"You're now talking about a 50, 80, 100-dollar impulse buy. But that's our market."
And there you have it: the woman who reads the new American Elle, as defined by publisher Marybeth Russell. She's the kind of woman who will toss over $100 for this month's In bracelet (rhinestone-studded, polka-dotted, charm-bedecked, fur-lined, whatever), knowing full well that by next month it will be Out. But that's not all she is. She's between 25 and 49 years old. She's not a yuppie. She's not a preppie. She's "fashion forward." She's "experimental." She is, one editor says, "the first one to try a new drink."
And she's not poor.
"These are the big spenders," Russell says. "These are the big experimenters." Or, as she put it in the first issue, "Elle's readers are 'Les Chics (LCs).' "
The monthly fashion magazine made its official debut this week, although copies and hype have been circulating for a bit longer. Jointly owned by Edi Sept, the company behind the 40-year-old French Elle, and Rupert Murdoch, it didn't just slip into the rack at local drugstores. First there was the the $1 million print ad campaign ("No one is as hot as Elle") and the six-city television ad campaign ("No one is as hip as Elle").
But, temperature and hipness aside, why another fashion magazine?
"We feel that it is a new market," says Russell, sitting amidst the beige upholstery, glossy magazine covers and perfectly arranged flowers of her Fifth Avenue office.
"We feel we're creating our own niche," she says. "We did not have to evolve through the social changes of the '70s, the demonstrations, through the burning of the bras when everyone lived in jeans, through the dress-for-success suit."
As fashion magazines such as Glamour and Mademoiselle attempted to cope with all that change, with "the antifashion movement" and other traumas, what was lost was an appreciation of pure style, a recognition of just what the LCs want, Elle creators believe.
"They had to respond to the readers with service and life-style articles. We're not how-to. We're not going to tell our readers how to put style in their lives or how to create style. We're not going to have articles about how to combine love and competition. We're not 'How to buy a wine' or 'How to buy a car' or 'How to buy an insurance policy.' "
Maybe it depends on how you define how-to. The new Elle, like its French cousin, does include recipe cards and knitting directions. Of course, the Veal Chop Milanese is photographed with the same care and sheen as the Karl Lagerfeld-clad models, and the article about wine is a reverie on "What makes a great wine great" rather than a primer on what to serve with white meat.
The heavy, silky pages of the first issue also offer a profile of British playwright David Hare, an "international salute to the new disciplined military jackets" and a guide to the "enclaves of refinement" across Europe (your basic castles and manors).
"It is not yuppie," Russell says. "Yuppies do things for status. Yuppies do things in herds, groups. The Elle reader does not do that. She's the group before the yuppies.
"The time is right -- now. There's a whole mind-set across the country. It can be described as the internationalization of America or the Europeanization of America. It's an interest in style, in design, in really all that is style, whether it's cuisine, travel, shopping, clothing, beauty, anything in the art world. If you look at the demographics of people who will read this magazine, they have probably all been to Europe at a young age."
American Elle springs from the kind of parentage any ambitious child would envy. In 1983, Edi Sept published a special English language version of Elle in conjunction with Bloomingdale's "Fete de France," a celebration of French style and American dollars.
Three post-Bloomingdale's issues appeared over the next two years, with the formula changing each time. One cover looked too old, too Town and Country, the hair of the model too sleek and the jewels too family heirloom-ish. One cover looked too young, the lipstick too fluorescent. For the September issue, the gloves are bright yellow, but the lips and hair don't shock. Just right.
Russell, formerly advertising director at Glamour, joined Elle in January, becoming the first woman to publish a women's fashion magazine. Soon after, British fashion editor and TV commentator Eve Pollard came on as executive editor.
"Accessories are very important now," Pollard says. She is in Elle's "accessories closet," a jumble of rhinestone earrings, leopard-skin hats, high-top sneakers highlighted with gold glitter. "People wanted the Ray Ban sunglasses. They wanted this glitzy jewelry."
And, a bunch of people on Fifth Avenue are hoping, they will want Elle. The French magazine, at approximately $1.10, sells 450,000 copies a week. Whether American Elle, which costs $2.50, will do as well depends on how many people buy what Edi Sept President Didier Guerin calls the Elle "concept." In October, Murdoch and Edi Sept will launch a British version. There are already Saudi Arabian and Japanese Elles, but those are licensees and not necessarily true to the concept.
"It's an idea magazine," says Guerin. "It's not really a fashion magazine. It's a magazine of fashion ideas."
One problem remains. America may be ready for the concept, but is it ready for the name? Guerin, laughing Gallically, says he has heard the word, which is pronounced like the letter L, mangled in a variety of ways.
" 'Ellie' is my favorite," he says. "I think it will be many years before people pronounce the name of the magazine correctly."
Except, that is, for Les Chics.