One week before the launch of Domino, Condé Nast’s decorating magazine, 41-year-old editor in chief Deborah Needleman was speaking on the phone about her own interior-design predilections, as applied to the Tribeca loft she shares with her husband, Slate editor Jacob Weisberg. Already, Ms. Needleman said, her magazine had helped the couple to solve a decorating conundrum.
“We’re doing a lacquering story in the premiere issue, and we just lacquered this enormous bookshelf that had been a giant albatross in our apartment since we moved in,” Ms. Needleman said. “Now it’s receded into the white walls. Before, it looked like this hulking mass that was about to fall on top of you.”
Putting a do-it-yourself gloss on home design is what S.I. Newhouse hired Ms. Needleman for. Domino is the newest version of Condé Nast’s thriving magalog concept-treating house decorating the way Lucky treats fashion, as an opportunity for shopping.
Ms. Needleman comes to the job from Condé Nast’s more conventional house magazine House and Garden, where she was an editor at large. These days, she said, a whole flock of readers-cum-consumers now forage for housing and décor the way Lucky’s million-plus readership snaps up each season’s trends.
“For the generation we’re aiming this magazine at,” Ms. Needleman said, “there’s this sense that ‘I know how to put an outfit together; I’ve spent my money on clothes for a long time. How do I express myself in a familiar way, but three-dimensionally?'”
Hence the Domino idiom: “Accessorize my kitchen,” the debut issue offers. Other fashion-derived exhortations in the proof pages include “a chandelier is as timeless as a black dress” and, elementally, “wear your house.”
“This magazine stemmed from my desire to have a magazine that was actually useful,” Ms. Needleman said. “I love shelter magazines; I’ve always been around shelter magazines. But I feel like they were created in another era for another kind of consumer.”
Condé Nast currently features two holdovers from that era: upmarket Architectural Digest and more midrange House and Garden, which launched in 1901. Last year, House and Garden was a finalist for a National Magazine Award for general excellence. But it also saw ad pages sag 4.2 percent, even amid a real-estate and decorating boom reinforced by pop culture, where decorating shows fill up the cable-TV dial.
Around 4 Times Square, staffers are wondering whether Domino is going to squeeze out its centenarian cousin. House and Garden has already fallen victim to intramural competition once before: Condé Nast shuttered it after acquiring Architectural Digest from Knapp Communications in 1993, saying the market couldn’t support a pair of similar shelter titles. But in 1996 the company revived it, tapping Dominique Browning as editor.
Ms. Browning said that she doesn’t see Domino impinging on what House and Garden does. “They’re entry-level,” she said, “and we’re for more serious decorating. We’re much heavier on service and understanding decorating and viewing shelters as a way of talking about lifestyle. We believe that living well begins at home.”
For Domino, living well begins with an April 12 launch party at Skylight Studio on Hudson Street. Condé Nast will transform the loft into virtual pages of the magazine showcasing products from the premiere issue, while attendees can test their consumption skills with a silent auction featuring a KitchenAid washer and dryer, Baker furniture and round-trip plane tickets on Song airlines.
And advertisers seem ready to believe that Lucky readers-or their equivalents-are ready to wear their houses. The premiere issue will have 106 pages of advertising from the likes of Audi, Bloomingdale’s and Movado, outpacing Lucky’s own 90-ad-page debut, as well as those of boy-shopper Cargo and Teen Vogue.
“This is Condé Nast’s biggest launch in five years,” said Domino publisher Beth Brenner.
In November, Condé Nast, responding to focus-group research and demand from advertisers, accelerated the planned fall launch to this spring. The magazine, which is labeled as a spring/summer issue, hits newsstands on April 26 with an initial press run of 400,000. In 2006, Ms. Needleman and her staff will accelerate the publishing schedule to 10 times per year.
Ms. Needleman said that the Lucky formula can’t be exactly translated into the higher-priced world of décor, furnishings and real estate.
“I think we have the same DNA as Lucky, in the sense it’s friendly and accessible and offers loads of options,” Ms. Needleman said. “But I think the way we flesh it out is completely our own. [Decorating] is a much more complicated subject matter …. When you’re buying a pair of shoes, they’re cute and you see the price. But when you’re buying a flat-screen TV, you need to know a little more. You want it cute, you want the price, but you also want to understand the technology, you want to understand how to install it.”
The premiere issue of Domino covers the spectrum of domestic consumption. A three-page spread on pairing mirrors with consoles displays items at multiple price points with finely combed caption copy (Ms. Needleman likened caption-writing to composing haiku). Another piece offers three different themed makeovers for a kitchen: “French flea market,” “retro cheer” and “California rustic.” And for those who run out of rooms before they run out of decorating ideas, a third piece takes on the economics of second-home buying.
A friendly magazine, Ms. Needleman suggested, is just what the six-figure shopper needs. “I think a lot of people are afraid because the commitment is bigger than dressing, and slightly mystifying,” Ms. Needleman said. “And a lot of these house magazines keep the mystery up. We just want to take down all the barriers and explain everything.”
The winter issue of Bidoun, a magazine devoted to the art and culture of a borderless Arab world, sells for $10 everywhere from your local Davenport, Iowa, Barnes and Noble to a corner store in downtown Beirut. Filled with zippy articles about art, politics and fashion-including a story about a series of Turkish cola ad spots featuring Dutch soccer players and a review of Osama bin Laden’s half-brother’s perfume line-it is a high-gloss, year-old, Middle Eastern stepchild of Vanity Fair.
“I love Graydon Carter,” said Lisa Farjam, a resident New Yorker and the 27-year-old editor and founder of Bidoun, which means “without” in Arabic and Farsi. “I’d like to be the Graydon Carter of the Arab world.”
Exactly where that Arab world begins and ends-likewise, the boundaries of Ms. Farjam’s aspired-to media empire-is the question at the magazine’s core. It’s the only magazine of its kind circulating around the Middle East these days. It has subscribers in Texas, Sweden and Tehran. It’s picking up advertisers-art galleries and schools, mostly-from Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates. Ms. Farjam herself has a loyal following in some areas around Berlin and Tokyo. And Bidoun sells best-where else?-in New York and Los Angeles.
The winter issue is devoted to hair, in all its subversive, punk-rock, Herb Ritts, pull-off-your-burqa-and-wave-it-in-the-air glory. On the cover of the issue is a shot of mousy brown locks attached to an unseen head, which appears to be laying on someone’s front lawn. The image does much more to connote a summer afternoon in Westport than anything Middle Eastern, so the gold foil ” Bidoun” slapped on top might seem abrupt. This is just the beginning of the magazine’s indelicate juxtapositions.
Open to page 2. There’s a photo of four women in the backseat of a car, heavily made up, wearing traditional Middle Eastern head coverings. It’s one still from a photography exhibit by Shirin Aliabadi and Farhad Moshiri, now showing at the Hildebrand gallery in Chelsea, called Freedom Is Boring. Censorship Is Fun. Pages 5 and 6 are a spread taken from a Marie Claire magazine that was widely banned in the Middle East. Seven women are pictured talking about their favorite little black dresses-except in Bidoun, the dresses are covered over with burqas, though the comments remain. “This rock-and-roll dress gives me confidence,” says Brooke. Next to her, Ellen raves, “It makes my figure the main attraction.”
On a recent Thursday, Ms. Farjam was wearing all black herself, in drapey, ambiguous, bohemian layers stacked over a pair of dirt-brown Helmut Lang shit-kicker boots. Her hair was dyed blond and worn curly. That night, she was headed to the opening of the photography exhibit at the Hildebrand gallery. But that afternoon, she was drinking English breakfast tea from Starbucks and worrying about the next issue of the magazine she puts out four times a year using a stable of freelancers located on virtually every continent, from her offices near Union Square.
To call them “offices” is deceptive because really it’s one homey, buttercup-yellow room on the first floor of a brownstone on 15th Street, next door to the American Anthroposophical Society. (“They don’t really understand what I do,” she said. “And I don’t really understand what they do. I stay away. We’re just renting a room.”)
Ms. Farjam, the only child of Iranian parents, was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Queens and Long Island. She attended the Buckley School for a few years and then moved to a quaint little private school in Dix Hills, Long Island, called Half Hollow Hills. All in all, it was “just a normal childhood. I guess I was, like, more into, like, heavy metal and Sylvia Plath and dying my hair green and being depressed and that kind of stuff, than typical girl things. But every weekend I’d go to the city with my friends to hang out. It was really just a basic American lifestyle.”
Then she turned 13, and her family moved to Dubai. Her father took a job importing pharmaceuticals from Europe into Iran. Ms. Farjam lived with her parents in an ample home in a small town outside of the city, with “three schools, two roads and one mall,” she said. After high school, she came back to New York to study creative writing at N.Y.U. She transferred midway through college to Bard, from which she received her bachelor’s degree in 2000, and followed it up with a teaching degree from Columbia and six months teaching English in Asia. After that, it was but a short hop to media mini-moguldom. She moved to Paris to work for the Iranian delegation to UNESCO, which she described as “really boring and bureaucratic and weird and kind of depressing.”
It was there she decided to start a magazine. Somehow, $200,000 in start-up capital appeared, the gifts of parents and parents’ friends. Office space was acquired, freelancers primed and at the ready. The first issue appeared on stands in the spring of 2004. It featured glossy portraits of Arab women in traditional dress wearing neon face paint, three pull-out recipe cards, and a profile of two New York designers who combine Middle Eastern and Middle American influences in their clothes. The magazine sold out its 8,000 copies then and with each subsequent issue, Ms. Farjam said. With the next issue, which is themed around a futuristic Vegas-like urban-development project underway in the U.A.E., they’re upping the run to 10,000 copies.
Ms. Farjam said the point of the magazine is to reach a young Arab diaspora, and anyone else interested in contemporary Arab culture-the art shows, political movements and fashion trends that don’t get much space in Vogue or on the evening news.
“All the people who are working on it now are just exhausted from being regionalized,” she said, “and they’re using Bidoun as an opportunity to break away from that. Here’s a place where you can kind of just make fun of the whole thing.”
Lara Nabulsi, a New York–based fashion designer with a store in the East Village, bought her first copy of Bidoun at the St. Mark’s Book Shop on East Ninth Street. She said she would scan bookshop shelves looking for something interesting and substantive about real life in the Arab world, and when she first saw Bidoun, “it gave me goose bumps.”
Ms. Farjam has gotten letters of support from editors of international magazines, employees of the World Bank and graduate students the world over. The plan is to make Bidoun the international authority on what smart, hip people-Middle Eastern and otherwise-are doing, thinking, writing and wearing.
“I don’t need Anna Wintour’s approval,” Ms. Farjam said. “Well, not yet.”
“I don’t play golf,” Byron E. Calame said Monday night. Mr. Calame was supposed to be settling into his fourth month of retirement after stepping down as The Wall Street Journal’s deputy managing editor at the end of last year. When he retired, he said, “my daughter had urged me not to say yes to anything for six months.”
But then New York Times executive editor Bill Keller came after him. The Times’ first-ever public editor, Daniel Okrent, would be reaching the end of his 18-month term this spring. Would Mr. Calame, who oversaw matters of quality and ethics for The Journal in his old post, be willing to take over?
“It was of great interest to me,” Mr. Calame said, “given, before I retired, the things I cared a lot about at The Journal.”
So next month, Mr. Calame will be saying farewell to uncrowded weekday mornings at museums and heading to West 43rd Street to field complaints about bias, typos and front-page placement. Thanks to his past grief-catching duties, he said, he has already learned “to be careful that you don’t let a 25-minute phone conversation make a believer out of you.”
Mr. Calame’s term of employment-fixed from the beginning for autonomy-protection purposes-is set for two years. He would have preferred to match Mr. Okrent’s year and a half, he said, but Mr. Keller wanted to establish two years as a new standard for the job. But with his wife, Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons researcher Kathryn Calame, still at least two years from her own retirement, Mr. Calame said he agreed to go along.
“I certainly don’t want to just fiddle around,” he said.
Instead, he’ll be picking up where Mr. Okrent leaves off. Is there anything he’s grateful that Mr. Okrent has already taken care of? Mr. Calame cited the public-editor column in which Mr. Okrent had wrestled with the question of whether or not The Times is a liberal newspaper (lead: “Of course it is”). “That was a pretty bold thing to do,” Mr. Calame said, “and I guess my instinct sitting here this evening is that I’m glad he took that one on before I arrived.”
Off the Record’s New York Times pundit standings, March 28 to April 3
1. Paul Krugman, 25.0
2. Maureen Dowd, 19.5
3. Nicholas D. Kristof, 7.5
4. David Brooks, 1.0
5. Bob Herbert, 0. 0
Note: Vacationing Frank Rich achieved a score of infinity, as his last column was No. 17 on the list of most e-mailed stories-good for 9 points-while his number of current columns was zero. Thomas L. Friedman and Op-Ed columnist-in-waiting John Tierney also scored infinity by making the most e-mailed list with pieces written for The New York Times Magazine and the Automobiles section, respectively, while not writing any actual Op-Ed columns. Because college-football-rankings guru Jeff Sagarin never responded to Off the Record’s original request for methodological advice, Off the Record ruled that those scores must be thrown out.
** Correction: Last week, Off the Record misspelled the first name of New York Times standards editor Allan Siegal. We regret the error.