News & Scoops

2009 June 10

EXCLUSIVE: Glenn Speaks!

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(NEW YORK) “It seems unbelievable,” Glenn O’Brien told The Daily this afternoon as news of more Interview departures accompanied the return of Fabien Baron, who was ousted as co-editorial director in January only to be rehired upon O’Brien’s defection on Monday. “It’s like a Greek tragedy. Like watching a company going insane, instead of a person.” O’Brien was referencing, of course, the now-colossal puzzle known as Brant Publications, where he served as CEO from January 2008 to May 8, 2009, while relaunching the magazines Interview, Art in America and The Magazine Antiques.

As the top man at Interview, O’Brien struggled to keep the iconic title afloat for the past six months as Brant Publications suffered serious cash flow issues, which have been exacerbated by the dismissal of publisher Alan Katz and the ascent of Peter Brant’s fiscally-dubious son Ryan Brant as president of the company. The return of Baron is particularly surprising given the budget overruns that contributed to his initial departure. “We were flying hairdressers, makeup artists and assistants around the world in business class,” O’Brien said. “In the issues I did with [creative directors] M/M (Paris), our photo budget was probably 20 percent or less of what Fabien was spending, and I think it looks just as good if not better.”

As for the possible motivations behind his return? “I think one motivation is revenge,” O’Brien surmised. According to O'Brien, for Baron, whose bread and butter comes from Baron & Baron, his fashion-centric creative shop, Brant Publications could only present a relatively forgettable check in its present state. As for the former partners’ current rapport? “I saw him at the shows,” said O’Brien. “And basically, he doesn't speak to me.”

(Baron, who is in Paris, was unavailable to comment at press time, but released the following statement this morning: "I feel very fortunate to return to my former role and am thrilled to have the opportunity to guide this legendary title through the current paradigm shift in the industry. I will put my heart in giving Interview the best of my work in a positive and creative environment.")

While Brant Publications has managed to make payroll, freelancers haven’t been quite so fortunate. Those allegedly owed include fashion director Joe McKenna, who cancelled a recent shoot on the grounds of nonpayment, as well as many A-list retouchers and photographers, including Inez & Vinoodh, who have not been paid for their August cover story. The Daily has learned that Brant Publications owes Michael Amzalag and Mathias Augustyniak of M/M (Paris) approximately three months pay, plus expenses, which has led them to quit working.

“Months ago, I wanted to bring in a professional publisher, which might have averted this cash flow situation,” O’Brien explained. “Basically, it’s been rudderless [ever since Katz’s departure] on the publishing side.” While newsstands are currently selling the June/July issue, subscribers have allegedly complained that their copies have not yet arrived.

“It was such an investment of time and energy, and I was promised equity with which they dragged my contract out,” said O’Brien. “I'm screwed. I told Ryan Brant that if Peter’s situation is that bad, how about selling [the magazine]? I was prepared to go out and look for a team of buyers. That's how I got involved in [the relaunch of Interview], and then Peter became interested in working with us in the process. I would’ve liked to get together a group to buy from Peter, but I never got an answer.”

O’Brien was notoriously hands-on with the editorial content, writing many of the features himself and working closely with editor in chief Christopher Bollen, with whom O’Brien has not spoken in recent days. “If I had found a buyer myself and continued working?” O’Brien surmised. “I’d continue with M/M. It was a great pleasure to work with them. They're people who understand culture in the broadest sense, and I think that was the strength of the magazine. I was really looking forward to working with Joe McKenna and Inez & Vinoodh, but we had about a minute, and that was about it.”

What will O’Brien do now? “I've maintained my advertising career throughout this adventure,” he said. “I'm still doing a lot of advertising and branding work.” (O’Brien is represented by Art + Commerce, the same agency that represents M/M (Paris) as well as Annie Leibovitz and Patrick Demarchelier.) He will continue to serve as GQ’s Style Guy and pen his weekly column for Italian Vanity Fair, where Ingrid Sischy and Sandra Brant top the masthead as international editors. “I got the editing bug again,” he said. “I’d like to do something. But does the world really need another fashion magazine?”

Given O’Brien’s personal relationship with the late Andy Warhol--he edited Interview for the first time under Warhol’s watch from 1970-73--the recent turn of events is especially distressing. “I had a photograph of Andy Warhol in my office,” O’Brien recalled. “And when I left on Monday, I said, ‘I’m taking Andy with me.’”

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