Essence title targets 'birds of paradise'

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Suzanne Boyd, the statuesque editor in chief of Essence Communications Partners' fashion launch Suede, is explaining the Suede girl's sense of style.

"They don' t need to be told what to do-they do it anyway," she says, amid the clanking and clinking of her chunky bracelets and enormous dangling earrings. "Very expressive, like plumage-`birds of paradise,' I call these girls. Because it's all about color and energy."

Thus: Suede, a title for what Ms. Boyd calls "the multicultural melange" of modern fashion. From the rich, multicultural soup of styles found for years on the streets of almost any major metro center-hip-hop-inflected, but with nods to Asia and other locales-the magazine industry has, finally, scratched out something new under the sun. (One may be forgiven, though, for wondering what took major magazine companies so long to launch a title targeting the street-inflected style sense of an increasingly multicultural American youth.)

no same-old, same-old

"In an era where we see so many copy-catting magazines, it's kind of refreshing to have a new, unique and distinct voice that's reaching a unique audience," said George Janson, managing partner-director of print, WPP Group's Mediaedge:cia, New York. "I loved its sensibilities. It didn't feel like the same-old, same-old beauty-fashion magazine."

Mr. Janson's comments-and a crackling editorial product-aside, in order to succeed, Suede will have to tough out what's long been an uphill battle for publications targeted to sub-segments of multicultural constituencies. The most ambitious recent play in this space, Keith Clinkscales' Vanguarde Media, collapsed late last year when it failed to find additional funds, after posting steady losses. The 244 pages of Suede's debut issue contain 40 ad pages-notably lower than other fall launches such as Time Inc.'s Cottage Living or Fairchild Publications Vitals.

Suede hits newsstands in early September. Its rate base at launch is 250,000, and a one-time color page rate is $25,000. The title benefits from inclusion in corporate-sales packages assembled by Time Inc., which purchased a 49% stake in Suede's parent, Essence Communications, in 2000.

Time Inc. has discussed increasing its stake to a majority, said an executive familiar with the situation. Michelle Ebanks, group publisher of Essence, stresses she's "not privy" to such discussion, but says that, thus far, Essence Communications CEO Ed Lewis is "adamant" about maintaining the majority stake. A Time Inc. spokesman says that the long-term goal for Time Inc. would be ownership of Essence Communications "if they wanted to sell," and that the two parties have discussed this "from time to time."

Along with the corporate-sales adjacencies, Time Inc. also affords its Essence unit an ability to be more ambitious than it had been. Ms. Ebanks said that Essence is investigating a number of potential launches, including a parenting title and a home magazine.

"This woman of color has so many interests, and there are so few magazines or media vehicles speaking directly to her," she says. One reason, she concedes, is "the advertising support" has not been sufficient for them.

"Not all advertisers are convinced it's important to target this segment," she adds. Where Suede could succeed is in its pitch that the title targets an audience of fashion influentials that are not easily reached via other media channels. "A lot of advertisers who haven't gone in have taken a wait-and-see approach," said Mr. Janson.

Among the edit mix is a colorful, back-of-the-book gossip section titled "Blah! Blah!" (fronted in the debut issue with the recent mugshots of Baby Phat's Kimora Lee Simmons) and a piece detailing the strategies of "women hustlers" who sleep with star athletes ("Instead of, say, withholding sex for a few dates so he'll think of you as special, some of these girls withhold threesomes until they're sure of an unlimited shopping spree.") Profiled (and posing for pics) besides cover girl Alicia Keys is equestrian Paige Johnson, daughter of Black Entertainment Television's Founder Robert Johnson. There's also a passel of pictorials highlighting on-the-street and backstage shots from cities and events set across the country.

"Street chic," said Ms. Boyd, who was plucked from Canada's leading fashion title Flare. "Where we see the Suede-ettes, as we call them."

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