An Aspirational Perusal of Titles for Rich Folks

Media Reviews for Media People: Luxe Mags

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As I watched Hillary's onward-Clinton-soldiers speech Tuesday night, as I listened to her passionately re-re-re-restate her case for the Democratic nod and marveled at her canny parsing of electoral math, a single thought creased my addled mind: Boy, it'd sure be nice to have as much money and as many girlfriends as Bill does (or at least as many and as much as Vanity Fair thinks he has). Alas, owing both to my profound laziness and New York City's clampdown on slip-and-fall lawsuits, I'll never find myself in the limousine-riding, jet-airplane-flying socioeconomic strata inhabited by No. 42.
Black Book's genius lies in its ability to elevate individuals and entities by subtly unveiling their artistry.
Black Book's genius lies in its ability to elevate individuals and entities by subtly unveiling their artistry.

And that's OK. Still, whenever I make one of my increasingly infrequent journeys to the nearby magazinatorium, I can't help but be awed by the number of luxe-life titles populating the rack. I find it even more impressive that they don't appear to be hemorrhaging pages in this economic climate. The country "might" be in a recession nowadays, but clearly somebody still has the cash to drop on $64,950 beds. And when the makers of these tchtochkes feel the need to torch a few marketing dollars, they head straight for the shiny luxury mags.

You know the ones. Their covers glint in the late-afternoon sun. Their pages are thicker than slices of corned beef. Everything about them practically yelps "wipe your grubby little mitts before you so much as think about pawing us." The attitudinal exclusivity is such that the mags might as well charge a cover.

Ah, but they can't deny admission to anyone with 10 bucks and what the nice lady in the publisher's chair calls an "aspirational" bent. So for today's exercise, I washed my hands and set about determining whether any of these publications can be enjoyed by the rest of us without inciting dark thoughts of class warfare.

I ruled out several right off the back, including Gotham (do New Yorkers really need further instruction in how to act like wealthtards?), Cigar Aficionado (too few $1.49 CVS stogies) and Departures (which can only legally be read by Amex Platinum Diamond Pewter cardholders). Once you eliminate Private Air, Power & Motoryacht, Trump Magazine and Lenny Dykstra's The Players Club for reasons ranging from topical one-dimensionality to abhorrent nature of title personality, you're left with three clear standouts: Black Book, Robb Report and Architectural Digest.

I don't necessarily love any of the three. They rarely have anything critical to say about their subjects ("the car's real glory is its personality" passes for a stinging rebuke in Robb Report). They spend chunks of pages in the throes of self-worship (like Architectural Digest's backslapping report on its own Oscar-night green room). The writing won't ever be confused with anything from the Jeffrey Toobin canon (Black Book's Zooey Deschanel cover profile serves up the following me-use-big-word rhapsody: "At her core, Deschanel evinces an iconoclasm that guides her hand in the choices she makes").
There's no mistaking Robb Report for anything other than a luxury mag.
There's no mistaking Robb Report for anything other than a luxury mag.

That said, all three publications present the material in a way that makes it come alive -- a tough task nowadays in print. None of the three purports to be anything other than an attractive accessory for one's leisure minutes; they don't pretend to fulfill some pressing need or convey information without which one's life will be incomplete. They're well-stocked and beautifully appointed catalogs, basically.

Black Book might not be a luxury book in the conventional sense, in that it embraces lower-brow cultureheads such as Death Cab for Cutie. The mag's genius lies in its ability to elevate individuals and entities by subtly unveiling their artistry, as it does in the June/July issue's discussion of "Jaws" fashion and the oddly compelling formal shots of the Chateau Marmont staff. Black Book ropes readers in with the familiar and forces them to reconsider its subjects in a new light. That's a nifty trick.

There's no mistaking Robb Report for anything other than a luxury mag. High-end cars, high-end hotels, high-end booze (excuse me, "liqueurs, cordials & aperitifs") -- the 432-page, 19-pound June issue of Robb Report delights in identifying the most luxurious gizmos, doohickeys and tchotchkes and praising them to the hilt. It's tough not to be impressed by the sheer volume of recommendations, or by the fact that Robb Report manages to compile so many of them month after month. I wish the mag would set its photographers loose, as too many of the shots (especially of the automobiles) come across as sterile and advertise-y.
Architectural Digest: Where's the TV?
Architectural Digest: Where's the TV?

With nine multipage spreads in its American Country House-themed June issue, not to mention the mag's trusty "design notebooks," Architectural Digest is to real estate what Robb Report is to conspicuous consumption. Sure, the design/structure concepts it presents may not be realistic for 99.9999982% of the adult U.S. population and sure, many of those concepts may prompt mouth-breathers like me to ask, "Yeah, but where's the #%$@in' TV set?" But the photography perfectly frames the appeal of the featured houses and the accompanying text does a fine job of providing the how/why/who explication absent from most other house 'n' garden publications.

The precise marketers you'd expect dig these three mags, making my buried-deep "ladies and gentlemen, here are your advertisers!" paragraph even more superfluous than usual. Mont Blanc, Jaguar, Chanel, Bulgari (Bvlgari? Whatever.), Louis Vuitton, blah blah blah. In its place, I'd like to offer up a handy list of rules for advertising in luxury mags:
  1. No high-end vodka, because Grey Goose has a death grip on the name-brand-booze-swilling-jerk demographic.
  2. No watches, because they're next to impossible to depict in a visually interesting manner.
  3. No insurance or financial-services folks, because people who make $1.4 million a year tend not to ask, "What can State Farm do for me? What can't they do, should be the question!"
The two ad categories that seem underrepresented in these mags are high-end home furnishings (especially the Vikings and Sub-Zeros of the world) and boutique hotels (motto: "Just like regular hotels, but with white bedspreads"). On the flip side, fashion brands and high-end accessories, like a bejeweled alien- and tsunami-proof safe advertised in Robb Report, tend to get lost amid the style-minded content.

I can summarize the appeal of the ads in the exact same hyperliterate manner that I'd summarize the appeal of all three magazines: They're nice to look at. Hey, publishing dynasties have been built on the backs of titles that accomplished far less. I personally don't believe in sitting rooms or coffee tables, but Black Book, Robb Report and Architectural Digest are ideal sitting-room coffee-table fodder. Aspire away, everybody.
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