Departures

by , Mar 8, 2005, 2:15 PM
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I'd like to propose a rule: Departures and its ilk should no longer be grouped under the heading of "magazines" at your friendly neighborhood Barnes & Noble. Sure, "fat, shiny picture books for the wealthy" doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, but placing a catalog-like behemoth anywhere near The New Yorker or even Vanity Fair on the shelves does a disservice to the latter two entities.

From a marketing perspective, the March/April issue of Departures can't be considered anything other than a staggering success. Its 248 pages feature brands both hoity and toity, with a seeming ad/edit balance of about 60/40. Note: I didn't count this out specifically, as I started to feel the onset of tennis elbow while turning page after WASPy page of a seemingly endless Brooks Brothers ad supplement.

There are ads for private jet companies, luxe vacation getaways, and shoes that cost more than a weekend at Scotland's Gleneagles Hotel (also an advertiser, natch). Each is rendered sumptuously, with folks like Eric Clapton whoring themselves for the cameras. For all the babbling publishers hubbub about providing an ideal environment for marketers, Departures actually delivers on the promise. If I'm David Yurman or one of his bejeweled minions, I friggin' live in this magazine.

Which is part of the problem: the ads in the March/April issue are sharper-looking and considerably more interesting than the editorial content. The cover feature, a 20-page L.A. fashion spread, pales in style and sophistication next to a front-of-the-book Botega Veneta ad. And let's not even get into the depressing Christian-Slater-look-alike-does-James-Bond cover shot, which says nothing if not "waiter, three shrimp canapés, s'il vous plaît." 

While the mag's few blocks of text are uniformly well-written, questionable decisions abound. Should a column dubbed "The Sporting Life" document a journey into Peru that my grandmother could handle? And shouldn't less wordy but tonally similar guides to Budapest, Sydney, and Santa Fe feel considerably elevated from online blurbs aimed at slower-blinking readers? Departures ostensibly shoots for a smarter, more refined audience; the tone of its stories should better reflect this. 

Only a few do. My favorite was a day-in-the-life-ish piece on a dealer of rare books, which not coincidentally seems to be one of the issue's few love-over-gold moments. There's also a neat chart on car safety devices which, unfortunately, gets buried between the aforementioned Brooks Brothers orgy and an item on a $185 flashlight/cricket bat/satellite receiver (okay, it's just a flashlight. I think.).

If you want objectivity, look elsewhere. In the pages of Departures, vaguely wormy furniture guy Marc Newson "belongs to an exclusive cartel of international tastemaking designers," while luggage gets added to "that list of foolproof taste indicators." On another front, I would've slapped an ADVERTISEMENT label somewhere on the bylined "article" for La Mer eye balm. "Eye balm"? Whatever.

It's all too silly. I realize that Departures exists to celebrate consumption for the AmEx SuperduperCard holders that receive it gratis, but there's not a cross word to be found. After a little while, all the air- and ass-kissing gets grating, no matter where you reside on the socioeconomic spectrum.

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