In the beginning, 18 years ago in New York, there was Interview, Andy Warhol's now venerable celebration of celebrity and fashion. Today, in Los Angeles, there are L.A. Style and Exposure. In San Francisco, Equator. In the Windy City, Metro and Inside Chicago. So many cities sport Interview knockoffs that AdWeek felt obliged to coin an ungainly word, celebrifashion, to describe them.
Though they range in size--from the 4x6-inch British import, the Fred, to the Manipulator, a Gargantuan 27 by 19 inches--and design--most favor high-quality graphics though New York's the Paper is in funky black and white--they have common characteristics: a self-conscious hipness, a fevered obsession with fashion, a fascination with the club scene, a superficial interest in culture, a passion for unlikely celebrities and an appreciation of style over substance. The current trend-setter is Details magazine, which was purchased in January by the S.I. Newhouse family's Advance Publications, owner of Vogue, Vanity Fair and the New Yorker. The price was more than $2 million, an extraordinary sum for a publication whose circulation hovers around 100,000.
But then again, the periodical has extraordinary demographics, according to Jonathan Newhouse, the new publisher. The median age of a Details reader is 29 1/2 with a household income, usually in a one-person household, of $56,000.
Details got its start in 1982 when former fashion editor Annie Flanders called a meeting of veteran staffers of the newly defunct SoHo Weekly News. Operating Details on a shoestring, Flanders had to struggle to stay ahead of creditors despite the fact that from the beginning the monthly carried a full complement of advertising. In 1984, to save the publication from bankruptcy, Flanders sold a controlling interest for $300,000 to a British publisher. He in turn unloaded it in mid-1987 on a New York entrepreneur.
Flanders met the proposed sale to Newhouse with foreboding. The previous owners had attempted to alter the publication's editorial approach in the hope of broadening its appeal. Certainly Advance, an industry giant, would do the same.
"We would be crazy to change Details," said Newhouse. "Annie Flanders has produced a superb magazine, with a vibrant, passionate audience. We don't plan any changes in the editorial product."
Like most fashion journals, Details is read as much for its advertisements as for its editorial copy. In the April issue, which went on sale this week, the reader passes 61 pages of ads, mostly for hip designers and boutiques, before encountering the first spark of editorial life, the popular column in which the monotoned Stephen Saban gives the details of an existence measured out in press gatherings, media events, fashion shows, private parties and club hopping.
In this instance, Saban's column is the opening sally in Details' assault on California, and the parties he visits are at familiar locations in Los Angeles. After some typical ultrahip profiles--Dito, the lead singer of N.Y.'s Gutterboy; David Sylvian; Guns N' Roses; the British R&B singer Rick Astley; actor Marcus Flanagan; cover boy Bryan Ferry--the Details team settles down to 14 pages of capsule looks at shops on Melrose Avenue and eight pages showcasing the work of nine San Francisco fashion designers. Although Details has maintained an L.A. office for two years, the California coverage has a pronounced out-of-towner flavor.
The April highlight, however, is the series of 50 or so reviews of L.A. and Bay Area restaurants by Hal Rubenstein, not because he offers many surprises, although he does make you reconsider some familiar places, but because he is accurate and funny ("Tofu," at I Love Juicy on Melrose, "belongs in Barbie's futon collection").
Also not to be missed is the regular column "Knifestyles of the Rich and Famous," in which people share their experiences with surgical stretching, tucking, sucking, implanting, reducing and lifting. This month one Liz describes the painful, expensive and time-consuming removal of a tattoo from her upper arm.
Newhouse believes the average reader is "someone who is interested in fashion, particularly directional or avant-garde fashion, people interested in the hip downtown scene or who just enjoy the offbeat point of view that Details provides."
Newhouse said Details was a logical acquisition for Advance.
"I conceptualize our strategy as a pyramid," he said. "Vogue is at the base of the pyramid. Vanity Fair is in the middle. And Details is at the pinnacle addressing the most fashionable advance guard of fashion."
More than half the advertising in the April issue was placed by stores and designers in California. The publisher is shipping an extra 20,000 copies to this state, so it shouldn't be hard to find. A single issue of Details cost $2.50, a 12-month subscription $18.97 (P.O. Box 7645, Teaneck, N.J. 07666-9879).