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Victorian Romance With Fewer Frills

March 14, 2001|JURA KONCIUS | WASHINGTON POST

Peggy Kennedy has discovered Victoria's secret.

Victoria, the magazine of "romantic living," has a bigger circulation (950,000) than Architectural Digest, House & Garden or House Beautiful, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Up against cutting-edge sophistication, sweet sells.

Kennedy was hired last August as editor in chief of Victoria, the 14-year-old publication that celebrates a gracious world awash in herb gardens, wicker and English drawing rooms.

She saw her challenge as coming up with a formula that respects the past the readers obviously adore while reaching toward the future--and updating the look. The results are in the periwinkle-cover March issue, which has just hit newsstands, packed with articles about having tea in the New York salon of 97-year-old fashion doyenne Eleanor Lambert, lounging in a bedroom swathed in white linen in Istanbul and hanging pretty china plates on a dining room wall. There is also a Web site: http://www.victoriamag.com.

"The Victorians were always very forward-looking," says Kennedy, who says there's likely to be a little less lace in the pages on her watch. Kennedy, a respected editor in the New York design world, spent 19 years at House Beautiful, another Hearst publication. She has found that women read Victoria for many reasons: the charming interiors, the lush bouquets, the collecting features, the romantic fashions and the literary quotations. They aren't looking for new ways to use a hot-glue gun.

"Readers love everything about their home," says Kennedy, "but they want the complete picture, so we have fashion and travel and beauty--but not work. They don't want work. This is sheer pleasure."

But she has been surprised by the diversity of Victoria's readers. "The magazine is very feminine. But so many different kinds of people read it. I went to a house in California of one reader, which was incredibly pretty. Creamware and chintz and beautiful rooms. Meanwhile, the owner was a designer of cutting-edge neoprene swimsuits for surfers."

But do any men read Victoria?

Yes, according to Kennedy. "I got a letter from one man who said it was his favorite magazine--along with Model Railroader."

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