I love shopping.
I love magazines.
So why did I recoil the first time I saw "Lucky: The Magazine About Shopping"?
It's not that I don't buy Vogue and Elle Decor. I do, and I love shoes, and I buy lipstick and I do my share of Internet daydreaming at Neiman Marcus. But please -- had it really come to that? Wasn't a taste for retail enough? Did we have to bone up beforehand as well? Aren't all fashion and style rags shopping magazines to begin with?
Charla Lawhon says, "Absolutely not." Managing editor of InStyle, Time Inc.'s monthly Talmud of Trends, Lawhon allows that her magazine was the first to provide phone numbers so readers could order many items pictured in its pages; there the similarities end. InStyle's focus is on "style, not shopping, markedly tied to celebrities."
Lucky was conceived to be different. The magazine, which hit the stands in 2000, was the brainchild of James Truman, then editorial director of Conde Nast, the publisher of Vogue, Gourmet, the New Yorker and Vanity Fair. Inspired by scores of shopping magazines popular in Japan, he and Kim France, his collaborator, knew what they wanted: a down-to-earth publication to serve as a shopping guide for a thirty-something female audience.
Five years into this publishing phenomenon, I decided to spend time with issues of Lucky and other shopping magazines.
While it looks a lot like the competition, Lucky does some work for its $2.95 cover price. What in another magazine would be just a fashion spread is more instructive in Lucky. The text makes a point to show the reader what goes with what, what looks good on whom, and how to wear it two other ways. In any given month, there might be a gallery of nothing but tank tops or open-toed high-heeled pumps. Every item shown comes with a caption and phone number or Web site to place an order easily or ask a question. To its credit, Lucky uses photos of affordable clothes on normal women, not couture fantasies.
Of course, it's designed to tout what's new and get readers into stores. And there is the urgent cadence of "gotta have it" throughout the copy; "NOW" appears in a lot of the text. The magazine also comes with a sheaf of 26 sticky labels to tag your favorite things (22 say "yes;" only four say "maybe"). The magazine has had its detractors. Nevertheless, readers took to Lucky so heartily that in 2004, Conde Nast launched Cargo for men. By the time Domino, the shopping magazine for the home, was launched last month, the giant magazine company had chiseled a publishing niche. Hearst joined in with ShopEtc., which also offers shopping tips and resources on fashion, home and beauty for young female readers. This month, both ShopEtc. and Lucky offer comprehensive guides to buying denim, complete with extensive glossaries. Don't laugh. With a multitude of cuts, finishes and silhouettes, many at $150 to more than $200 a pop, buying a pair of jeans these days can be as complicated as buying a car.
Cargo and Domino deputize their readers as "experts" on the Cargo Council (full right now, accepting people for a waiting list) and the Domino Deciders. Is it a marketer's dream? You bet, and it's also shopper-friendly. It took me years to realize that young men are insecure about the way they dress, perhaps because I grew up with an older brother who may be the only heterosexual male subscriber to W. Cargo is aimed at fledgling men who have money to spend but not necessarily confidence in their decisions. It covers fashion, electronics, cars and entertainment in a range of prices. While Lucky and Domino trumpet on their covers that they are magazines "about shopping," Cargo steps back and eschews the S-word for the cocksure "Your Money Well Spent."
More aspirational than its sister publications, Cargo bags its readers with big-ticket items many young men figure they'll get eventually: James Bond watches, voodoo electronics and "droolworthy convertibles," such as the 2006 Ferrari F430 Spider. At $204,867, this is fantasy on the level of high school locker-room bragging, but let's let the boys have fun. There are many things in Cargo that are useful and down-to-business; things -- I hate to say it -- a hip mom might advise her son. Articles on safe tanning and conquering "bacne" (not a typo -- acne on the back), staying hydrated and fashion spreads that are realistic. No pretentious suavity here. There are also articles on motorcycles and lots of alluring electronic objects in matte black rubber and stainless steel. Banners exhort the reader to "know, do, covet, get," and there is a page of those stickies (all three Conde Nast shopping mags have them).
Domino, the third in the Conde Nast triumvirate, seems the most mature, I suppose because it's all about making a home. Whether you own or rent (and Domino espouses equal rights to both), you want to mark your territory. The whiz-bang format really works here in spades, where the staff offers multiple solutions to space problems and color schemes and shares its sources for manufactured goods and arcane tchotchkes. If you like oddball, old or exotic things, as I do, you really relish finding new sources. Domino offers a mother lode. I can walk into a crummy shop piled with junk and walk out with a two-buck treasure. But buying a TV? I'd need to take along a friend. Not anymore; Domino has a piece this month on how to navigate the TV aisle with confidence. I think I may subscribe.
So, do I have to be embarrassed? As it does about sex, our culture gives mixed messages about shopping. On one hand, it's normal, even necessary. On the other, if we like it too much, it's a source of shame. Reading and looking is a petty obscenity. I'll subscribe to Domino. But only for the articles.