Modern Times

Plus: School Spirit; Evil Eyes Averted

 Modern Times
New mags go after D and Paper City's lock on luxury

Barbara Banner is a vice president of Merrill Lynch in Dallas. She is a smart, cosmopolitan woman who in no way resembles the Dallas socialites bird-dogged by Dallas Morning News society columnist Alan Peppard. But because she is in a certain tax bracket, a few months ago she received in the mail the first issue of Modern Luxury Dallas, one of several new entries into the upscale fashion/lifestyle mag market to launch in D-FW this year. (You may have seen one at Starbucks, where they gave away a few of the first issues this summer.)

There are no stories of scandal or intrigue in Modern Luxury. Yet Banner found herself transfixed as she flipped through it. As editorially lightweight as oversized pages of models preening on heavy stock may be, it's pretty intoxicating to look at something so unashamed of its money and good taste. It's why the name "luxury title" should give way to what it actually is: a "wish book."

"[It's] a beautiful magazine," Banner says. "The photos of the clothing are works of art. It's slick and sophisticated, and although I may not be the typical 'Dallas woman,' I can see its appeal to those who are."

She's not the only one. Last week, Shamrock Capital Growth Fund, owned by the Roy E. Disney family, invested more than $50 million in Modern Luxury's Chicago-based parent company, Modern Luxury Media. This was not only to support the company's five titles (in Chicago, Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego and Dallas), but also to fund its planned growth to a total of 15 big-city markets, all the better to please national advertisers like Cartier, Gucci and Mercedes-Benz.

In each of these markets, as in Dallas, Modern Luxury will find itself competing with several types of publications that also cover fashion, restaurants, local celebs, design and the high-society culture. In Dallas, D magazine covers all these areas, as does Paper City. Mainstream publications like The Dallas Morning News have special pages or columns to give these perfunctory coverage, and the Dallas Observer and sites like Guide Live take restaurant coverage seriously. And every one of these products would love the high-end advertisers in each of these areas. The unique thing about the newcomer from Chicago is that it covers these things only, and it does so in an oversized, gorgeous format. Not only that, but since each publication is formatted the same with few exceptions--not unlike how this paper's parent company formats its alt-weeklies in other cities--media planners can fit their ad campaigns into each market unchanged.

In other words, the reason Disney invested in the company is obvious: So long as the rich are willing to spend money, Modern Luxury offers a local coffee-table how-to catalog for them to do so.

"The major boutiques like Gucci and Cartier and St. John, they all want in the local publications in the top-10 markets," says John Carroll, group publisher of Modern Luxury. (He oversees Chicago, Dallas and the soon-to-debut magazine in Houston.) "But because they spend a lot of money to photograph and create these beautiful ads, they want an appropriately luxurious vehicle to showcase their product. We give that to them."

But is there enough money in Dallas to support these titles as well as others like Beautiful and MILK? Wick Allison, publisher of D, says there's "too much money."

"This is a phenomenon nationwide, because the luxury market is so enormous now," says Allison, whose magazine also sports high-end advertisers like Cartier and Elie Tahari. "When I began doing this [in the early '70s], we had a larger share of this market in Dallas. But now, even with a smaller share, we make more money. It's that big."

Still, no publisher believes fully in the "pie-is-plenty-big-for-everyone" theory. They want the entire advertising cake. The whole moolah enchilada. The largest bite of Dallas cheese. How, then, to protect their [insert foodstuff here] from the glossy interloper?

Simply adapt, Allison says.

"When Paper City came in six years ago, it hurt us," he acknowledges. "They took part of our fashion advertising. But we adjusted to that. We had to diversify. And that's led to this year, the best [revenue] year in our history. Now, with these new competitors, we'll be able to adjust again, but the other newcomers probably won't. I don't know who will survive, besides us."

Modern Luxury's Carroll knows that D magazine will take the threat seriously, and that all city magazines shouldn't mock the non-investigative bent of Modern Luxury. He was at Chicago magazine in 1993 when Modern Luxury was launched, and he "attacked" its editorial and sales product, he says. Carroll says he started taking them seriously when he got an unexpected response from a media director in New York who advertised with both pubs.

"He told me to shut up," Carroll says, laughing. "He told me to quit bad-mouthing them, and then he told me that they have a magazine that sells their product, so they're going to keep buying it. Let me tell you, when a client tells you to shut up, it's a wake-up call."

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