It’s almost too easy to make fun of Lucky, Condé Nast’s new magazine—after all, a journal that describes itself as “a new magazine about shopping” is hardly pretending to be The New York Review of Books. Surely Lucky’s “700 great finds, 245 summer looks, 71 cool stores, 39 must-visit Web sites” are meant only to provide a few moments of goofy pleasure, the literary equivalent of a half hour with Dharma & Greg or an assignation with a bag of McDonald’s fries. So why is Lucky so annoying?
Well, it could be that without the celebrity profiles, sex columns, self-help quizzes, career pointers, diet advice, and inspirational first-person essays that prop up other women’s magazines, Lucky, like its intended audience, is a little too thin and self-conscious. According to an open letter in the magazine from Kim France, editor in chief, “. . . Lucky is not a fashion magazine. Rather, it is a magazine about shopping. And shopping, I’d argue, is all about realizing your fantasies. In small ways, yes. But on days that are like most days in my life so far—days I don’t settle the conflict in Kosovo, win the lottery, or establish a system of economic and social opportunity that creates true equality for all—I’m willing to settle for the very real joy that there is to be had in finding the perfect kitten heel pump.”
It’s too bad this relatively unadorned prose and frank, if bizarrely argued, defense of shopping does not set the style for the rest of the editorial content. Instead, the bulk of the magazine employs a grating, cutesy tone, heavy with cool, groovy, and girl—a hard-thrusting infantilism that is just the kind of thing that makes you want to throw Jane out the window.
Or maybe the trouble with Lucky is that a lot of the things it’s gasping with enthusiasm about aren’t all that nice. After all, shopping, at least the kind Lucky has in mind, isn’t about buying things you actually need, it’s about the pure pleasure of dressing up, the fun of owning something new. (France admits as much when she says she thinks shopping is all about fantasy, just before her digression on Kosovo.) Lucky makes a lot of stabs in this direction, what with its 11 pages of shoes (“We love a comfortable shoe that’s cool. . . . “) and a two-page spread on a printed chiffon Prada blouse with a flopping bow that costs $600. The blouse is shown on four New York City downtown shop owners, who are asked to style this garment, an item that would suit a 60-year-old dowager if it weren’t semitransparent. The results are headlined “Edgy” (with a pair of jeans), “Slinky” (open over a tube top), “Fierce” (tucked into a tight skirt), and “Femme” (covered by a pointelle vest, buttoned over a lace dress, leaving only its inoffensive sleeves and the tails of its limp bow showing). Someday there’ll be a magazine that will tell readers what they really need to know about this blouse: that even the biggest size is too small for most people, that it’s going out of style very soon, that the 800 number for Prada at the top of the page will only give you a list of the stores near you, not bundle up $600 worth of chiffon and ship it to you in Lincoln, Nebraska, or Cedar Falls, Iowa, or other burgs far from Prada outlets.
But really, how much worse is Lucky than its fellow travelers, magazines like Allure, which elevates the application of cosmetics to the center of women’s existence, or InStyle, which insists that everything, even a barrette or a loaf of bread, bear the imprimatur of a celebrity? Lucky may have an article called “How to Dress Around This Bag” and a column called “Ask Dr. Shopper” and a page of “yes” and “maybe” stickers that you’re supposed to use to mark stuff you might want to buy, but at least it doesn’t pull a bait-and-switch the way Glamour does, running a letter from its editor that declares, “Who says women’s magazines make women feel bad about their bodies? This month’s Glamour will basically liposuction any desire for plastic surgery right out of your brain!” Unfortunately, this promise is reneged upon just a few pages later with “I Want a Beach-Ready Body,” a feature that catalogs a litany of familiar albatrosses. “I have love handles,” moans the copy. “I’m too busty. I’ve got back fat. My chest is too small. My butt’s too big. I’ve got a big belly. My arms jiggle.” What’s a girl to do but give up and go shopping?
Another Opening, Another Store
Gene negotiated exclusivity on the spot. He starts telling Isaia, we’ll give you a little area of your own, we’ll do this, we’ll do that, and I thought, oh my God, he’s lost his mind. But you know what? He was right. From that point onwards, I was selling hundreds of sex[y] sets a week out of the Co-op.
—a saleswoman reminiscing in Joshua Levine’s The Rise and Fall of the House of Barneys
“The old Barneys Co-op was the kind of place where Gene Pressman, scion of the family that founded Barneys, could anoint little-known designers like Isaia—at least until Pressman’s Armani-clad keister was kicked out of the business by the courts and the 17th Street Barneys was closed forever. Or so it seemed.
Almost exactly three years later, Barneys Co-op is back, Pressman-less, at 236 West 18th Street, trying to catch the wave of new money that is presently engulfing far West Chelsea. In fact, the new Barneys Co-op looks a lot like Jeffrey, the high-fashion store on 14th Street just off the river, what with its plain racks of bright clothes and flowing, open space. The merchandise is still pretty sexy, in a late-’90s, Sex and the City way: A recent sweep-through took in tie-dyed, bejeweled halters, $355 cowskin-printed pink feedbags, suede skirts with scalloped hems, and pairs of frayed Daisy Dukes trimmed with what looked like tiny red headlights by a company called Groovygirl, a brand that would be right at home in the pages of Lucky.