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The stuff lads are made of

June 15, 2003|Gina Piccalo | Times Staff Writer

Limos and red carpets notwithstanding, the Los Angeles party scene is looking a lot like a very expensive frat-house kegger. Already this month, British-owned lad mags FHM and Stuff have held bashes -- replete with nonstop free cocktails, flocks of bare-shouldered models and self-important young men -- and at press time Maxim was about to take over a Hollywood warehouse for its annual "Hot 100" bash.

On a recent Thursday night, rival parties for FHM and Stuff prompted a migration of thrill-seekers from one end of Melrose Avenue to the other. Not surprisingly, party planners from both publications claimed ignorance of the other's event. But Nash Entertainment's Richard Hall, who is producing a Discovery Channel documentary on the FHM-Stuff competition, says the rivalry is real.

"They try to outdo each other in everything," he said.

Since Stuff launched in 1997, followed by the U.S. editions of Maxim in 1998 and FHM in 2001, Hollywood has helped fuel the mags' stateside success stories. Circulation of Stuff and FHM has passed 1 million, and Maxim, 2.5 million.

The glossies feature the same scantily clad cover girls, the same clever tone, the same liquor and video game ads, and the same endless pursuit of happy hours and good times. The promotional events personify this philosophy, or "brand," with celebrity, corporate sponsorship and intense media coverage.

"The parties serve as a reminder and help back that up, kind of reinforce that point," said FHM editor in chief Scott Gramling.

Emap's top-selling title, FHM has been publishing for nine years in Britain, and the magazine's promotions and publicity director, Anna Mistilis, declares it the originator of the lad mags. "People say that imitation is the highest form of flattery, but I just wish they'd ... do something else," she said.

"FHM wants to be what Esquire was to the '60s generation male," said Hall.

On June 5, FHM (short for For Him Magazine) celebrated readers' choices of the 100 sexiest women in the world with an enormous gathering at a Raleigh Studios sound stage.

Men outnumbered women. There was no sign of Hugh Hefner, but Playboy Mansion regular Bill Maher showed up with an entourage. Interviews with members of the "sexiest" list were projected -- without sound -- on a screen in the center of the room. Waiters passed fried Twinkie hors d'oeuvres and two female vodka company reps handed out martinis.

Highlights: No. 1 Sexiest Woman in the World Halle Berry's videotaped apology for her absence, and the descent from the rafters of 20-year-old Texas triplets Lindsay, Kelly and Erin Pierce on swings emblazoned with the letters F, H and M.

"We were the only event that 'Entertainment Tonight' covered that night," bragged Mistilis. "Everyone tries to set themselves apart, and we did that. Quite clearly, we were the winner." (An "E.T." spokesman snipped that "on that day, that certainly wasn't the only party we were covering.")

About five miles west, Stuff magazine's "Beachdance" soiree was in full swing on the balcony of the Astra West restaurant at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood. Stuff has a proclivity for nearly nude cover girls, yet guests were greeted at the entrance by a phalanx of bare-chested men holding giant palm fronds. Clearly, this demonstrated what associate publisher Aric Webb termed "uniquely integrating in a very organic way some of our advertisers' products." The men wore drawstring pants from sponsor Armani Exchange.

Beyond them, two female models with glassy hair stood between bursts of pampas grass and offered guests hot towels infused with lavender. When asked why party guests would need clean hands, one of the models, Carolina Rommel, said, "Basically, it's just to have hot girls when they come in."

Inside, electronica music played at earsplitting decibels, but the dance floor was vacant. Conversation was reduced to simple subject-verb sentence constructions, but no one seemed to mind. Ideas in this mostly under-35 crowd were shared through hairstyles, handbags and brands of low-rise jeans. Lip gloss manufacturers were also well represented.

A party guest named Wonder Fortune Serra scanned the crowded restaurant and said, "A lot of men and women here look like a magazine ad."

Mission accomplished.

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