Skip to main content

Bernard Leser
, 1986

by Judy Cassab

oil on canvas (frame: 106.5 cm x 91.0 cm depth 5.0 cm, support: 93.0 cm x 77.0 cm)

On loan to the National Portrait Gallery

Berndt ‘Bernie’ Leser (1925-2015), publisher, was the son of a German Jewish knitwear manufacturer. Raised in Sondershausen, in 1939 he fled Germany with family, ending up in New Zealand, where he left school at 15. Studying business at night school, he gained work as a shoe and clothing salesman. At 22 he moved to Australia, marrying the concert pianist Barbara Davis; in the 1950s he travelled internationally as a product marketer. While working in London, he was approached about starting an Australian edition of the Condé Nast magazine, Vogue. Australian Vogue launched in 1959; a local Vogue Living was introduced in 1967. Leser’s antipodean success was such that by 1976 he was made the company’s managing director in Britain, where he introduced The World of Interiors and Tatler (with the legendary Tina Brown as editor). In 1979 he introduced German Vogue. Seven years later he was made president of Condé Nast in the USA, introducing Condé Nast Traveler and Allure. Remembered for his genial, personal and considerate approach to business – it seemed, said one chairman and chief executive of Condé Nast International, that he ‘knew everyone and they knew him and they loved him’ - from 1994 he lived in retirement in his beloved Sydney.

Judy Cassab kept diaries from the age of twelve. She recalled ‘When I turned 70, my friends Bernie and Barbara Leser invited us for dinner. Bernie asked: “Judy, when are you going to do something about your diaries?” “When I am old,” I answered aggressively. A few minutes later I realised - I am old! Bernie started the ball rolling.’

Courtesy of Mrs Barbara Leser
Accession number: LOAN2019.4