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Saying 'Yes' to a Glossy Read on Latino Life

September 26, 1995|MICHAEL QUINTANILLA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Joie Davidow heard about the one-day conference at the eleventh hour.

But to know Davidow--the woman behind Si, a new national lifestyle magazine for Latinos--is to know that she moves fast-- muy fast--and is not one to miss an opportunity.

So here she is, at the crack of dawn, plugging her publication at an industry--as in movies, music and mass media--confab called Latin Heat.

Davidow, Si's president and publication director, is trying to generate some heat of her own.

At $2.95 a pop, 30,000 magazines went on sale last week at newsstands, bookstores and supermarkets in Los Angeles, New York, Miami, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, Houston and San Antonio. Another 20,000 issues were mailed out per advance subscription orders.

The founder of L.A. Style and co-founder of L.A. Weekly works the Si table, chatting up and testing reaction to the first issue with conference participants, including Gregory Nava, director of "El Norte," "Mi Familia" and the forthcoming Selena movie.

Nava and company pick up the English-language magazine--already being dubbed the "Latino Vanity Fair"--that features on its stylish cover MTV's Daisy Fuentes, poured into a low-cut, blood-red Pamela Dennis gown.

They thumb through the magazine's 96 pages, reacting positively to articles on celebrities, cuisine, biculturalism and cutting-edge issues offered by top Latino writers, among them Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Liz Balmaseda and NPR's "Talk of the Nation" host Ray Suarez. They go ga-ga over photos of the usual suspects--Jimmy Smits, Sandra Cisneros, Oscar de la Hoya, La Daisy--as well as los nuevos , or newcomers, Angela Lanza, an actress from San Antonio and sister of director Robert Rodriguez, and Nil Lara, a singer from Miami.

"I think this is wonderful. I love it," Nava said. "A magazine like this is part of the new Latino phenomenon. Our world is exploding."

Likewise, Davidow--who has sunk savings and profits from the sale of L.A. Style several years ago into the venture--is banking on Si and its appeal to the 25- to 45-year-old educated, professional, mostly English-speaking Latino to explode on the Latino scene.

A few nights later in West Hollywood, the indefatigable Davidow is at it again at a packed Si launch party attended by celebs Ruben Blades, Maty Monfort, Jane Seymour and a cadre of Amazonian drag queens. She schmoozes with potential advertisers, delights in selling her concept to the hip, young Latino crowd, and later--while sitting on a divan thisclose to magazine staffers--she gets the scoop on what is being said and overheard about Si.

She's informed by Eileen Rosaly, director of operations, and Cecilia Alvear, editor at large, that they are hearing everything but "no" to Si. The buzz pleases Davidow.

*

Afew days earlier, at the Latino Heat symposium, Davidow had talked about Si's evolution and her vision for the magazine.

"It was obvious to me, very early on, when I was doing my style and entertainment sections at L.A. Weekly, that I started to see the energy of L.A. was coming from the Chicano art movement. That was one of the big things that I always understood and stressed," she said about her six years with the weekly, where she was vice president and director of L.A. Weekly Inc. until early last year, when the publication was sold.

At L.A. Style, where she served as the magazine's executive publisher and editor in chief until 1991 when she left, Davidow frequently featured Latinos. "If you are doing a story about art and culture and people in L.A., you are going to cover Latino artists, fashion designers, music. You have to."

The seed for Si was planted a couple years ago after Rosaly, who worked with Davidow at L.A. Style, was at a party with other Latinos who talked about the lack of a high-quality, high-profile magazine for and about educated professionals like themselves.

Rosaly took the idea to Davidow, who had championed and spearheaded a special issue called "Latin L.A." at L.A. Style.

After meeting with her Latino friends--artists, designers, writers, architects, journalists--Davidow soon realized that "there was nothing out there that addressed their group at all."

Before plunging into the project, Davidow studied the U.S. Census: 48% of all Latino households are middle class; 76% of middle class to affluent Latinos speak English well or very well; the Latino population is growing 6.5 times faster than the general population and in 14 years it will be the largest minority in the country.

*

With her track record, she had a ready-built audience with New York's Madison Avenue, where advertisers opened their doors and, eventually, accounts with the publication. (So far, Davidow has lassoed Revlon, Saks Fifth Avenue, Estee Lauder, Sears--featuring the magazine's only Spanish-language ad--and designers Mossimo and Carolina Herrera in the first and succeeding issues.)

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