Christa Worthington reviews the fall of a Conde Nast editor
"Anna Wintour dug my grave with my blessing. The vultures were circling and I didn't even see them." So writes Grace Mirabella, former editor of American Vogue, of her high-profile successor and nemesis: "a vision of skinniness in black sunglasses and Chanel suits".

In 1988, Ms Mirabella learnt via a television newscast that she had been replaced by Wintour in the top job she had held for 17 years. The American gossip columnist Liz Smith told the nationwide audience of WNBC-TV's Live at Five that Mirabella was out as editor, and out of Conde Nast, for whom she had worked for 36 years. Mirabella's husband saw the item and called her on her way home from work.

Now Mirabella has written her memoirs, In and Out of Vogue. The book will be published in September, but this week, extracts reached the Manhattan tabloid the New York Post, which has got hot under the collar about those tales of catfights and backbiting that readers love when glossy, highly paid women are involved.

But Mirabella's memoir is interesting not only for the skirmishes that UK tabloids have also picked up on. More than name-calling, it is about being exiled by the ultimate power in fashion publishing, Conde Nast. Do not expect to see her book reviewed in Vogue, in Tatler or Vanity Fair. Don't expect to see it mentioned in the New Yorker. All are part of the empire of the man who fired Grace Mirabella; SI Newhouse, business brain behind the family with the largest private fortune in America. Richer than the Queen, the Newhouse family owns a $13bn (pounds 8bn) transatlantic publishing and communications empire that includes newspapers, broadcasting, electronic media and books.

Reading Mirabella's book is like watching a golden Conde Nast career in free-fall; one waits for the body to go "splat". (In fact, Mirabella, on the day after her firing, was offered a magazine in her own name by Rupert Murdoch.)

But a similar fall from grace had happened to another Vogue employee. Conde Nast has a history of harsh firings, but none was so cruel as that of Margaret Case, who after 40 years arrived at the office one day to find removal men rearranging her desk. Days later, she jumped out of the window of her 16th-storey apartment.

Grace Mirabella didn't jump. Post-Vogue, she has headed Mirabella magazine, which has had mixed fortunes. The UK edition opened and closed in quick succession. The beleagured US edition was recently sold to Hachette-Filipacchi (publishers of American Elle) and will be relaunched in September.

Most chilling in Mirabella's book was her slow realisation that her work at Vogue - mouthpiece of the wordly female - was rewarded on the basis of how much one could please the men who ruled this modern harem. As she puts it, she was treated in a way that was "a travesty for a corporation that was ostensibly all about women". She points to the case of James Truman, the Brit who recently became editorial director of all Conde Nast magazines at the age of 36, "chosen over several long-term job (female) aspirants."

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