Champagne, Caviar and Limos: Former Magazine Editors Reminisce on Expense Account Glory Days
Back when Manhattan’s glossies were flying high, the sky was literally the limit for corporate expense accounts.
It's hard to imagine now — with pink slips flying at Conde Nast and Time Inc. getting sold off to the penny-pinchers at Meredith Corp. — but veteran magazine editors and publishers remember a time when small fortunes could be made simply by filling out an expense report. "There was a way to make anything go past accounting," wistfully recalls Kim France, who as editor of Conde Nast's now-folded Lucky magazine once chartered a private jet to Palm Springs, kept a chauffeur-driven town car idling 24 hours a day and handed out $100 Barneys gift cards to her staff as if they were candy bars. "Everything was expensable."
Another former top editor, this one at Time Inc., remembers how during the 1990s and 2000s his company went on a spending bender worthy of a Trump Cabinet member, describing how a reporter expensed a fur coat for his wife and how an editor routinely submitted $25,000 in monthly expenses to cover his country club fees, limo service bills and liquor deliveries — and even made a down payment on a house with expense report reimbursements. "You have to remember that we were all under a lot of pressure to inflate our reports," the staffer says. "There was an ethos of overspending at Time Inc. that had to be maintained. If you didn't expense enough, other people were like, 'You're making us look bad, pump it up.'"
A former Conde Nast editor says the ethos was even more pumped up at his company, recalling how the publisher of one big-circulation title would expense having his Ferrari shipped across the country for his vacations. A former Conde photo editor describes expensing lunch for a Bruce Weber fashion shoot — which was delivered to the set by a helicopter. "It was white tablecloth service, not just folding tables and chairs," she says proudly. A former assistant, meanwhile, remembers the champagne and caviar breaks her boss would throw in her office. "There was a mini fridge filled with bottles of Veuve Clicquot," she says.
Marin Hopper, former fashion director of Elle, says she spent untold thousands express-shipping clothing back and forth across the Atlantic for photo shoots. "At one point in the early 1990s, things had gotten to such excess that we were no longer shipping trunks of clothes, we would just buy a seat for the outfit," she tells THR. "We were doing a shoot in Mexico and there was only one sample in Paris, so we bought the outfit a ticket. And yes, it was seat-belted in."
But, of course, those irrationally exuberant T&E days ended after the 2008 crash, and for some the belt-tightening has been a hard adjustment. "When you used to go to fashion shows, there were 750 limos — it looked like the biggest funeral in the world," says Hal Rubenstein, former fashion director at In Style. "Now you come out and there are five or six black cars and everybody else is calling Uber." — WITH ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MARC MALKIN, BOOTH MOORE AND DEGEN PENER
This story first appeared in the April 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.