Trouble has finally come to a head at Interview Magazine. The fashion glossy – which was long-known for publishing intimate conversations between some of the world's biggest celebrities, artists, musicians, and other creatives – has announced that it will shutter ... effectively immediately. Behind the scenes, the magazine that pop artist Andy Warhol launched in 1969 is facing at least four ugly lawsuits, all centering on its alleged failure to pay high-level employees, and rumors of trouble gained significant steam last month when the magazine removed two big names from its masthead.
A representative of Brant Publications confirmed the closure to WWD and said that the magazine, along with its two holding companies, has filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy. “The company has been operating at a financial loss and had been funding its losses and costs of its operation through loans obtained from its secured lender,” the spokeswoman said. “The losses continued to mount, and the company did not believe its financial condition would improve in the foreseeable future.”
For those that have been following the trials of Interview, the news of its closure come as little surprise. This past February, whisperings of disorder at the magazine came to light when a multi-million dollar lawsuit between the BMP Media Holdings-owned title and a former senior executive made headlines. Deborah Blasucci – who had been with the publication for more than 30 years – filed suit in a New York state court in November 2016.
Blasucci alleged that the magazine’s owner, media mogul and art collector Peter M. Brant, and his daughter, Interview president Kelly Brant, abruptly fired her simply because she “made too much money.”
In lieu of having a reason to fire her “for cause,” which would enable the mag to avoid paying her “a lump-sum severance package and bonus,” Blasucci alleged that the Brants and BMP Media Holdings parlayed “a painful back operation that [she] underwent in February 2016” into claims that she had “failed to ‘render services’ ” while she was in recovery, something that Blasucci vehemently denies.
After being terminated “with cause” months later, Blasucci filed suit against the title for an array of monetary damages, as first reported by Page Six.
In the meantime, Interview was busy facing off against another former employee in New York state court. In a separate lawsuit, which went unreported at the time, Daniel Ragone, who acted as Interview’s President and Publisher for six years, claimed that the magazine and its owner, purposely failed to pay him nearly $200,000 in bonuses and raises.
According to Ragone’s complaint, Interview added $25,000 to his annual $450,000 base salary, “effective May 1, 2012,” but never honored the raise. Ragone argues that he was also wrongfully been denied his 2014 annual bonus of nearly $40,000, and over $6,750 in reimbursement for business expenses that he incurred in the spring of 2016.
The media exec – who recently joined Daily Front Row as its President and Chief Financial Officer – claims that Interview “intentionally and wrongfully withheld” these earnings from him following his resignation in March 2016 “with the purpose of exploiting [him].”
Fast forward to September 2017 and Interview was slapped with yet another lawsuit, this time by its former Luxury Sales Director and Associated Publisher. In her Manhattan state court filing, Jane F. Katz alleged that Interview is on the hook for Breach of Contract, New York State Labor Law, and Unjust Enrichment claims, and claimed that the mag and its parent company failed to pay her upwards of $232,000.
Katz alleges that her employment contract with Interview entitled her to “5 percent of all net advertising sales revenue [she] generated [for Interview]” in addition to her $225,000 annual base salary. That same agreement stated that “in the event the contract should be terminated by [Interview], [Katz] would continue to receive commissions on all advertising insertion orders accepted by [Interview] prior to the termination date, including orders related to advertising that appear in issues subsequent to such termination date.”
Ms. Katz alleges in her suit that “despite [her] exemplary record as a sales representative,” she was terminated “without just cause” in December 2016, and has not been paid “$121,153.76 [in] unexpired guaranteed base salary” and “$111,289.00 in advertising sales commissions.”
These pending cases – paired with allegations that Interview magazine’s staff was “booted from their swank Soho offices [in February] because the landlords haven’t been getting their checks from [owner Peter M.] Brant” – set the stage for the déjà vu news last month that big-name art director Fabien Baron and equally well-known stylist Karl Templer had resigned.
You may recall that the creative duo were employed by Interview in the early 2000’s and were allegedly pushed out in early 2009 in light of reports from WWD that Baron “simply spent too little time in the office and too much money on shoots.”
The larger issue at the time, however, appeared not to be with Mr. Baron, but with the magazine, itself. Interview’s “travails,” WWD stated in June 2009, “stemmed from a clash of business cultures and of egos among the top brass, as well as poor timing.” In particular, the fashion trade publication noted that a “staff upheaval” at Interview – brought about when Peter M. Brant bought out his ex-wife Sandra Brant’s stake in the company to gain full control – made for truly widespread issues.
WWD noted at the time that Sandra Brant and her co-editor, the South African-born writer and art critic Ingrid Sischy “had produced Interview since 1989, when the Brants bought the magazine from the Warhol estate for an undisclosed sum. Sischy’s Rolodex provided content for the magazine — friends like Elton John would interview their peers and other friends like Bruce Weber would photograph them."
All the while, "Sandy oversaw ad sales, and with her then-husband’s art world heft and her and Sischy’s contacts in the fashion world, brought in a steady stream of ad pages.”
Couple that with the height of the Great Recession in the U.S., which also did not help the magazine to sustain its peak momentum, e.g., $2 million in annual revenue and a subscriber base of 200,000 in the 1990’s, and you have a title in trouble.
Six months after Baron and Templer got the boot from Interview in 2009, Baron says he received a phone call from Peter Brant. He had made a mistake. As Baron recalled to the Daily Front Row early this year, Brant called to woo him and Templer back, telling him, “Things are not working the way we want them to work. We would like you to come back."
While Baron said his initial reaction was a firm, "No!," he and Templer “made a list of 12 conditions that [they] would need in order to come back,” and rejoined the team, where they would remain for almost ten years, with Baron calling the latest go-around a “dream job." That dream had an expiration date, though. Last month when the duo made headlines again, “Fabien Baron and Karl Templer Are Out at Interview Magazine.”
While Templer, who is facing allegations of sexual harassment, as revealed in a Boston Globe exposé in February, attempted to make a quiet exit, Baron, for one, opted to make a statement. The well-known art director filed a striking lawsuit against Interview – which officially ceased operations on Monday. Baron claims in his suit, which was filed in a Manhattan state court in April, that Interview has been “completely derelict in fulfilling their legal requirement to [pay] him."
The suit adds that Baron “personally secured” at least 40 big-name contributors — from photographers to makeup artists — to join the magazine and that Interview “flourished editorially under [his] leadership." Nonetheless, the mag allegedly stiffed him of about $500,000 and owes his stylist wife Ludivine Poiblanc, who is also a plaintiff in the suit, approximately $66,000.
According to Baron and Poiblanc’s complaint, the "actions [of Interview magazine's executives] demonstrate a total disregard for the legal obligations they assumed by employing Fabien, Baron Inc. and the many collaborators he recruited to produce the finest work possible.”
Upon hearing the news that Interview would shutter and liquidate its assets, Baron told WWD, “The artistic success of the magazine was due to the extraordinary work of a raft of talented contributors, many of whom are unfortunately now creditors due to the owner’s flagrant disregard for their welfare."
According to WWD, the number of individuals and entities that are owned money by Interview is well into the 300's. "The publication owes every major modeling agency, from DNA to Wilhelmina and even Trump Model Management, along with scores of other talent and creative agencies; it owes the curatorial department of the Hammer Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario, also a museum; then there’s Aurora James, the founder and creative director of Brother Vellies."
The trade publication elaborates, "There’s also the photographer Christopher Makos, who worked with Man Ray and also a well-known collaborator of Warhol’s; photographers Patrick Demarchelier, Curtis Knapp and Michael Birt; Dan Thawley, a Paris-based editor for Vogue Italia who contributed to interview between 2011 and 2015; set designer David de Quevedo; Jenny Walton, a sketch artist engaged to Scott Schuman; Meredith Corp., and a very long list of freelance photographers and writers."
So now, after almost 50 years, Interview magazine is shutting down. It’s still-pending legal battles and long list of creditors, however, will live on.