Some things don't get lost in translation

MAGAZINES

March 27, 1994|By Jan Freeman | Jan Freeman,Boston Globe

Ever since the '60s, when they first noticed their language was being sullied by English borrowings, the French have periodically leaped to the barricades to repel the assaults of "Franglais." To no avail; as I leafed through a French magazine at the hairstylist's, I saw that "top model," too, had become part of the lingua franca.

No small part, apparently. Now Top Model is a magazine -- a spinoff of France-based fashion powerhouse Elle -- and the name's the same in nine languages and 11 countries, according to the publishers. Bilingual editors need not apply: The top models "speak without words," the introduction assures us. "Their faces and bodies spell the meaning of grace in a universal language that needs no translation." The spring/summer test issue is a Claudia Schiffer extravaganza -- 52 adoring pages of the blond bombshell as a tot, with the family, meeting Santa, but mostly in fashion photos (many of them, naturally, Elle covers). As for that universal language, she's "top model" even in her native German, not to mention Spanish, Italian and Japanese. And in French? "La star des top models."

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Ms. Schiffer's on the cover of Esquire's April issue, too, in the arms of her fiance, the bump-and-grind magician David Copperfield. (The Top Model folks missed out on this development -- their astrologer has her marrying Prince Albert of Monaco sometime this year). Interviewer Bill Zehme, whose subject is mainly Mr. Copperfield, feels that his mission is to find out for the men of America "exactly how he did it."

Mr. Zehme, who has more than once spun the straw of celebrity interviews into entertainment gold for Rolling Stone, comes up with a few good stories. But if these two see something in each other besides their own reflected glory, we don't learn what it is.

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If there's not much to say about Claudia Schiffer, there's almost too much to say about Frances Lear, who folded her 6-year-old Lear's magazine earlier this month. Jeanie Kasindorf, in the March 28 New York magazine, makes sure it all gets said.

Ms. Lear was a terrible boss, we hear, because of her manic-depression. Or maybe she was just using her manic-depression as an excuse to be a terrible boss. Or she's under the malign influence of her 35-year-old Svengali, who persuaded her to dump the magazine and bankroll him in a video-production company.

This is all juicy soap-operatic stuff, and perhaps even true. But Ms. Lear wouldn't be the first magazine editor in history to insult staff, take a young lover, tear apart an issue at the last minute, alienate advertisers -- so why all the piling on?

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To mark Women's History Month, U.S. News & World Report surveys the status of women worldwide. The news is both bad and plentiful, so "The War Against Women," starting in the March 28 issue, has become a multipart series. Part 1 offers an excellent overview along with close-ups of women today in Russia, where ads for secretaries now specify good legs and a willing attitude; India, where bride-burning for dowries is still going on; and South Africa, where the women of the African National Congress are fighting for an equal role in their party.

In the United States, it turns out that feminism is the villain. Yes, it's Gloria Steinem's fault, or maybe Frances Lear's, that women still earn 71 cents to a man's dollar, that single mothers live in poverty, that affordable day care is scarce. How this hypothetical bloc -- cited, sadly, by woman after woman -- can be both "mainstream" and made up of "white, highly educated" elitists, though, is a puzzle the writer does not address. Still, there's a lot of useful material here, especially for beginners.

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