Escaping the style dictators

Magazine aims for individualism, not perfection

March 21, 2004|By Jennifer Lehman | Jennifer Lehman,Sun Staff

No glitz. No glamour. Definitely no Martha.

With its quick wit and wholesome compositions, the "anti-lifestyle" magazine Rescue strives to persuade readers to forget about Martha Stewart-like striving for perfection and become comfortable as an individual.

"The lifestyle industry right now is completely prescriptive, meaning if you don't do it this way and if doesn't look like this, then it's not going to happen," says Dan Ho, editor-in-chief and founder of Rescue.

The newest issue of Rescue, which focuses on spring and Mother's Day, is due on newsstands this week. Among other things, it features Tovah Martin's debut as the magazine's gardening writer (subject: vines) and dog behaviorist Colleen Paige asking "Is your dog your child?" There's also "clickworthy," a page dedicated to a Web site chosen by the staff as a place for readers to check out.

Unlike traditional lifestyle magazines, Rescue will never show the finished product. Ingredients for recipes will be listed, but it will be up to the reader to decide what the dish looks, tastes and smells like.

"Don't we all know what a perfect rose looks like? We all know how we want our sofas to look," Ho says in a telephone interview. "All the stuff in the industry is regurgitated. ... I think style is a choice and if you support an individual's freedom to choose, instead of showing them what they ought to look like, I think you have a more pure style [magazine]."

Moment of inspiration

Ho's idea for the magazine came after he experienced a blackout in 1998. At the time, he and his wife, Jenny, a top Chicago chef, owned a successful restaurant in Michigan. Due to its popularity, they were able to afford a custom- designed home on three acres of land, complete with pool and garden.

While checking a ceiling fan at the restaurant one day, Ho experienced a seizure, causing him to remain unconscious for 20 minutes. At the hospital, doctors determined nothing was physically wrong, he says. "I thought, what the heck is this happening to me for? And why can't we find a cause?"

To help him recover and relax, his wife suggested he stay at home -- at least that was the plan, Ho says.

But he soon found he could not relax there because the elegant house "looked like a magazine tear sheet," Ho says. He realized that part of his stress was due to living in a house that needed constant styling and primping. He decided it was time for a change and within 18 months he and his wife moved to Portland, Maine, to start over. His wife turned her attention to the elderly, overseeing the kitchens at two retirement communities.

In 1999, Ho created HoWorld, a production company that promotes the "simple lifestyle" philosophy through publishing, broadcasting, interactive media, software and retail.

Home w / Dan Ho: The Radio Show About Life in a House, based in Portland, was one of the first components of HoWorld.

Later, Ho wanted to create something different for people to read, where they would not be consumed by society's idea of what is stylish. He decided the best way to spread his message was by creating Rescue to tell how he rescued himself from the Martha-Stewart-perfect lifestyle.

However, while Ho had always been interested in writing, he had no experience running a magazine.

"I assembled first a design team and didn't want anyone who had experience," Ho said. "I wanted a different magazine."

During a Rescue design doodle session, Ho's last name was turned on its side and given antennas, creating a character resembling an alien. From that point on, the doodle became Rescue's mascot and is strategically placed throughout the magazine as well as on its back cover.

"Throughout life I felt like an alien ... in that way, he is sort of a metaphor for what my experience has been," says Ho, who grew up in Guam. "He is a fun way for me to remind myself ... and to remind people to be themselves."

A personal stamp

Currently Rescue is bimonthly. Ho writes the editor's note, as well as Rescue's opening and closing remarks.

"That voice is consistent throughout," he said. "My hope is a year or two from now Rescue magazine will be immediately identifiable without me."

Financially, the magazine has done better than Ho says he expected, noting that that if three of every 10 magazines are sold from the newsstand it is a positive step. "We've at least doubled, almost tripled, those numbers," he says. Subscriptions are a harder sell, but he is optimistic.

In addition to Rescue, Ho has launched a book publishing division, RescuePress. His first book, Rescue From House Gorgeous: An Adventure in Lifestyle Blah, Blah, Blah, is scheduled to be released later this year.

"It's a story of how I moved and how I dropped out of the lifestyle rat race," Ho says. "I hope it helps people establish a new relationship with their house."

The Web site for Rescue Magazine is www. rescuemag.com.

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