Pilar Guzman, Condé Nast Traveler’s turnaround artist of an EIC, and husband Chris Mitchell, Vanity Fair’s newly minted VP and publisher, have hopscotched from Condé title to title—never in tandem—for more than a decade. We popped by their Park Slope brownstone to learn how they kill it in the glossy grind (without killing each other).
How did you meet?
Pilar: We both went to Berkeley but didn’t know each other there. Mutual friends introduced us when we were in New York in our twenties.
Chris: We met 19 years ago as of last month.
Were you both in publishing when you met?
Chris: No, I’d just left Condé Nast to go to a little startup called Wired, and Pilar was working at a visual-effects company transitioning into being an interactive agency. She was leaving her job to travel the world.
Pilar: I went to Vietnam and wrote the first Fodor’s guide since before the war. We were newly together, and I left for three or four months.
When did you first end up at the company concurrently?
Chris: I was the publisher of Details when it was owned by Fairchild, and since I was on the executive committee, I caught wind that they wanted to start this parenting magazine. Entirely separately from me, they found Pilar at Real Simple and started wooing her for the job. I never brought up the fact that we were married.
Was that by design?
Chris: A little bit. I didn’t want Pilar to have any special favors—or be disqualified—because she was married to me. We don’t want our relationship to propel either of our careers. But it’s nice to work at the same company. It has its funny little advantages.
What kinds of advantages?
Pilar: We get to go to the Christmas party together! We run into each other in the building sometimes, and occasionally we’ll sneak out for lunch together.
Chris: A few times, we’ve been in the same cities for work and stayed together on a business trip. It’s great when your personal life touches your work life.
Do you give each other advice?
Chris: There’s a division of church and state, and Pilar’s given me some religion, and I’ve given her some government. We each understand, intimately, the challenges the other side faces. Over the years, Pilar has said, “My publisher wants me to do this.” Half the time I’ll tell her not to stand on ceremony, and the other half, I’ve said, “No, you shouldn’t bow to that pressure.” I ask Pilar things all the time. She’s sincere and genuine, and she’s my inspiration for how I carry myself in business.
Do you often talk shop at home?
Pilar: Sometimes we’re in the mood for it, sometimes we’re not. I really want to be present when I get home; our time with the kids is so limited.
Chris: If we were both publishers or editors, it would be a boring, endless conversation!
Did you help Pilar prep for her Traveler interview since you’d done a stint there?
Chris: I knew the brand’s real strengths, and also what could be improved upon. It gave perspective when Pilar was talking to Condé Nast about what could be done to the brand.
Would you ever want to run a glossy together?
Chris: When Pilar was the editor at Cookie, and I was nearly done with my run at Details, I proposed the idea of us working together. Ultimately, [Condé Nast] saved our marriage by deciding it would be too close for comfort; too tricky.
Is it ever challenging to work at the same place?
Chris: It was a painful time for Pilar when Cookie closed, and it was tough for me to be at the company that closed the magazine my wife was so close to. You run the risk of the business and personal becoming too personal. But it’s like how having a sibling gives you a better perspective on your parents: We have a sibling-like relationship toward our bosses at Condé Nast, so we can understand the company better.
What do your kids think of your gigs?
Chris: They have no idea what I do. They ask me, “Why can’t you stay home? You just talk on the phone all day!”
Pilar: They think I just work on the computer all the time.
Which magazines do your sons read?
Chris: They’re on screens all the time. There aren’t many magazines devoted to children! As a business, we’re probably not doing the best job nurturing the next generation of readers. They have a joint subscription to this European soccer magazine that’s so shockingly expensive, it should be the model for all of us. Our older son, who’s 11 years old, has lately become interested in architecture and interiors.
Do they read VF and Traveler?
Chris: Vanity Fair is a little over their heads, but maybe when they turn 13…
Pilar: Will looks at Traveler, but they’re not quite in the demographic just yet.
Congrats on being named Ad Age’s Editor of the Year, Pilar. What does that mean?
Chris: Job security. [Laughs]
Pilar: It feels good for a minute, and then I think, “Oh, God, I have so much work to do!” But we accomplished a lot in such a short period of time. We changed the magazine’s direction. It was a gamble, and it’s paid off.
What’s new at Traveler lately?
Pilar: We relaunched the website, and it’s been getting a good response. Now, we’re doubling down on video—it’s a whole new medium to play in and master. With travel, it’s endless—people are most inspired and given to storytelling when they travel, so video is a perfect format for that.
And how have the first six months of VF been?
Chris: Graydon [Carter] is easily the best partner I’ve ever worked with, and certainly the most inspiring. He’s like a duck on the water—he makes it look so easy, but he’s truly the hardest-working man in the media business. He cultivates real friendships with so many people in so many different worlds. He’s my publishing hero.
Was VF on your bucket list of mastheads to be on?
Chris: I’ve been with Condé Nast for 20 years, more or less. I’ve always made a point not to direct my fate. I’ve found it better to put my head down and do my job, and then the phone tends to ring every one to five years. I loved GQ, and there were only one or two brands I’d hoped to work with after. But to wish it is to jinx it.
Will this be your first time at the VF Oscar party?
Chris: It’ll be my first time at Oscar week, ever. Pilar will be off in Tanzania on a safari then, so she won’t be with me. We tend to divide and conquer. Our jobs might be slightly more in the spotlight, but any two working parents have the difficult task of juggling.
What are you wearing to the Oscar bash?
Chris: I have quite a few tuxedos, and when I got the job, a friend joked that I’ll finally be able to make use of them. I’d love to wear Tom Ford.
Thoughts on Condé’s new digs?
Chris: The building is beautiful and inspiring. I take the subway—people are surprised to hear that. In this new building, you have to be an active subway rider to get to and from Midtown. There are probably lots of publishers used to having a black car idling who are spending a lot more time in traffic.
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CHRIS ON PILAR!
Favorite brunch dish: “A Bloody Mary and poached eggs over greens.”
[Pilar’s answer: “Huevos rancheros.”]
Favorite color: “Navy blue.”
[Pilar’s answer: “Navy blue.”]
First pet: “Gosh, I don’t think she ever had a pet!”
[Pilar’s answer: “A hamster.”]
Ideal Saturday afternoon: “Reading in front of the fire.”
[Pilar’s answer: “A cooking project or going out for lunch, going for a run, hanging with my family.”]
Least favorite part of traveling: “The airport.”
[Pilar’s answer: “Unpacking.”]
PILAR ON CHRIS!
Favorite app: “Nike running app.”
[Chris’ answer: “Instagram, followed by eBay.”]
Hollywood guy crush: “Graydon.”
[Chris’ answer: “Robert Redford.”]
Favorite book: “Crossing to Safety or The Secret History.”
[Chris’ answer: “Crossing to Safety.”]
Go-to cocktail: “Gin Martini, up.”
[Chris’ answer: “Bombay martini.”]