My first thought upon encountering Vitals Woman at the local newsstand-doohicky place was "already?" Let's face it: Vitals Man hasn't exactly set the publishing world aflame, resonating though it may with my immaculately moussed and/or cardigan-wearing peers. I figured Vitals Woman would be a similarly vacuous consumption orgy, perfect for gals lacking the style and self-confidence to make purchasing decisions on their own.
And that's pretty much what you get, with one major caveat: Vitals Woman (I wouldn't dare abbreviate it as VW, due to the ever-unseemly association with less-than-$62,500 German automobiles) does a considerably better job than competing shopping-bimbo titles on the design front. Whoever put this thing together gets some serious points for creativity; even the page housing the ordinarily drab editor's letter boasts lists, color, and a dapper illustrated bunny. Any number of pages within the "Culture Clash" and "The Life" sections offer a garden variety of fonts and colors. And while there's only so many things any title can do with product shots, Vitals Woman lays out everything from Curious George jacks-in-the-box to nut-themed pendants with verve and flair.
It's just that variety, however, that makes the publication such a dizzying, difficult read. On its cover, the magazine proclaims that it is "at your service." But in attempting to canvas the best in style, beauty, parenting techniques, society, appliances, and heaven knows what else, the magazine simply overwhelms the reader.
Even knowing full well that Vitals Woman is a shopping/product title, I was taken aback by the Fall 2005 issue's everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach. In "Vital Signs" alone, the mag flogs everything from hosiery to fall fragrances to false eyelashes to cashmere turtlenecks to Dylan records. Elsewhere, it gives concierges the opportunity to hype the best rooms in their respective hotels, devotes a clump of pages to sourpussed stick figures prancing to and fro in velvet, rambles on about tea-party accessories (8,000 redcoat soldiers optional), and lists model Maggie Rizer's TiVo lineup (shockingly, "Sex and the City" tops "The 700 Club" in her rankings). If this sounds like a lot, it is. Frankly, Vitals Woman gave me a headache from which I'm still recuperating.
I'm not sure what to make of the issue's handful of features, simply because they come across more as a loose compendium of related blurbs than as traditional, focused meat-and-potatoes stories. Heidi Klum, looking genetically engineered as always, headlines the issue, and the cover feature depicts her life in all its fabulousness (fabulocity? fabuliciousness?). The design and split-hued photos totally enthrall; the accompanying text (a sort of day-in-the-life deal) would likely be deemed too frivolous for "Access Hollywood." Side note: in what has to be one of the more unusual product-integration arrangements in recent memory, Vitals Woman lists contact information for Klum's pediatrician.
There are, alas, a few signs of life from within the product avalanche. A glimpse at the "workspace" of super-duper-mooper-fooper-model Lauren Hutton offers a new variation on the celebrity-livin' template. Its loopy title notwithstanding, the "throw a fall festivity in the great outdoors" how-to passes along actionable tips amid a few subtle moments of cheek. And the "Beauty 911" item on post-summer salves (skin helpers and such) gives hints that haven't been overcirculated elsewhere. "Post-summer salves"... holy lord, I'm starting to write like one of them. If you see me on the street yammering excitedly on a cell phone or wearing anything except khaki shorts and flip-flops, please feel free to beat me about the torso with a stick.
In the end, all shopping mags offer more or less the same product palette. Thus the ultimate winner, whether Vitals Woman or Cargo Gal or GQ For Chicks, will likely be the publication that organizes the boatloads of junk in the most pleasing visual manner. Vitals Woman may be without peer on the design side of the ball, but until it relaxes its frenetic pacing, it's likely to scare readers off.