New celebrity magazine glitters, but not everyone thinks it's gold

May 27, 1994|By Mary Corey | Mary Corey,Sun Staff Writer

Call it Martha Stewart meets People magazine.

Or simply call it In Style, the slick new monthly from Time Inc. that chronicles the lifestyles of the rich and famous, '90s-style.

There's no Robin Leach barking about million-dollar mansions or manicured lawns. Instead, the 128-page magazine offers a gossipy, glossy tour of celebrity homes, hobbies and soirees. In between dropping by Barbra Streisand's Malibu digs and Scott Glenn's Baja hideaway, readers peek into Christie Brinkley's pocketbook, visit Marilu Henner's baby shower and see photos of supermodel Amber Valletta's New Orleans nuptials.

The stories are short, the design is modern, and the smiling stars -- Cher, Sigourney, Candice, Reba and Whitney, among them -- look like they've never met an autograph seeker they didn't adore.

"We're a celebrity lifestyle magazine," says Martha Nelson, managing editor of In Style. "We take our readers into the lives of some people they're most interested in: film and television stars, authors and artists, politicians."

year ago, Time Inc., which also owns People, decided to expand its coverage of the seen-and-be-seen set. If the magazine seems vaguely familiar already, that's because three test issues came out in the last year. After receiving positive feedback in reader polls, the magazine -- which is targeted to women aged 18 to 49 -- received the go-ahead for a June debut.

While the publication is new, the staff has extensive experience in the trade. Ms. Nelson previously worked at People and Savvy, while other executives had stints at Money, Sports Illustrated and Metropolitan Home.

But In Style, which hit newsstands this week, has not received universal praise.

Although USA Today magazine columnist Deirdre Donahue called it "pure escapism, fabulously laid out," she deemed it "utter fluff."

In a recent column, she wrote, "For our national psyche, In Style is no doubt simply feeding ever more unwholesome illusions about the happiness that money, beauty and fame supposedly bring."

James Roche, an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Maryland College Park who studies magazines, gives it high marks for sophisticated design and low marks for content.

"I think it ought to be renamed Vicarious Living," he says. "It presents this dichotomy by giving you the opportunity to idolize [celebrities] if you choose. But it also gives you the opportunity to loathe the subjects. In that sense, it has something for everybody."

Ms. Nelson defends the magazine by saying it has the ability to inspire.

"Most people are living pretty difficult lives," she says. "Having something to read and look at that's pleasurable is not a bad thing. We still have many other places to go to for investigative journalism. All of our readers know that."

But as with every new enterprise, there have been a few snags along the way. She had hoped to feature a "major rock star's" California home in a future issue. But when the reporter and photographer showed up, the house was bare. The star's estranged wife, who had heard about the shoot, sent movers over to empty the house the day before.

"In our job, not everything works out," says Ms. Nelson, who declined to name names. "There wasn't so much as a bar of soap left."

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