Commentary

Harper's Bazaar

Is it churlish to criticize the November issue of Harper's Bazaar, a fashion magazine, for being, well, too fashiony?

Perhaps, but to be more specific, I'm applying the ''f'' word not to any editor's particular choice of coat or shoe, but rather, to convey a superficial, bony vision. The cover features a beautiful shot of Natalie Portman's slim shoulder poking out of the 20th century's most iconic little black dress--the one that Audrey Hepburn immortalized in ''Breakfast in Tiffany's.'' So the idea of resurrecting the actual Givenchy dress on the cover (it will be auctioned for charity in London on December 5th ) is delightful. After all, especially later in life, Hepburn came to be known more for her humanitarian work than her wardrobe. The minimalism and elegance of the cover also refers to editor Liz Tilberis' much lauded redesign in the early 90s.

Unfortunately, the rest of the editorial in this ''bag and shoe special'' has all the depth of a social X-ray. And that's a shame, because I'm not one to trivialize the importance of clothing. Certainly, in this very Marie Antoinette moment in our culture, some intelligent analysis of the power of style (and fashion's sway over every part of our existence) is hugely needed, and could be entertaining as well as enlightening.

Surely, no one knows that better than Bazaar Editor Glenda Bailey, the English woman I've always admired for not rearranging her face, hair or body weight to suit the generically high-gloss demands of her world. (Lately, she has a lot of popular support--see this season's breakout TV show, "Ugly Betty" and/or this year's hit movie, "The Devil Wears Prada.")

Bailey first came to the U.S. to launch the American version of Marie Claire, which covered fashion and beauty, but also was known for its political and international coverage and sharp investigative pieces.

Needless to say, there's not much of an investigative sensibility in this particular issue. The essay ''In Praise of Imperfection'' would seem to come closest to having an edge, but it turns out to be an excerpt from New York Times columnist Alex Kuczynski's new book, Beauty Junkies. After having undergone liposuction and several Botox treatments and a lip procedure that literally blew up in her face, Kuczsynski suggests self-acceptance, and strains to list her own imperfections. (Her husband, she writes, ''isn't the quote-unquote perfect man. He has six kids and a couple of failed marriages behind him.'') She neglects to mention that he's also one of the richest investment bankers in New York. So even though she's off the sauce for now, odds are great that there are secret visits to a dermatologist in her future.

There's a profile of Rachel Zoe, the stylist for such stars as Lindsay Lohan, Nicole Richie, and the Olsen twins, who some say is responsible for a new wave of anorexia among young celebs. Obviously, skinniness is never mentioned in this celebration of her birthday and party with ''glittering guests.''

In fact, on that subject, the lead model in a ''What's New'' portfolio is so scarily starved to the bone that looking at her actually made me stop in my tracks, which I never do in fashion magazines--the eye tends to adjust.

On that subject, for good measure, there's a lavish, photo-filled ten-page profile of Victoria Beckham, tiny little fashionista and former Spice Girl. She looks anorexic--and is asked about an eating disorder. She replies, '' I watch what I eat. I have to for my skin. I had bad skin as a teenager.'' You can't make this stuff up--a perfect answer for a skin-deep issue.

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