Quiz time. Are Allure's target readers 1) well-groomed fishermen; 2) psychologists studying the concept of sexual attraction; or 3) women seeking makeup tips?

The answer's pretty obvious--but you may have hesitated anyway. For Allure is less high-profile than its iconic, glossy sisters at Condé Nast. Unlike Vogue, no Allure assistant has written a tell-all about its editor (The Devil Wears ChanelNo. 5?); it's not known, as Glamour is, for putting black bars across the faces of the fashion-impaired.

Born in 1991, Allure is also younger than every other major Condé Nast babe except for upstart Lucky. According to the Publisher's Information Bureau, last year Allure tracked the lowest revenue figures ($139.3 million) and the second (after Self) fewest number of ad pages (1,428.93) of the five, though it did experience the second highest leap in revenue, (18.5 percent).

Allure stands out, too, as the only major magazine positioned as "the beauty expert." It's an odd specialty--isn't beauty a topic that's covered by virtually every women's magazine? Allure just does more of it, and in greater depth. So the major features for the February issue are "Wide-Awake Makeup" and "Loose, Sexy Hairstyles"--not exactly the kind of cover lines that jump out at the newsstand.

Yet within this limited sphere, Allure contains some mighty snappy copy. Check this out: "Coulrophobia--the fear of clown--doesn't just present at children's birthday parties. Many adult women are also stricken when faced with cobalt eyeliner, chartreuse shadow, or fire-engine red lipstick."

Give Allure points for good writing, but its extended beauty features still present too much information (at least for me) on the fluffiest of topics. I find the product briefs more palatable--and useful--though I wanted more real-life testing features, like the chart rating long-wearing cosmetics in the February issue.

Besides majoring in product and grooming stories, Allure's editors have lately gone the celebrity route. This move has definitely dumbed down the proceedings since I last subscribed. Two regular features read like leftover Us Weekly pieces. "Private Eye" asks celebs at various events the same insipid question. November's is, "Did you leave anything in the limo?" "Beauty and the Beat" finds an organizing concept among photos of the famous--in February, it's how male celebs tend to pick the same physical type of woman as a mate.

Better is the cover celeb interview, which distinguishes itself from the 47,000 other such interviews by having the famous one caption the photos herself. The layout on February cover girl Sheryl Crow includes a shot of her with Bill Clinton, under which she's written: "We look like we're lovers and we had a big fight. We were definitely not lovers."

A more high-minded element, the monthly essay, has been a staple since the mag's beginning, exploring subjects sometimes related (sometimes not) to beauty. November's was gracefully written, but the topic--at what age do women look their best?--somehow brought to mind Lolita's Humbert Humbert leading a debate on that point with other dirty old men.

Back to classy copy. Linda Wells' editor's letters skillfully avoid the "welcome to my wonderful magazine!!!" hype common to the form. Instead, Wells usually provides a wry inside look at the business of style, as in her November column about how, as a junior reporter covering the society beat, she realized "very quickly that the secret to success at a New York City party was a reporter's notebook and a Times ID card."

Besides Wells' column, the only reason I've had for dipping into Allure on newsstands lately has been its "Total Makeover" section, which provides helpful, inspiring comments about losing weight from makeover subjects reporting on their monthly progress. "Little decisions add up to big results, so you have to make the right ones consistently... Everything I did was learned behavior," says a woman who downsized from morbid obesity.

Though Allure does a good job, I won't be subscribing again. I like my beauty copy interspersed with other matters. Otherwise, it's as insubstantial an experience as eating cotton candy: all you're left with are sticky fingers tinted a faint shade of pink.

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