Magazine Review: DETAILS Magazine Nov 2007
The fall months of September, October and November seem to be book-hawking season for magazine editors. This observation is not just about regular magazine features like book reviews, mind you. But full-on, blatant product placements of books usually written by staff members, or closely associated with magazine staff.
NEW YORK magazine is hawking its “Look Book: A Gallery of Street Fashion”, ELLE is mongling fashion director Nino Garcia’s “Little Black Book Of Style”, while GLAMOUR is giving ample column inches to Jenna Bush’s “Ana Story” which is photographed by staffer Mia Baxter.
This month, men’s periodical DETAILS magazine is no different from its sisters. Editor-in-chief Daniel Peres based his entire Letter From The Editor around a pitch for “The Details Men’s Style Manual”, penned by the magazine’s writers and editors. Okay, the mag needs extra dough besides the usual newsstand sales and subscription fees, Ac.Stet understands but Whao! Does it not seem like almost every magazine is diggin’ it.
On the whole, Details magazine seemed to have carved out an unusual identity for itself in the world of men’s magazines. It is that abnormality of a dick mag for the straight man who wishes he was gay, and the gay man who secretly wants to be straight.
The entire magazine has gay references that mushroom all over the pages. At times, there is almost this natural sense of symbiosis: the gay notes have a certain dependency on the straight context of the story, such as this month’smusicman profile on Duran Duran, using their homo-boy appeal to anchor the entire story of the once-seminal band’s revival.
In “Wild Boys Never Lose It”, the Duran Duran article begins and ends its story with reference to 1,000 gay men. Read it to see what Ac.Stet means.
Earlier, in its “Wise Guy” regular column on successful older men giving advice to its intended younger male readers (Um, innuendo a la ancient Greece not intended) gives space to Lee Iacocca this month. Mr. Iacocca did not say he is gay, nor did the interview imply so, but looking at Mr. Iacocca’s picture and the closeup, what are we suppose to think?
A later story spotlights an actress from Charmed, a gay man’s favorite tv series on witchy crafts, crafty bitches, and bitchy witches.
And then there is the abnormality of gay novelist Augusten Burrough’s story relating his experience of choosing a boyfriend based on said-date’s body scent. Ac.Stet wonders if a straight man is reading it, how he would relate to choosing a girlfriend based on Mr. Burroughs’ account of being turned off by a man smelling like the floor of a fratboy’s bathroom.
And of course, the diamond in the gay tiara of this dick mag is the last page of the magazine, devoted to its regular Antrhopology column, “Gay or …”. This month, it is titled “Gay or … Straight.”
On writing, Details magazine is usually good. This month, however, it has the misfortune of assigning a potentially amusing style story to the wrong writer.
On Page 112, Ms. Katharine Wheelock writes about the haircut every man should avoid. Hell, it was primed to be such a sensational read that the editors even decided to blurb it on the November cover.
But boy, are you in for a huge disappointment. Ac.Stet was thinking, oh wow, what haircut is this? The Mohawk that is so popular among Asian-Americans now? The half-head mop that belonged to Marylander Christian from Project Runway Season 4? A perm a la Perez Hilton? What what what?
Well, according to Details Magazine, it is a side-sweep with mandatory eyebrow-skimming fringe. The magazine christened it the “Peter Pan”. Having had this hairstyle since last year, Ac.Stet is inclined to disagree. But all’s well and good because, hey, everyone’s entitled to their opinion.
But what opinion? Ms. Wheelock, the writer, waffled her way through justifying her opinion in the entire article. She says “what a man over 30 – a man over 20 (sic) – cannot get away with is the most recent trend to emerge from the hallways of American adolescence: side-swept bangs”.
And then Wheelock goes on to say that 20-year-olds like Zac Efron is okay with that but 28-year-old Pete Wentz (Ashlee Simpson’s current squeeze) is not. Ac.Stet wonders, you base an entire story on the style mistake made within an 8-year difference?
And then she says: “The news that men are visiting their hairstylists armed with pages torn from Us Weekly is disturbing enough.”
Why exactly is this disturbing the writer did not say. It is pretty common to bring in pictures to show your stylist how you want to look like, lest your stylist and you communicate on different wavelengths and you end up walking out of the salon with a nightmare of a cut. So one can only imagine that Ms Wheelock have only so much salon experience to find such otherwise-acceptable behavior “disturbing”.
Anyway, Ms. Wheelock goes on to say: “The fact that they’re bringing in recent snapshots of Tom Cruise is chilling … Cruise’s hairstyle has always been reminiscent of a Lego guy’s but the … bangs he’s had … have been for a movie … in which he plays a mutinous Nazi.”
Er, Ms. Wheelock is engaging in fact-twisting demagoguery here. Tom Cruise’s role in the said film project is Valkyrie, where he is playing Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, a German leader of a group of German military plotters against the Nazi regime, and which culminated in an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler in July 1944. And Ms Wheelock has the audacity in the capacity of a writer call Colonel Stauffenberg … a Nazi?
Besides not doing her research well and fact-twisting just so she sounds funnier or smarter, Ms Wheelock seems to have a knack for soliciting people for quotes which have little to do with adding ground to her opinion. Here are all the quotes she used:
“A lot of guys are coming in saying they want bangs,” says YYY.
“It’s usually banker guys who want to be a little more fashionable,” says XXX. “ A lot of them are coming in with pictures of Tom Cruise.”
“All the surfer kids in California started wearing … a year ago … It’s got a mod, Beatles-esque thing about it.”
“We pick up my friend’s daughter … He wasn’t into it.”
Where’s that ONE quote that even remotely says, YES, that side-swept bang is as age-inappropriate as Ms Wheelock says it is? Obviously Ms. Wheelock could not find people to support her theory … makes Ac.Stet wonder, how this piece was ever approved of and passed through editing is one of those arcane miracles of magazine journalism. This is just groundless ranting. The writer might as well save the space and join Arianna Huffington in discussing Al Gore’s undulating waistline.
If Ms. Katharine Wheelock has enough style wisdom to condemn a particular trend, she would have known that opinion leaders are really into the side-sweep style and wearing it well. Such as? The spectrum is wide, from Presidential hopeful John Edwards (who has worn the style since college), to The Misshapes’ Greg Krelenstein and Geordon Nicol, and to the characters of Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited (incidentally, was written about in the same magazine on Page 62). And all of them range from 23 to 54.
Sigh, it is all just groundless ranting. And the name “Peter Pan” is definitely a misnomer. If age is really the reason why the writer thinks the haircut should not be worn, well, there was no evidence that Ms. Wheelock could amply provide. Pity, because it shows more of the writer’s ill-informed writing, than the hairstyle she is trying to denigrate.
Anyhoos, that is just a minor flaw. Details Magazine has carved a niche for itself in bloke-vocative editorials. The stories are based on life’s garden-variety issues, with a bawdy, naughty boy spin. And they are usually Wall Street- or celebrity-led.
Like this month’s editorial on why magicians are the new celebrity toy-boys, and why opium is the new kick. Easy reading. It does serious as well, with coverage on citizen journalism and race victim-turned-millionaire Abner Louima.
Details also has the tradition of getting recently-minted personalities to pen articles. Previous inductees include Lauren Weinberger (The Devil Wears Prada) and Mark Simpson (who coined the “metrosexual” term). This month, Augusten Burroughs, who recently ran with scissors, writes about running in circles around the scents of men.
Burroughs is no Chandler Burr when it comes to writing about smells, but he does write a long-winded soliloquy in this issue about how a man’s natural scent attracts and repels … just him. Ac.Stet is hardpressed to believe that Mr. Burroughs really found love of eight years with his current squeeze only because of the way he smelt. In the end, Burroughs says that is linked to his instinct. Ac.Stet wished he wrote more about that, because the entire essay is three pages long but you get his point only in the last 5 paragraphs. Pity, cos Ac.Stet smelt a stronger point in this story.
Details also has the dubious honor of having a minor monopoly on stories on almost-over-the-hill personalities. In the past, Matthew McConaughey was a regular coverboy with his try-hard antics on being his generation’s next action star. Then there was this past feature on Michael Douglas as an ageing Lothario. Carrie “Princess Leia” Fisher used to write tediously self-indulgent pieces about, well, nothing.
The November issue seems a culmination of such almost-been-ism. The cover stars Bennifer survivor Ben Affleck, and the inside story paints him as an actor-turned-producer struggling for credibility. It moves on to Alyssa Milano, one of those half-baked celebrities who never really seem to reach A-list status. And then there was Duran Duran, gushing about their collaboration with artistes half their age (i.e Justin Timberlake) and how hopeful they are about their impending album.
Can Details not get beyond this habit of snickering at has-beens and almost-beens? Or are male heroes for of-age-men really that difficult to come by, as Ac.Stet has written about before?
Strictly speaking, Details is not really a fashion magazine.
After all, who dares to call itself a mens’ fashion magazine, given that the fashion market for men is so limited? The best performing men’s magazines are those that deal with current affairs, business, automobiles and sports. Fashion is often treated as a side-dish in men’s mags, like in Men’s Health. Even Men’s Vogue steers clear of men’s fashion issues, preferring pages that are not fashion-driven, but personality or celebrity-driven. Some mags don’t even bother to market themselves as men’s fashion but for the benefit of earning ad dollars from both menswear and womenswear brands, they make it known that they do men’s fashion, e.g. i-D and Surface. So far, Ac.Stet can only count upon “T” The New York Times Style Magazine as doing men’s fashion really really well, but even so, the Men’s Style edition comes out half-yearly.
And coming back to Details, its fashion pages are mindfully straightforward, and clothes are captioned, posed and shot in the same model-please-stand-sit-there style, similar to the way Men’s Health does it. Yes, it is predictable and yes, it is routine. But the flip side is, it is uncomplicated and the target-market – magazine-reading Wall Street, straight men – get it.
Notice how Details always makes fashion seem extremely approachable? Even the style of a real-life style arbiter (i.e Socialista’s Jeffrey Trunell), such as the formidable doorman at an intimidating dance club, seem accessible:
Having said that, Ac.Stet must say that the layout and order of the fashion pages in Details are a study in how a men’s mag should be put together. To the uneducated eye, the mish-mash of the fashion pages – some here, some there, but never grouped together the way most men’s magazines do it for the sake of this strange concept called “organization” and “categorization” – seemed haphazard and all-over-the-place.
But, to those in the know, such pagination is a brilliant exercise in educating men – especially those who either don’t understand fashion or has no patience for it – about the ways of fashion.
This is how Details orders its fashion features:
It usually begins with the style column in “Know + Tell” section starting on Page 66, following that are feature-feature-feature, and then another story on style (the badly written “Lose The Peter Pan Haircut”) on Page 112, and then sandwiched by feature-feature-feature, next comes “The New American Bespoke” on Page 122, again feature-feature, and then more fashion product spreads in “The Details” Page 147, story-story-story, and then even more product spreads in “The Best Suits In The World” Page 170, and then again cover-story-story-story, and then like a jack-in-the-box, more fashion spreads in “How To Wear A Vest” on Page 184, and “Outsider” following that.
This way, like coaxing a wayward child to eat his green veggies, you mix it up with his favorite foods so that he laps up the whole damn bowl. Fashion information gets absorbed into the system one way or another. See? Simple but brilliant. But not many magazine editors get it.
Speaking of fashion stories, the “The New American Bespoke” feature on bespoke and made-to-measure (MTM) clothing is one of the finest articles on tailoring Ac.Stet has ever come across.
A stab-in-their-own-foot is that the article header “The New American Bespoke” is squeezed so small at the start of the article that you could easily have missed it. The result is a page that turns so suddenly into the story that it takes a moment before you realize it is the start of a six-page feature.
A minor gripe: On Page 128, the magazine offers places to buy bespoke and MTM. Ac.Stet is puzzled why Ermenegildo Zegna – an Italian heritage brand built on menswear tailoring and whose factories actually helped to produce Tom Ford’s label (which was actually given full-page visual in the same story) – is not mentioned. C’mon, those who know menswear fashion will acknowledge that its Su Misura service is legendary. Instead, other Italian brands like Armani, Jil Sander and Versace – all more fashion than heritage brands – are mentioned instead. A prior arrangement with the brands PRs, peut etre?
Another minor gripe: On Page 170, “The Best Suits In The World”, some gaffe on French suits: “With their high, notched lapels and angular cuts, French suits have the artistic gravitas of an installation at the Centre Pompidou.”
Wonderful analogy, except that the Centre Pompidou is not really French.
It was designed by Italians, one of them being the brilliant Renzo Piano.
For this magazine, the Devil must have given Details the slip.