Art by Darrel Frost

Up in the Air

Graydon Carter never used to look at websites. Now he’s running a digital magazine and e-commerce venture.

July 5, 2023

Back when he was editing Vanity Fair, Graydon Carter had a weekend routine. He and his wife, Anna Scott, would walk from their townhouse in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village to Casa Magazine, a little shop with floor-to-ceiling racks of glossies and knee-level stacks of newspapers from around the world. Arms loaded with European periodicals, they’d return home and spend hours tearing out stories they liked, passing them back and forth. Carter would arrive at Condé Nast the following Monday with a pile of clippings, marked up with notes, and hand them to his assistant to distribute to editors. 

In 2017, when Carter’s tenure at Vanity Fair came to an end, he jetted off with his family to Opio, a small medieval hill village in the South of France, where there was suddenly a lot more time to comb through periodicals. He no longer had any editors to distribute stories to, so he sent links out to friends. Opio, a thirty-minute drive from Cannes, had an olive mill and a twelfth-century church; at home, with a terrace overlooking the Mediterranean, Carter, who was sixty-eight, meditated every morning, did Pilates, and answered letters. A serene existence, but he was restless. “I can’t imagine not working,” he told me. “I don’t play golf. And so I thought, ‘I don’t want my mind to go completely to mush.’”

His friends sent him nice replies to the emails he’d sent them with European stories. As the hours passed, he got to thinking about starting a “primitive little newsletter” with similar articles. He didn’t want it to have anything to do with news—in Opio, he’d barely made it halfway through Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury before giving up. (“It was too depressing,” he told a reporter.) Nor could it be too primitive, because Carter liked things that were polished. He thought some more. He’d probably want to assign original pieces to go along with whatever syndicated material he sent around; there was nothing more fun, he felt, than coming up with a story idea, getting a writer on the phone, and conjuring something for readers. And if he did that, Carter reasoned, he would also want to make sure the pieces upheld “old school” values: fact-checking, legal review, copyediting, photo research.

Carter called Angela Panichi, a former Vanity Fair colleague, and John Tornow, who cofounded an app that he once invested in. They had a bit of back-and-forth about fonts and layouts. What Carter had in mind probably wouldn’t fit in a newsletter, they decided. There would need to be a website, too—not like so many of the others out there, they agreed, but one that was visually appealing, a reflection of Carter’s sensibility. “I never looked at websites,” Carter said. “But I did know that I found most of them absolutely antithetical to a pleasant reading experience because things were moving around. I wanted something that was a more pure reader experience.”

By now, Carter was excited. He phoned Alessandra Stanley, a friend from his early days writing about celebrities for the “people page” of Time magazine. Stanley had recently left the New York Times after a long career as a bureau chief—first in Moscow, then Rome—and chief television critic. “I’ve been working on something that I think you might like,” Stanley recalled him saying. “Would you mind if I sent it to you?” She looked at a prototype. She had no idea if it would be successful, but she knew she would read it. Stanley, who is sixty-seven, had a lot in common with Carter. While she’d established a prominent career as a writer, Carter, before he ran Vanity Fair, had been the editor of the New York Observer and a creator of Spy. They had seen the industry evolve, over time, as people moved online; they had seen attitudes change, too; occasionally, they found themselves on the receiving end of criticism for being out of touch, or worse. In 2003, Carter had commissioned a piece about Jeffrey Epstein—the disgraced financier who was later jailed for sex abuse and trafficking, and died in his cell—that omitted key details about Epstein’s crimes; the author of the story, Vicky Ward, later claimed that Carter removed damning information because he was under Epstein’s influence. (Carter has since said he regretted the article, but rejected Ward’s characterization of events, telling The New Yorker, “My staff, to a person, did not trust her.”) Stanley, while covering TV in 2014, wrote a piece about How to Get Away with Murder that opened with a reference to a racist trope. (“Many called it offensive,” Margaret Sullivan, who was then the public editor of the Times, wrote. When asked to comment, Stanley said “I feel bad” and acknowledged that she’d included a “painful and insidious stereotype.” She added that “a full reading allows for a different takeaway than the loudest critics took.”) Carter asked Stanley to be his coeditor. “This is a Graydon Carter production,” she told me. “I’m just lucky to be sitting next to him on it.”

Over the decades, Carter had formed a “repertory company of writers, editors, designers, illustrators, and photographers,” as David Kamp, a member of the troupe, put it, and they were soon called upon to join his new venture. Kamp, George Kalogerakis, and Bruce Handy, all former Spy and Vanity Fair hands, helped out early on. Carter persuaded Emily Davis, who had been the executive director of fashion and retail at Vanity Fair, to come on as chief marketing officer. He hired Anjali Lewis—a former Vanity Fair associate publisher and chief marketing officer of Alexander Wang—to head brand partnerships. He raided Vanity Fair for a copy editor and a production editor. Michael Hainey, a former editor at GQ and Esquire, joined as a deputy editor, as did Chris Garrett, Vanity Fair’s longtime managing editor, and Nathan King, who was Carter’s assistant. Carter recruited Jim Kelly, a close friend and former editor of Time magazine, to run books coverage. He hired one of his son’s old business school classmates to serve as chief operating officer. Then he raised $14.5 million in Series A funding with TPG Growth, a private-equity firm founded by his pal Jim Coulter.

Air Mail—Carter has used classic airmail envelopes as bookmarks for decades, and thought the name sounded both “jet age” and “internet age”—debuted in July 2019, billed as the weekend section of a nonexistent international newspaper. It was emailed to a subscriber list of around fifteen thousand people with the subject line “Graydon Carter here…” It was stylish, in a nostalgic way; the target reader was “somebody with an active passport, somebody affluent, who has great curiosity about the world—and not just the New York–Boston-Washington orbit, but beyond that,” Carter told me. There was a story about a château that had become “the scourge of Provence,” a piece by John Lahr on a David Mamet play searching for depth in a Harvey Weinstein type (“Nowadays, in fractious and fragmented Great Britain, between the Brexiters, the Remainers, the MeTooers, and the L.G.B.T.-ers, the air is thick with the ecstasy of sanctimony”), and a list of celebrities who had a “great” week. “I can’t say for sure that if Graydon hadn’t gone to Europe, he necessarily would’ve thought of this particular endeavor,” Kelly said. “But he was in Europe. It didn’t surprise me. He loves doing stuff, and this fit that.”

Issue No. 1 was sponsored by Hermès. Axel Dumas, the sixth-generation scion of the Hermès fortune, was the first person Carter pitched. Other backers of early issues included Armani, Ralph Lauren, and Prada. Carter had courted them by promising the allure of a glossy for half the price; an advertising takeover of an entire Air Mail issue goes for fifty-five thousand dollars. Carter always liked ads—an ad for a luxury designer could be a thing of beauty, he thought—and a full issue with a single advertiser seemed elegant.

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It wasn’t until later that Carter began to think of Air Mail itself as a luxury boutique. For a while, he was focused on editorial concerns; the publication was meant to be a throwback, but early reviews were tough: “Graydon Carter’s E-mail Newsletter for the Rich and Boring,” The Nation wrote. He wanted to build a loyal base of subscribers. “Almost every day for the first two and a half years, I would worry that we were going to fail,” he said. He took solace in comparing himself to designers. “I thought of Loro Piana and Brunello Cucinelli. They make beautiful wools. Fifteen years ago, very few people knew about either of them. And now if you ask your wife or say to a friend ‘I’d like to buy you a sweater—what sweater company would you like?,’ chances are they’re going to say Loro Piana or Brunello Cucinelli. They’ve grown through quality, rather than growing fast like H&M or Zara.”

Then came the slippers. In December, Bridget Arsenault, the London editor, profiled Luke Edward Hall, a designer with more than ninety thousand Instagram followers who had “made a serious name for himself, creating stationery for Papier; loafers for Stubbs & Wootton; cushions for Liberty London.” Afterward, Stubbs & Wootton contacted Air Mail to suggest a collaboration. Issue No. 70, published on November 14, 2020, included a short piece by Ashley Baker, who was then the site’s style editor: “Your Feet Will Thank You.” Air Mail, Baker announced, had teamed up with Stubbs & Wootton to offer a “limited-edition capsule collection” of slippers handcrafted in burgundy, navy, hunter, and black velvet with gold aircraft embroidery—Air Mail’s logo, a DC-3 plane. “If there was ever a time for indoor-outdoor slippers, it’s now,” Baker wrote. The price was five hundred and fifty dollars. Air Mail soon also debuted the first in a series of holiday gift guides, providing links to items such as a $328 Richard Brendon diamond decanter and a $534 Anderson & Sheppard bathrobe.

 Carter was impressed by how fast those forays into e-commerce moved “freight.” His mind flashed back to a conversation he’d had over lunch in early 2019 with Adam Moss, the former editor of New York magazine. He recalled that Moss said referral fees generated by The Strategist, New York’s product review site, “paid for the whole operation”—the journalism, the print magazine, everything. That comment “both shocked and stuck with me,” Carter said. Davis suggested adding a permanent online store. “I was all for it,” Carter told me. He called in David Foxley, a former assistant turned editor at Vanity Fair, to oversee the endeavor. Foxley became Air Mail’s executive editor and kicked off Air Supply, as the vertical was named, in December 2020.

Harrison Vail, Air Mail’s director of communications, told me that Air Supply is a “curated storefront,” a natural extension of the original site. A reader drawn to the Carter aesthetic will find a $495 cashmere scarf, a $289.99 pickleball set, a $3,450 Prada belted silk shirtdress. “They want to be a part of this world that Graydon has built,” Vail said, “and the way to do that is to purchase the products that Air Mail has said are worth purchasing.”

Douglas McCabe, the CEO of Enders Analysis, a research service covering trends in media and entertainment advertising, sees the appeal. “We’ve gone from a world where you could predict the effect of your advertising”—in the pages of a magazine such as Vanity Fair—“because there were fewer channels and there were fewer techniques for influencing people,” he said. Now “cultural influence has been massively diluted.” If luxury brands have often been reluctant to engage with e-commerce, he said, Air Mail (“Graydon Carter’s E-mail Newsletter for the Rich and Boring”) offers a familiar point of access to a prime demographic.

“You won’t find Gucci on Amazon,” McCabe told me. “The reason they’re not there is they don’t want to be tarnished by that world. These kinds of companies really do believe in context. They believe in protecting their brand and protecting their environment and making sure that the experience of buying a Rolex watch or a Gucci handbag is a certain kind of experience. The experience is as important as the product itself.” He continued, “But we’re now in a world where a really meaningful proportion of consumption and shopping is taking place online, and the luxury brands will now increasingly spend in selected environments online. And I would not doubt for one second that Graydon Carter would be a really big part of that solution.”

Air Mail’s lineage can be traced to Goop, which debuted in 2008 as a weekly email filled with advice to “nourish the inner aspect” and details about the life of its founder, Gwyneth Paltrow. The business grew and, by 2017—millions of dollars in investment and many product lines later—Condé Nast announced that it was buying in, by way of a magazine to be produced collaboratively with Goop and distributed across their respective platforms. The deal fell through, infamously, over disagreements about the “rules” of publishing. “Somewhere like Condé, understandably, there are a lot of rules,” Paltrow told Taffy Brodesser-Akner in a 2018 profile. “The rules she’s referring to are the rules of traditional magazine making—all upheld strictly at an institution like Condé Nast,” Brodesser-Akner wrote. “One of them is that they weren’t allowed to use the magazine as part of their ‘contextual commerce’ strategy.” In other words, Condé wanted to maintain separation between editorial and sales. Brodesser-Akner continued, “The other rule is—well, the thing couldn’t be fact-checked.” (Stanley told me that Air Mail never agrees to write about advertisers in exchange for ad placement—“That would be unseemly”—and that the magazine prides itself on fact-checking.)

Goop was not the first periodical to function as a catalogue, nor was it such a dramatic departure from what glossies have done for years—at Condé, Hearst, anywhere. A magazine is a reflection of taste and features items for sale. Carter, in particular, has always been known for packaging a certain sense of style. “Graydon creates worlds,” Kamp told me, “meaning not just the printed content. It’s also the design, the sensibility.” The world he created at Vanity Fair was obsessed with classic movies, social hierarchies, and designer shoes. It’s not that far a leap from the product recommendations on a “Fanfair” spread to Air Supply. (From a Carter-era page: “The history of Krigler perfumes is filled with passion, intrigue, and secrets.”) Yet the Condé-Goop deal arose at a time when legacy magazines were flummoxed by the internet. “I was in no way privy to talks between Paltrow and Condé Nast,” Carter said. “But Condé Nast was built on fact and Gwyneth’s was built on commerce. It might have just been too early for both companies. I suspect the result might be different if an approach was made now.” (Rachel Janc, director of communications at Condé Nast, declined to comment, letting me know that she wouldn’t be able to speak on “Condé Nast vs Graydon Carter.”)

Carter told me that, while he was at Vanity Fair, he felt the company placed too much emphasis on keeping print-subscription rates low, in order to keep circulation up. “The old construct of essentially giving the magazine away for free and making up the cost with advertising was, to me, always flawed,” he said. “The less you pay for something, the less you care about it or respect it. In the early days of internet news, this was an overriding problem: readers had gotten used to paying little, or nothing at all, for what they wanted to read.” For too long, he argued, publishers “muddied the waters” by presenting magazines as cheap fare. “There’s been a huge sea change over the last ten years, and now people realize it’s not free,” he added. “But it’s going to take years before people are willing to pay again.”

In the meantime, inspired by Goop, branded periodicals muddied the waters even more. Company-sponsored “magazines” exploded. There was Woolly, from Casper, which sells mattresses. Uniqlo, the clothing company; Bumble, the dating app; Away, the luggage maker; and the fashion retailers SSENSE and Net-a-Porter all debuted branded magazines. An informal survey by Women’s Wear Daily indicated that at least half of the publications in this category shut down by 2021. Yet in many cases, they were overseen by editors with solid journalism credentials—people who had been lured away from, or shoved out by, an industry in crisis—and some of the ventures were impressive, notably MEL magazine, a men’s outlet founded by Dollar Shave Club, which is owned by Unilever. Ellen Carpenter was a deputy editor at Nylon when she was sought out by Aritzia, a Canadian fashion company, to produce a branded magazine. “The hope was people would be like, ‘I wear Aritzia because it fits into my taste level; I listen to this band and they’re in the Aritzia online magazine,’” she recalled. “It’s kind of just creating the whole lifestyle.”

The Aritzia publication was among those that closed down. “At the end of the day, you just want to buy a shirt,” Carpenter said. “I don’t know if you really want to go to the Gap to read about your favorite band.” (Celebrities seem to have better luck. In 2019, Kourtney Kardashian launched Poosh, a lifestyle website similar in more than name to Goop; last year, Poosh and Goop collaborated by selling a candle that smelled, supposedly, like Kardashian’s vagina.) Carpenter moved on to become the editor in chief of Hemispheres, the in-flight magazine of United Airlines—the original example of publication as point-of-sale.

Joanna Coles—a former editor in chief of Marie Claire and Cosmopolitan, and later the chief content officer for Hearst Magazines—told me that many companies underestimate what it takes for a magazine to work. In 2016, Coles oversaw the development of a publication for Airbnb, which she said was successful until the pandemic hit and the project shut down. “My experience from having talked to people who are trying to create content from a branded point of view is that they don’t fully understand how big the horizon of good content must be,” she said. “And they always bring it back to the essence of their brand—be it Aritzia or the Gap or Prada. And that’s not an interesting way to look at the world. Good content is about ideas. It’s not about commerce.” She added, “You want a mix of things. And a good magazine is a mix of things.”

Air Mail headquarters is on a quiet, tree-lined street in Greenwich Village, housed on the second floor of a hundred-and-eighty-year-old Greek Revival brick townhouse with an olive-green front door. The space was converted from a one-bedroom apartment; there is still a small kitchen. When I visited, just after lunch on a Thursday in spring, four twentysomething staffers were seated at a wooden communal table beneath a glass chandelier. I’d been told by Aimee Bell—a longtime member of the Carter repertory company, now an executive at Simon & Schuster—that being in the office was like “looking inside Graydon’s mind.” She said, “He puts together an office like he does a magazine. Everything is done to perfection with superhuman attention to detail. Nothing is overlooked.”

Vail, Air Mail’s communications director, agreed. “You notice the airplanes everywhere?” he said. “Graydon really likes aviation.” Other sightings: A framed Harry Benson photograph of the Beatles having a pillow fight, an Annie Leibovitz portrait of naked John and Yoko. Black-and-white pictures of deco architecture—the Empire State Building, the Flatiron. A row of clocks displaying the time in New York, Paris, London, and Moscow. A coin-operated metal newspaper dispenser, decorated with the red, white, and blue chevron edges seen on airmail envelopes, along with Air Mail’s logo; displayed inside is a copy of a printed broadsheet—a special issue that was created for New York Fashion Week, Spring 2023. A typewriter once owned by the writer William Manchester. A glass ashtray.

The back room, which overlooks a leafy garden, features a huge portrait of Carter dressed in the uniform of a World War II–era Soviet general, his copious white hair bursting from a billed Red Army cap. Back in the Condé days, Vanity Fair staffers would place this painting on the office walls of new hires as a joke. Carter’s awards are on display throughout the office—including a National Magazine Award and, in the bathroom, an Oscar statuette that reads: Graydon Carter, “Vanity Fair,” Best Oscar Party, 1996. Behind a plant there is a framed letter from Donald Trump, whom Carter frequently taunted in the pages of Spy, dated October 15, 1992, just after Carter was hired to lead Vanity Fair. It reads: “Dear Graydon, Congratulations on your ascension to the throne. There is no question as to your upward mobility—I have become a believer!” (“He invited me to his wedding to Marla Maples and I attended,” Carter told me. “It lasted about two hours. It was a product launch. It was the most unromantic thing I’d ever seen.”)    

Courtesy of Sharon Suh

When it comes to Air Mail’s coverage, “we usually agree on what we want to do,” Stanley said. “We’re trying to provide something that is not obvious and not easily found somewhere else.” Often, they’ll draw from the European papers that Carter has always liked to page through. There have been stories on the world’s most expensive massage; on perks provided by fashion companies to “V.I.C.s” (Very Important Clients); on Kennedy-era intrigue; on deceased Hollywood icons. “We love high-end crime,” Carter told me, as well as pieces about books and television. There are also snarky returns to his Spy days—including a weekly “Attention Whore index”; Prince Harry won six consecutive titles.

Air Mail has frequently covered the #MeToo movement, typically from the perspective of men who have been held accountable for abusing their power. Early on, Carter’s son Ash wrote a widely read piece about the comeback efforts of Leon Wieseltier, the former New Republic literary editor and Atlantic contributor who was accused of workplace misconduct and sexual harassment. “Leon was caught up in the MeToo thing, and a lot of people felt that he might not be as terrible as some of the worst people who were caught up in it,” Stanley told me. “I mean, there was a whole moment where all kinds of people were being churned through this, right? And the whole story of Leon—and how he had this magazine and how he lost the funding and how his life was ruined and his wife left him and all that stuff, and then how he built it back again—it’s an amazing story. And nobody was going to tell it because he’s a pariah.”

A similar calculus went into Air Mail’s decision to run a story about a blind gallerist named Johann König: “king of the Berlin art world, until #MeToo allegations threatened his reign.” The article cast doubt on “vigilante justice” that found König “guilty without trial.” A piece called “The #MeToo Minefield” discussed a book by Meghan Daum, in which Daum opines that “the smart, thoughtful people are smart and thoughtful enough to stay out of the conversation.” In February of this year, Air Mail ran a profile of Armie Hammer, the actor accused of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, including fantasies of rape and cannibalism. Hammer provided Air Mail with his take. “The very fact that we could tell nobody else was going to do it made it more attractive,” Stanley said. “If you’re at a big institution, whether it’s Condé Nast or the New York Times, you’re always worried about what people above you and below you are saying. But we don’t have to worry about it.” Plus: “It was an interesting narrative,” she told me. “His life fell apart so fast, and the accusations never got aired anywhere except for on the internet.” (In fact, Hammer’s accusers spoke to news outlets and in a documentary series called House of Hammer. Vail acknowledged that, but said “no other outlet had, to that point, bothered to evaluate what Hammer had to say.” Police began investigating Hammer in 2021 and passed the results to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, which decided not to press charges.) Stanley continued, “It’s a great story because the mighty are fallen.”

Many Air Mail articles seem to reach their target audience and go ignored by others; when its earlier #MeToo pieces were published, there weren’t many loud complaints. (Air Mail also once ran a piece that was critical of alleged abusers among the French intellectual elite.) But the Hammer story made international headlines. Critics attacked it as a thinly sourced, one-sided account. Some compared it unfavorably to a piece that ran in Vanity Fair, now edited by Radhika Jones, that included interviews with several of Hammer’s accusers. Carter and Stanley published a defense of the article. Air Mail was summoned by Nightline. Constance Grady—a senior correspondent covering culture at Vox, where she wrote about Hammer—told me that the Air Mail story avoided or dismissed important realities limiting the prosecution of sexual violence. “There are a lot of ways in which our legal system is not really set up to adjudicate these things,” she said. “The standards of proof are really hard to meet, especially in a misogynist society.”

As the attention grew, Air Mail’s readership rose above three hundred thousand for the first time. Whether this buzz was the kind the site wanted seemed not to be a concern. While Vanity Fair under Jones has felt younger and more inclusive (“Audiences are hungry for new faces and new voices,” Jones told reporters), Air Mail was reflecting the outlook of a more narrowly defined cohort. “We have young readers, weirdly—Gen X and millennials—but the solid core, I think, are people in their forties, fifties, and sixties who are relatively affluent and interested in travel, culture, and books,” Stanley said. (Vail told me that Air Mail doesn’t know about the racial makeup of its readership.) As Jon Kelly—a former assistant of Carter’s, now the editor in chief and cofounder of Puck, another new newsletter venture—put it, Air Mail is “aimed at an incredibly influential, massively powerful, and wealthy audience.”

Grady told me that she has read Air Mail with “morbid fascination” since it debuted, when she received an email presenting her a free subscription with a note, signed by Carter, explaining the offer: “because you are who you are.” She summed up her impression of the magazine by remarking on a recent product recommendation page, “Organized Affairs,” which featured both an “absurdly expensive” $195 leather-wrapped Métier measuring tape and a metal implement used for squeezing out remaining drops of toothpaste: an “ostentatious performance of thrift.” The combination of those items seemed to represent a particular kind of delusion, consistent with Air Mail’s nostalgic vision of life, she said, that “I don’t think really existed for many people ever” but that the editors “sort of like to cosplay as though it did.” She continued, “I think they understand this quasi-fictional way of life as being under attack from young, progressive, angry people on the internet. I think they think of themselves as not having to engage with internet culture or internet criticism. I think they see that as being part of ‘the problem’ and are sort of proud of the idea of rising above it—and as such, of not having to care about racism and police brutality, because those are unpleasant topics that they don’t like thinking about.”

When I asked Carter about the site’s coverage of society, focused unapologetically on a predominantly white upper crust, he replied, “We have a very diverse mix of staff members and of contributors.” He added that “a lot of the cultural-mores stories I find tedious, and other people can do them better.” Stanley told me, “We’re not avoiding difficult subjects. We’re embracing the ones that interest us.”

A few years in, Carter said, business looks good. Air Mail subscriptions are up 40 percent year over year; the number of unique visitors is up 70 percent; total readership is now 365,000. E-commerce is the fastest-growing part of the company. In 2021, he and Stanley raised seventeen million dollars more from investors. Since then, Air Supply’s staff has grown to seven. Revenue generated from the shop’s sales now accounts for between 15 and 20 percent of Air Mail’s total revenue, Carter told me. He expects that to grow to 50 percent, and he is hoping the site will reach profitability within three years. His days of waking up worrying about failure seem to have passed. The Times reported recently that Jeff Zucker, the former CNN boss, is one of at least three suitors exploring a deal to take a majority stake in Air Mail. “He’s one of several people who have expressed interest,” Stanley told me. “We haven’t put out a ‘For Sale’ sign. There are interested parties, including some current investors who have expressed interest in buying a majority share. These are conversations that go on, but there’s no rush and we have no real incentive to do anything right now, because we’re in a pretty strong financial position.”

In March, Air Mail debuted a new beauty-and-wellness vertical called “Look” with the tagline “deep thoughts on superficial matters.” To run it, Carter brought in Linda Wells, who was the founding editor of Allure. Early coverage included a frontline account filed by Baker from a German wellness clinic on the shores of Lake Constance, where she was fed cabbage juice and small plates of seeds. In the months ahead, Air Mail plans to expand, including with a relaunch the Arts Intel Report, a section “for the cosmopolitan traveler.” Carter said he is considering debuting a new vertical on fashion. “Graydon always needs to be doing something,” Jim Kelly told me. (Last year, as a side project, Carter and his wife started a business together: an e-card service called Electragram. He is also writing a memoir and may publish an illustrated book—a compendium of his compulsive doodles, Profiles in Steerage, which he described as “basically lost generations of imaginary men.”)

In Vanity Fair tradition, Carter has returned to his role as event host. In May, he threw a party for the Cannes Film Festival with David Zaslav—CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, villain of the Hollywood writers’ strike, controller of CNN’s fate, and an Air Mail investor—at the Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc, in Antibes. Mingling alongside them, on a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean, were Robert De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio, Martin Scorsese, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Sting, Jason Statham, Boy George, and several European royals who munched on stuffed zucchini blossoms and sipped Dom Pérignon. Carter, sporting a ruddy tan and wearing an ecru linen jacket, told the Hollywood Reporter he was “having a blast.” Afterward, Roger Friedman, a longtime entertainment writer, declared, “No question, hands down, Graydon Carter bested everyone in Cannes party land last night.”

In a column for his site, Showbiz411, Friedman remarked on the fact that Vanity Fair had hosted a party at the Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc days before: “The sheer star power Carter drew certainly put Vanity Fair on notice.” Friedman also wrote, “Vanity Fair laid out a lot of money at the Hotel duCap Eden Roc [sic] and got little in return. There were lots of ‘Who Are these people?’ types.” (Among the guests of Radhika Jones were Naomi Campbell, Jennifer Lawrence, Bryan Cranston, Hari Nef, Jeremy O. Harris, and Jeff Bezos—as well as De Niro. Jones declined to comment for this piece.) Carter insisted that he didn’t want to compete with Vanity Fair, though he kept the comparisons alive: his Cannes party featured art by Robert Risko—a caricaturist whose work helped define the magazine’s revival, back in the eighties, and who until this year remained on contract there.

Carter has also put his stamp on Air Supply: at one point, to unveil a collaboration with Chatham, a textile manufacturer—“a perfectly fluffy baby blanket, now designed with adults in mind”—he arranged for his dachshund, Charlie, to pose for promotional photographs. The blanket, which is going for three hundred ninety-five dollars, was his idea, Carter told me. I wondered if, as a magazine traditionalist, he had any complicated feelings about the ethics of Air Mail’s embrace of sales. “It’s a meeting once a week,” he said. “If you went back and looked at an issue from two years ago when we didn’t have a shop and look at an issue now of Air Mail, you wouldn’t see any appreciable difference in the tenor or the direction of the editorial. It doesn’t affect the way you put the issue together at all.” Perhaps more to the point, as he told Business Insider, “For decades magazines had tremendous influence on what people bought. Readers trusted us but we couldn’t interact with them.” Air Mail enabled him to, as Insider wrote, “connect with readers and shoppers more directly.”

The rules of publishing—the same ones that not long ago crashed a Goop deal—may no longer apply. Sponsored content appears all over, including in award-winning magazines, and, as social media becomes a less reliable source of traffic, many publishers have grown increasingly desperate for points of connection with readers. Carter thinks there still remains a place for print. “Nothing produced electronically can match the sheer joy of leafing through a great magazine and then sitting down and reading it,” he told me. “I do think magazines will have to get more magazine-y, in the words of a former Vanity Fair publisher. This means better-quality paper and greater attention to images and storytelling.” He added, “The cycle of life for magazines may well follow that of vinyl. Fewer, higher-quality in terms of heft and look, and specialized.”

Whether or not Air Mail presents a viable new business model for magazines, it has, at minimum, kept Carter in their midst. “It’s not about keeping busy so much as continuing life as a journalist—which is pretty much all I know,” he said. “And it’s something I love. Also, I wanted to create another office family. Which Alessandra and I have done.”

Adam Piore is a freelance magazine journalist and the author of The Accidental Terrorist, The Body Builders: Inside the Science of the Engineered Human, and, most recently, The New Kings of New York: Renegades, Moguls, Gamblers and the Remaking of the World’s Most Famous Skyline.