Until Mode, which is Advertising Age's Launch of the Year, no consumer fashion magazine talked to full-figured women.
"I think Mode is a generational magazine," says John Veronis, chairman-CEO of media investment banker Veronis, Suhler & Associates. "Each era has a magazine that comes out that portrays society at any given moment. Rolling Stone did that . . . Psychology Today did the same thing. I think that Mode is very much in that genre."
"Nancy and I were having breakfast one morning almost two years ago," says Ms. Lewit-Nirenberg. "We read in an article that the fashion manufacturers and retailers were really beginning to, in a very major way, address this particular audience."
Indeed they were. Designer labels like Dana Buchman, Liz Claiborne and Anne Klein all had plus-size collections. Ralph Lauren was said to be launching a plus-size collection in 1998.
"The women's category finally acknowledged the need for the same caliber of fashion for full-figured women as for their thinner counterparts," says Ms. Lewit-Nirenberg.
The original idea was to create a custom publication for a major retailer. The outcome was a quarterly advertiser-supported magazine called Mode. It began with a spring 1997 issue that ran the cover line, "It's about time." The launch came via a partnership between the two women and Stanley Harris and his company, Harris Publication's Pantheon International. After four successful issues, the magazine will publish 10 issues in 1998 and go monthly in 1999, a year ahead of its original business plan.
In September 1997, Freedom Communications bought out Mr. Harris' 50% stake, forming an equal partnership entity, Lewit & LeWinter/Freedom LLC.
One advantage to the new partnership is that it will enable Mode to build circulation thanks to the capital and funding Freedom brings.
Mode launched with 250,000 copies, then steadily rose to its current circulation of 375,000. By mid-1999, according to Ms. LeWinter, Mode expects to hit 500,000 circulation.
Mode has applied for auditing by the Audit Bureau of Circulations. The monthly will begin auditing with either the March or April issue.
A direct-mail package sent in December to 260,000 prospects produced 5,062 subscriptions in the first three days alone, and a total of 12,000 to date.
"Until then, all we had were little blow-in cards," says Ms. LeWinter. "We knew just from the blow-ins that there was an audience that was waiting to happen, and we felt that with any effort at all we would get a great response. But I think this even exceeded our expectations."
"One of the other benefits of the Freedom partnership is you can acquire more talent," says Ms. LeWinter. She also notes that the partnership made sense because everyone believes in the product.
"The modern thinking behind Mode is that it is a very democratic magazine -- women of all colors, all ages, all sizes. It's very inclusive. Freedom understands that. They understand that this is a very different magazine," says Ms. LeWinter.
"The thing that convinced me early on that this was an idea that had legs was the tremendous response from readers. It's wonderful to be in the magazine business and get behind a product like this," says Sam Wolgemuth, president of Freedom Magazines. "It fits Freedom's philosophy and our core values."
Ms. Lewit-Nirenberg pointed out that the magazine has just signed a licensing agreement with Vogue Patterns for Butterick Patterns.
"We'd like to do brand extensions like this that make sense," Ms. Lewit-Nirenberg explains. "Another thing that Freedom brings to us is that they are a major media company, and they have a number of newspapers and TV stations and that's another area for us to look at."
In its first year, Mode has sought out and won obvious advertisers in the retail world such as Avenue, Forgotten Woman and Lane Bryant; in high-end department stores with plus-size departments such as Saks Fifth Avenue's Salon Z and Marshall Field & Co.; and with designer labels with plus-size collections like Elisabeth by Liz Claiborne.
But Mode also attracted such advertisers as Avon, Bali, National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board, Paul Mitchell, Revlon and Saturn Corp. Mode ended 1997 with 305 ad pages in its first four issues.
"I think we all recognized the fact that a large number of women in this country wear size 12 or above, and no other magazine talks to them in depth like Mode," says Russ Gilsdorf, exec VP-director of media and marketing services, Tarlow Advertising, Revlon's in-house ad agency.
Some advertisers have forged interesting partnerships with the magazine. Lane Bryant carries issues of Mode in its retail stores.
According to Kathy Quickert, senior marketing manager at Lane Bryant, "We sold over 60,000 magazines over a two-month period in our stores."
Mode has even changed the way some of its advertisers talk to the full-figured woman, who "had never been in magazines before," says Ms. Lewit-Nirenberg. "They'd only been in catalogs."
Many ads in the first issue of Mode resembled catalog shots -- models portrayed in unimaginative, consciously-posed shots. In a short time, many ads evolved into a more dynamic, high fashion look. "Advertisers are beginning to realize there's a different way of shooting the body," says Ms. LeWinter.
The magazine even developed an in-house agency. "We do creative for a lot of our advertisers," says Ms. LeWinter. "If someone doesn't have creative and they want to be in Mode, we can shoot the ad and lay it out. We're working on one from a junior house right now."
"No one has ever treated this audience with any style and fashion," says A.G. Britton, editor of Mode. "It's literally never been done before. Mode completely celebrates life and womanhood and the way our bodies really are."
Though Mode targets 25- to 34-year-olds, it claims many readers outside that demographic. "Many in the audience are teen-agers," says Ms. Lewit-Nirenberg.
In August, 500,000 copies of Teen Mode, focusing on back to school, will be tested on newsstands, and a direct mailing of 1.2 million pieces will be dropped in March to gauge interest.
Indeed, addressing the plus-size audience seems to be smart business. In 1996, $21.3 billion was spent on women's large-size apparel size 16 and up. That accounted for 25% of all retail dollars spent on women's apparel, based on information from the American Shoppers' Panel survey with results projected by NPD Group.
Eight thousand cards, letters and e-mails have poured in since the first issue appeared, an overwhelming amount of fan mail.
"We are a small company, but we don't think the product is small," Ms. Lewit-Nirenberg contends.
"There is a wonderful quote in Tom Peters' "In Search of Excellence": `The best always surprises.' What we tried to do from the very beginning was to really create a magazine that was surprising. And I think that we surprised everybody."