Over the years, Architectural Digest has provoked a single sensation deep in my gut: envy. Unless I scam my way into some heiress' boudoir, I ain't ever going to live in anything remotely approaching the chichi palaces the publication celebrates. So heading into this review, I figured that I'd throw the Mag-Rack equivalent of a hissy fit, sniping at the publication's precious, precious veneer and suggesting that planners' marketing dollars would be better spent on Milk Duds.
Except that I can't, because the September issue of Architectural Digest is more or less a work of art. With pages as thick and shiny as Joe Pepitone's coif, the publication practically radiates class and grace - and at 288 pages, it makes for a handy doorstop when the grocery guy shows up while you're showering. Its propensity to take itself quite seriously notwithstanding (more on that later), Architectural Digest remains one of the magazine world's grande dames. It is to the coffee table what candy corn is to Halloween. It's the always-upstanding PBS of magazines, but with considerably less Joan Baez.
The September issue doesn't veer a centimeter away from the established Architectural Digest template. In addition to the lush photo spreads of chichi homes, it offers a handful of regular sections, all of which maintain the mag's lofty air. Designers' own product lines and "discoveries" (e.g., the places where they find their tchotchkes) are given a chunk of space, as are estate listings. The "Professionals" profile of Marjorie Shushan falls a little flat - Silly magazine, I can hear the beautiful people say, Designers profile themselves through their craft and artistry! - and a shopping excursion with Carleton Varney for tapestries and pagoda fountains somehow omits a stop at Bed Bath & Beyond.
As for the aforementioned spreads, there's not a lot to say that hasn't already been said. Predictably, the photography makes everything from Park Avenue apartments to Mexican villas come to life. Coupled with precise, clean layouts, the spreads combine to form the most elegant catalog of residences you will never, ever be able to afford. Architectural Digest remains one of only a handful of titles that could easily survive without words.
Not surprisingly, then, the text that accompanies the spread varies from comically overstated to merely pretentious. One feature contains the assertion "Geoffrey Bradfield is walking sunshine" (mind you, we're talking about a human being, not the newest incarnation of Lemon Pledge); another solemnly notes how "every architect needs a sandbox, if only a small one" (I hear you, man, I hear you). The quotes elicited from the designers and their pals are even more priceless: Discussing one artiste's newly renovated spread, an observer quips, "Walter understood himself brilliantly." If the ability to choose the correct throw pillows is a sign of self-understanding, apparently I'm a lot healthier mentally than I'd suspected.
And not to pile on here, but three of the following four overwrought descriptions are included in a single feature: "moody elegance," "sumptuous scarlet urgency," "brave painted finishes," "an architectural love-in." Can you guess the one I made up? See answer below.
Give Architectural Digest credit for tonal consistency, in any event. Besides, who checks this thing out for anything except the posh photos? It's practically bulletproof - metaphorically and literally. I'm not an NRA member, but I think it would take an armor-piercing bullet (which are, like, totally protected by the Second Amendment) to penetrate this thing. Anyway, if you like purty pictures and real estate, Architectural Digest will satisfy your jones, and then some.
("sumptuous scarlet urgency" is the impostor)