Two years ago it would been unimaginable that Graydon Carter would be out of Vanity Fair and his arch nemesis, Donald Trump, would be in the White House.
Carter, 68, co-founded Spy magazine in the 1980s where he infamously branded Trump a “short-fingered vulgarian” before taking the helm at Vanity Fair in the 1990s. There he presided over Hollywood’s toughest guest list, Vanity Fair’s annual Oscars afterparty.
Since leaving Condé Nast last year, Carter has spent the last several months in the south of France plotting his next act. In Provence, “his disdain for Trump has only increased,” one close friend told The Daily Beast.
But Carter doesn’t have plans to take on Trump.
Two sources with knowledge of Carter’s thinking said he wants to start a new venture that would be heavy on events with a media component built in. (The New York Post was first to report details of Carter’s new media enterprise, describing it as a “multi-platform venture centering, at least at first, on wealthy and famous European families, including Britain’s royal family.”) Carter is no stranger to events having been heavily involved in launching VF’s new establishment summit.
When Carter ended his 25-year run at Vanity Fair, he told the New York Times: “I wanted to have a third act. And I thought, time is precious.”
The clock is ticking.
“You think he’s been working on his tan?” said another friend of Carter’s. “He is working on his tan but with a glass of wine and he is also trying to figure out how the hell to make money out of media.”
“Graydon is exploring ideas and actively figuring it out,” an associate familiar with his thinking told The Daily Beast. “Any media business being built today will be a business that has an events component.”
Carter did not reply to a request for comment.
“Graydon was one of the innovators to make events essential to the broader media agenda,” the source added.
If Graydon’s third act does materialize—as four of his friends all agreed was a certainty—it is highly likely a large chunk of change will be poured into it from TPG Capital an investment firm founded in Fort Worth and now based in California. Its CEO and co-founder James Coulter just happens to be close friends with Carter.
TPG have invested heavily in media including stakes in Vice Media and Univision.
A cursory glance at their portfolio on their website lists investments in such diverse companies as Cirque de Soleil, Burger King, Uber and J.Crew.
“Jim and Graydon are friends,” a source close to discussions told The Daily Beast. “Jim has—obviously in his capacity as a friend—advised Graydon as have many people. TPG is one of the most active media investors globally so it’d be safe to assume they would invest in future projects.”
It is also highly likely—as several current and former Vanity Fair staffers observed—Carter will take advantage of his celebrity rolodex to make the new project work. However, two former Vanity Fair writers were critical of Carter’s final years atop the esteemed masthead.
“Towards the end he caved to Hollywood pressure,” one said. “He was too soft on Hollywood.”
But while he may have played the favor game—as most in Tinseltown do—others who have worked for him say he has the industrial knowledge, drive and connections to make whatever he cooks up work.
"What makes Graydon so interesting is he is so curious—curious about people and food and culture,” said Dee Dee Myers a friend of Carter’s who was a contributing editor to Vanity Fair and is now the head of corporate communications at Warner Bros. Her husband, Todd Purdham, has written for Vanity Fair since 2006 and recently joined The Atlantic.
“He curates the events he wants to attend. He cultivated people at his events. You felt like you were at the cool kids table.
“He’s connected to people in politics, royals, celebrities. He always has a lot of irons in the fire,” she said.
“Graydon has had a lot of different players trying to persuade him to do something,” another long time friend said.
“He has to find a different audience to Vanity Fair for this to be a success. That will be a real test for him. And when it comes to events that’s an increasingly crowded business. You have Recode, Axios you have Fortune heck you have Vanity Fair as well as many others. But if anyone can be their own brand it’s Graydon Carter.”
— Maxwell Tani contributed reporting