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Together? Magazine can relate

NEW YORK, N.Y. GERALDINE BAUM

February 14, 2005|GERALDINE BAUM

After lunch last week, Andrea Miller approached the hostess at Pastis, the impossibly chic restaurant in the Meatpacking District that became even more impossible after the "Sex and the City" ladies were filmed there discussing relationships.

"I'm starting a magazine," Miller said, handing over a copy of the first issue of Tango, "and we're in the neighborhood. I was wondering if I could leave a few on your news rack in front."

The woman glanced at the couple on the cover -- "Desperate Housewives" hunk James Denton and his real-life wife -- and handed it back to Miller. "I don't think so." The restaurant's image was more eclectic, suited better to, you know, newspapers, the Wine Spectator or the Racing Form. The hostess fumbled to explain: "You know, stuff about, not fashion."

"This isn't that," Miller said, gently sliding the magazine toward her on the reservations desk. "It's about relationships. Real relationships."

Miller is not a New York person, not some big personality you imagine plunking herself down at a wooden table at Pastis for a couple of hours of angst over what her boyfriend said in bed the previous night or who slighted her at the office that day.

Although "Sex and the City" was clearly a cultural inspiration for this magazine, it tries to go beyond that particular New York conversation by salting it with gravitas. If the television show and other glossies like Cosmo and Glamour are about beauty, clothes and what sexual positions you have to master to get a relationship, Tango is about what you do once you have one. How do you close the deal? How do you live the rest of your life with him? There are articles about how to choose hair conditioner together and how to justify a "quickie"; a treatise argues stay-at-home momism.

There is page after dense page of mostly intelligent chatter about managing relationships. "I think one has the right to hate one's husband on Friday and adore him on Saturday," French model turned businesswoman/mom Ines de la Fressange tells an interviewer. "It's this paradoxical side to life that we just haven't learned." Really, this is the ultimate chick magazine. Even if men's voices infiltrate every page, the definition of a null set is a magazine for men about relationships (unless there is a ball involved.)

"I saw a gap in what magazines were talking about with women," said Miller, walking back to the magazine's hole-in-the-wall office after lunch. "Even if your best friend tells you everything that goes on in her relationship, you'll never know what goes on. That continues to be a fascination and illusory.... Tango is not trying to fix something that is broken. It's trying to capture something transcendent between people."

The out-of-towner

Frankly, Miller herself is an illustration of a particular brand of relationship -- a crushingly New York example, void of romance and flowers and love. This variety is about the business of leveraging every connection to get ahead. Except Miller apparently did it without cynicism. Rather, she used an earnestness that could be carried off only by someone originally from Minnesota. No New Yorker could get away with it. It had to be somebody who had not paid dues in the Time Inc. tower, sort of the way you imagine Bill Blass or Johnny Carson imposed themselves on the city when they first got here.

Miller is a 33-year-old with plain hair and plain clothes who figured out who the powerful people were in New York media circles and went after them. She has the moxie and the brains to be the girl who walks into the room and says, "I want your help," and gets it.

Here in the capital of the magazine world, big companies like Hearst and Conde Nast would have spent years and millions on prototypes and focus groups before they'd launch a new title based on the latest iteration of a traditional women's magazine. Miller instead employed guerrilla marketing, networking and instinct to do the same thing. Either way, most new titles fall flat after a couple of issues, or if the idea is good enough someone steals it. Nevertheless, timed for prime publicity around Valentine's Day, Tango recently was launched with 110,000 copies on newsstands across the country and cocktails, canapes and a celebrity or two in a downtown department store.

Miller came to New York five years ago from India. She'd been working for Enron, pre-scandal, as a financial analyst on a new power plant when she decided it was time to go to business school "to find my passion." In 2000, she cashed in her stock options and enrolled at Columbia's graduate program. Her boyfriend, Sanjay Bhatnagar, who was also working at Enron, followed her to Manhattan.

The idea for the magazine came sometime during her second year of school. She realized every decision she was making about travel, food, clothes, you name it, she was doing with Sanjay.

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