New York thinking he can put us out of business because he’s got big money.”

Indeed, Shanken, who made his fortune in the relatively rarefied world of cigars and wine, may find the terrain a bit rockier in the Hamptons, where traditional notions of media ethics are as incongruous as wing tips on the beach. He spent his first few months at Country trying to rescue the publication from its own tawdry history. Country had been published by Schindler’s ex-ad director Joe DeCristofaro, who had quit Hamptons when Schindler refused to pay him thousands of dollars in outstanding commissions, recouped only after the sheriff paid a visit to the Hamptons offices. A sort of Schindler manqué, DeCristofaro has also been sued by unpaid employees. “We spent $100,000 to clean up a lot of problems,” says Shanken, sighing heavily. “It was part of the cost of acquisition. But we’re doing great now.”

Meanwhile, Shanken must contend not just with Hamptons but with other giveaways fighting over the same pie – among them Dan’s Papers, Joan Jedell’s Hamptons Sheet, Hamptons After Dark, and 27 East, as well as newspapers like the East Hampton Star, the Southampton Press, and The Independent. And not everyone is fighting fair. At Hamptons, Schindler has been known to quote publicists a price for plugging a product, or threaten restaurants unwilling to advertise that he’ll print that they’ve been closed by the Health Department. Schindler insists he was joking. (Certainly Binn was, too, when he told this reporter that if the story didn’t turn out to his liking, he’d run a picture of her with Donald Trump and claim she was Trump’s latest flame.)

It’s 3 p.m. on the Fourth of July, and Schindler has brought his 4-year-old son, his girlfriend – a real-estate broker who looks scarily like Sharon Stone – his 20-year-old daughter, and her husband to Puffy Combs’s house for a barbecue. The setting puts Schindler in a sentimental mood. “Having a little one opens your eyes to look for the good in people,” he says. “Xander is the only celebrity in my life.” Combs strolls by, headed for the pool, while Binn trails him with the Elph, calling out “Puffy! Meet the owners of Asia de Cuba. A picture?” He obliges. “That’s not my Puff Daddy,” pipes up little Xander. “It’s my uncle Puffy!”

Schindler beams proudly. Having discovered the “true meaning of life,” he says he’d like to remake Hamptons in his new image. “I want it to be more about inner life, about yoga, meditation, natural healing, I Ching, reiki, past-life regression …” Schindler trails off and watches a bevy of models dangling their legs in Puffy’s pool. “I’d tell you what I was in a former life, but it would seem grandiose.”

Hamptons Heat Wave: The Power and the Glossy