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2010 September 12

What's Carol Really Cooking?

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Carol Smith Carol Smith
Giorgio Niro
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(NEW YORK) Mere weeks after we put her on our cover last season, Elle’s chief brand officer, Carol Smith, jumped ship to run the Condé Nast food group. The least she could do was make us dinner!

How did we get here, Carol? It seems like only yesterday I was interviewing you at Hachette.
What can I say? I was ready for a change. I love fashion. Love, love, love fashion. But I love tea, too. Do you want to know how it all started?

Yes, please.
It all began with a text from Tom Florio. We met for a drink, and he said, “Would you be interested in doing for food what you did for fashion?” As you can imagine, it wasn’t exactly high on my list of things to do for the next 10 to 20 years. I thought fashion was where I was going to end my career. I’d go to heaven in Azzedine Alaïa and everything would be fine. But there’s something to be said for, when you reach a certain goal, when you get to be number one—and we did get to be number one—you get all that recognition and you turn around and go, Now what do I do?

Did Condé have a plan for the food group? Or was it more, here’s Bon Appétit, a bunch of websites, and Gourmet, a mag we just shuttered: Go!
I think they said, “There’s all this money that we don’t get, and the one category that’s growing is food.” They said that although they closed Gourmet the magazine, they didn’t close down the brand. They had Bon Appétit. Over at Parade, they were working on the launch of what’s now become Dash. So, one was here, one was there, one was over there—could one person pull them all together, and could I be that person? When [former Hachette Filipacchi CEO] Jack Kliger was hiring me for fashion in 2001, I knew nothing about fashion. I had shopped—that was as close as I had gotten to it. I eat—that’s as close as I’ve gotten to food. But I really love trying to pull it all together under one umbrella and make it make sense. So I said, “Why not?”

Tell us about your first day.
I had actually never been here before. I called my husband on my way in and said, “I just know they’re not going to let me through.”

And your impressions thus far?
Having never been inside the building, I had never been inside the cafeteria. I was very impressed with how well-run it is. I was very impressed with the knowledge all the publishers have. We from the outside were like, “Oh happy days—big cars, big expense accounts!” But with that there’s also lots of accountability, lots of knowledge. I don’t know if that’s a relatively new thing.

Sounds like it might be.
I think since Richard Beckman left there’s definitely been a change. He was the last of the great swashbucklers.

How are they treating you?
Cinderella. Sort of. People are very nice. They’re genuinely cordial. It’s an adjustment, though; it’s different. I’ve been at Time, Inc., the Journal, Elle, but there’s something to be said when you’re publishing the best.

Have you run into Anna yet?
I’ve run into Anna twice in the elevator. I was very happy, because I was going out, so I was wearing my favorite Akris white pantsuit. She’s quite intimidating.

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