Kim France's new magazine is pure fun. And for that she doesn't
by Jacqueline Marino / photos by Todd France
Back in the '80s, when Kim France was writing
fiction at Oberlin, her friends imagined that they might see
her name in big, bold print atop the words "editor-in-chief"
But editor-in-chief of a shopping magazine? A
guru of the great girl pastime?
France '87 rarely cracked open a fashion magazine
in those days, let alone a magazine about shopping. But clothes
were on her mind. Not compulsively, but more so than the average
creative writing major at Oberlin. The daughter of a jewelry
designer, France was raised in the mall-centric city of Houston.
She spent vacations from school invading New York's Lower Broadway
district, trolling Agnes B, Canal Jeans, and the Unique Clothing
Warehouse. Even at Oberlin, she made fond shopping memories.
"There was this sporting goods store,"
she says, "and in the basement was this thrift store that
was open maybe one day a week. Friday, I think. That's where
we scored all of our cool things."
Still, an Obie at the helm of a shopping magazine--particularly
one called Lucky--is hard to fathom. An uninhibited celebration
of clothes and beauty products, Lucky
makes other women's publications in the supermarket aisle seem text-heavy;
France's editor's note is often the lengthiest article. There is
nary a relationship column, celebrity news snippet, or sex tip.
Instead, the magazine encourages readers to unleash their "inner
consumer" with a page of stickers that proclaim "Yes!"
France's publication has not escaped the critics,
some of whom have questioned whether Lucky even deserves
the classification of magazine. But its parent publisher, Conde
Nast, insists there is no blurring of the lines between advertising
and editorial content. Advertisers love the magazine so much that
Lucky was spared economic hardship after September 11. By
the end of 2001, in fact, its circulation was up 40 percent, according
to Media Week, and it was named Adweek's "Startup
of the Year."
The consumer culture that Lucky celebrates
stands in stark contrast to the more intellectual, humanitarian,
and anti-materialistic convictions held by most Obies. But 38-year-old
France has proven that someone can feel comfortable--and even thrive--in
"Kim has always balanced pleasure, fun, and
intellectual pursuits," says New York art critic Margaret
Sundell '87, France's freshman-year roommate. France herself
says the magazine is pure fun because shopping is, too. The
magazine's critics, she says, are simply echoing concerns of
a bygone era when women looked to women's magazines for their
"What works about Lucky is that it cuts
to the chase," France says. "We're not presuming to be
anything but a magazine about shopping. What I've always found insulting
is this notion that a fashion magazine for women had to somehow
cover other areas of women's lives. If I want to read a movie review,
I'll read Anthony Lane in The New Yorker. If I want the news,
I'll turn on CNN."
At the heart of France's ability to shine in environments
as divergent as Oberlin and Lucky may be her philosophy of
writing and publishing. She is not a purist about either. "I'm
more of a populist about it," she says.
As modest about her writing abilities then as now,
France chose a career in publishing when she realized that she lacked
the chops for fiction writing. So before graduating from Oberlin
in 1987, she wrote three pieces, quickly, for The Oberlin Review.
She remembers most vividly her essay about fearing a future in which
she'd go to work dressed in "little suits with those ties they
wore in the '80s."
Not to fear. Today she sits in her corner office
in Times Square, wearing jeans, a casual top, and gold Prada sandals.
Photos of her in Lucky suggest a classic style with a smidgen
of funkiness. Her love of hats, including the wide-brimmed and the
floppy, was spurred by her severe sensitivity to sunlight. Her newfound
devotion to fabulous shoes was honed while editing Lucky.
But even with great success--and so far the 800,000-circulation
magazine is considered as such--France has managed to "keep
it real" in both look and outlook, those close to her say.
| 2 of Talking Shop