Town & Country

Many things about the December issue of Town & Country confuse me. I don't know who cover gal Kate Ballo is, nor why the puppy-wuppy with which she's pictured appears to be newly embalmed. I don't know why it categorizes an umbrella as a "town" item and a digital camera as a "country" one. I don't know why it believes that rigidly posed photos of white people in tuxedos and gowns makes for a compelling read.

In fact, I have little idea why it's categorized as a magazine in the first place, beyond the familiar structural juxtaposition of photos and ads. With its barely-there stories and seeming 70/30 ad/edit ratio, Town & Country strikes me as little more than a dashingly appointed catalog of stuff for über-wealthy Caucasians. If you belong to said demographic, maybe you'll be intrigued by the suggestion of a $20,000 home photo booth in the "design trends" shopping guide. For the rest of us, it's less aspirational than absurd.

But I'll give Town & Country credit: it doesn't stray from its mission one iota. From a shimmery diamond spread to the excerpt from a Charlotte Moss book about warm design in the winter, or something, Town & Country remains elegantly and frigidly on point. Even the holiday-health-happiness-help-others-blah-blah editor's note feels like it might have been lifted from a guilt-inducingly well-intentioned country club newsletter. If I'm Vera Wang or David Yurman (oh, to dream!), this is the ideal environment in which to showcase my posh goodies.

Due to the aforementioned ad/edit ratio, reading Town & Country is akin to driving in traffic. Take the holiday gift guide (well, at least the part that's officially labeled "gift guide"--pretty much everything between the covers technically qualifies as gift fodder). The guide begins on page 143 and ends on page 170... with precisely eight pages of products in between. No matter how gracefully those products may be presented, after a while they merely blend in with the rest of the marketing riff-raff.

For those readers patient enough to prospect for actual editorial content, the December issue offers a few hidden treasures. Big props to whoever made the decision to jettison the reader-mail section in favor of a post-Katrina guest essay from USA Today travel writer and New Orleans property owner Jerry Shriver, who administers one of the mag's few doses of real-world perspective. The "Costa Rica With Kids" travelogue includes what is likely Town & Country's first-ever nose-picking reference (and is all the warmer for it), while the exquisite photos of a snow-covered New YorkBotanical Garden should be made available for framing.

Elsewhere, the issue lapses into predictability. A spread on Colorado ski resort Beaver Creek might be neatly encapsulated as "rich white people with ruddy cheeks"; the "Social Graces" column on the year in boorishness witlessly rehashes incidents, like Russell Crowe's phone-throwin' tantrum, best relegated to Page Six. Then there are the requisite stodgy wedding pix and 12 pages' worth of high-society party shots--which, Liz Hurley's explosive bosom notwithstanding, make me quite glad that I'm never invited to anything more posh than bowling parties.

When I finally put down the December Town & Country, I didn't feel satisfied or diverted or intellectually sated; it felt as if I'd been given cheese and crackers after being led to believe a five-course meal was on the way. But I doubt that anybody at the mag really gives a hoot about that. I mean, this is a publication that proudly lists a "jewelry, watch & fur manager" in its masthead, and I ain't in the market for any of the above. Ultimately, so long as spend-happy readers continue to plop Town & Country on their coffee tables--thus affirming their class and ever-so-refined taste--this magazine will remain a luxe-marketing behemoth

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