Within hours of the announcement that Tyler Brûlé was leaving Wallpaper*, his office was stripped. His design books and his curios from around the globe were packed into crates. The next day, IPC service staff came and took away his Danish Soren Lund sofa.
Then, in preparation for the arrival of the new interim editor from New York, Christina Ferrari, they returned with replacement office furniture: an old dusty table and a stack of plastic chairs. "We just stood there in disbelief," says one of Brûlé's former colleagues.
The plastic chairs were taken as a sign by the Wallpaper* team of how the magazine – regarded as a bible of all that is cool and desirable in fashion, furniture, travel and entertaining – would fare under the control of Mike Soutar and Ferrari.
"It said a million words," suggests another editor on the title. "It almost seemed like they were deliberately defiling the office. It's the best-looking magazine office you'll ever see, a clear statement to all the people who visit about what we stand for, what we represent. Now we have plastic chairs."
From the moment Time Warner/AOL bought out IPC in 2001 and put its London-based titles, including Wallpaper*, under the company's control, Brûlé is said to have felt that he was being placed in an impossible situation. In the early days, under the direct control of Time Warner, he had been regarded as a valuable maverick. Now he was seen as failing to manage the magazine in the mainstream style of IPC. It is understood that Brûlé raised the money to buy back the title that he had started from his home in 1997 and had sold to Time Warner later that year. But no deal was reached.
He is not the only key employee to leave. Earlier this year the publisher Paul de Zwart was let go and replaced by Richard Johnstone, from Loaded. It was a move that staff saw as nothing short of a provocation. Insiders claim he has not fitted in and, unlike de Zwart, has never become an ambassador for what the staff regard as "the Wallpaper* way of life".
Then came news that the creative director, Ariel Childs, had resigned. Finally, after Brûlé's dep- arture, the interiors editor Kelly Russell and the architecture and design editor, Laura Housely, handed in their notices. Extraordinarily, these are the first major resign- ations since Wallpaper* launched.
Childs predicts a change in the magazine's values that would make her unable to carry out her role. "We were a cauldron of ideas. People were working so hard, it needed constant stamina and enthusiasm, and Tyler held all that together. When he began to have these problems, the impetus to keep it going just evaporated. Since the beginning of the year we have felt that he was being pushed out."
Another staff member, who wishes to remain anonymous, puts it more bluntly. He says the management had no idea what the magazine was about. "Mike Soutar hated Wallpaper* because it was out of his league."
But can more profits be wrung from the title? Even loyalists agree that budgets, even staff levels, could be cut, but what about advertising revenue? Many advertisers came to the title because they were personal friends with Brûlé. One major advertising client says: "We have continued our relationship with Wallpaper*, even though it is a relatively small magazine, because of Tyler."
So what now for Brûlé? For the time being, he is still running Wink Media, his multi-discipline creative agency which includes design and brand solutions, from the same building as the Wallpaper* offices and reporting to the IPC hierarchy. But there can be few who believe that this unhappy state of affairs will be tolerated by either side for very long.
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