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One sweet dish

Regarding things stylish and new, DailyCandy flexes fierce muscle. Just ask Comcast.

August 24, 2008|Monica Corcoran | Times Staff Writer

IF YOU'RE one of DailyCandy's 2.5 million subscribers, you already know the online newsletter with its sly signature illustrations and chirpy, conspiratorial tone. Each piece reads like a whisper in the ear from a giddy chum who's always in the know -- the girl who told you where to score a one-of-a-kind feather headband and dragged you to an after-hours vegan cafe before the food fundamentalists flooded in. Even better, this gal pal never stands you up for a new beau or a better plan. She's just one click away, with a tip on where to buy a vintage croquet set or skinny leather leggings.

Sure, maybe it was easy to dismiss DailyCandy as a breathless coed in the world of heavyweight online sites and fashion magazines. But not anymore.

On Aug. 5, cable TV behemoth and Internet provider Comcast Corp. bought the 8-year-old company for a reported $125 million. (Expect to see enticements for DailyCandy on Comcast properties such as Fandango.) The blogosphere gulped and then promptly smirked. Fashion magazine editors stomped their stilettos for not starting their own lifestyle newsletters. The sale inspired the type of jealousy reserved for twentysomething blonds who land septuagenarian billionaires. (For context: MySpace sold to Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. for $580 million in 2005; NBC bought iVillage, a female-focused site oozing estrogen, for $600 million in 2006.)

But beyond envy, what emerged from this sale is a toast to the new brand of tastemaker. It's a street-level source that bucks the fashion system of seasonal offerings and big-name advertising pressure, but still manages to spur subscribers to scurry off to snap up of-the-moment striped knee socks or an ionic hair treatment. DailyCandy squeaks out fresh style content every day, and fashion magazines later nibble from their content. There's no iconic Wizardess of Oz like Anna Wintour dictating the trends either. Behind the gingham curtain here in Southern California are Crystal Meers, 29, the Los Angeles editor who works out of her Silver Lake home, and editorial director Eve Epstein, 37, who divides her time between her Chinatown house and the mother ship in New York.

At DailyCandy, the recipe for a write-up is Betty Crocker simple: Find a fresh angle on a product or an activity, add humor and make it actionable. Don't mention a price, unless it's bracingly high or low. Here's a recent DailyCandy dispatch from Meers for a new line of designer denim: "Jammie pants, fluffy bunny slippers, and a half empty box of Gallo -- looks like someone's got the blues. Or, in this case, a lack thereof."

The tone is always empathetic and often tinged with self-deprecation. Think of pretty girls who slouch to be more approachable. Zany works too.

"This job is perfect for me because I don't have a very long attention span and I love to try new things like . . ." says Meers, who resembles Charlie Brown's love interest, the little red-haired girl. She brushes aside her ginger bangs and narrows her blue eyes. "Um, a trapeze class."

Meers, who gets 300 e-mail pitches per day, mostly scouts neighborhoods to find new fodder. "I will trot down a street like Abbot Kinney in Venice and leave a note and my business card at a storefront that's under construction," she says.

On a recent expedition, Meers -- who is as fair and slender as a birch tree -- eyes a vintage painting of a ballerina and trails her fingers on a dainty Victorian tufted sofa. She smiles slightly at an oversized ceramic zebra from the 1950s, but doesn't linger long enough to attract sales help.

"What a great shop. When did you open?" she asks the owner of this furniture and curio shop called 45 Three Modern Vintage Home on Fairfax Avenue in Little Ethiopia. The inquiry is subtle and ordinary -- but it's a million-dollar question, one that could conceivably triple the store's sales and start its phone a-jangling nonstop. But in only three words -- "two months ago" -- the owner loses it all. The store isn't new enough to merit a write-up.

How sweet it almost was.

"Our hits tripled within three days after we were on DailyCandy," sweater designer Lynne Hiriak says of her line Cardigan, which was featured Aug. 11. "My sales director got calls from buyers at other stores too."

Last month, DailyCandy published its second book, "The DailyCandy Lexicon: Words That Don't Exist But Should." Here's a term that's not in the book: "Retail sugar rush" -- when shop owners gush like Oreo addicts after being written up on the site.

"Tyra Banks came in because she saw us on DailyCandy," says Melissa Richardson, whose Melrose Heights boutique Beckley nabbed a write-up in May on its opening day. "We did like $12,000 in sales on our first day of business, which is amazing."

With such beefy stats on their side, the editors don't mind flexing their biceps. Mention DailyCandy to a few fashion and restaurant publicists and they start to choose their words as carefully as U.N. diplomats.

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