Cosmopolitan Style & Beauty

If the folks at InStyle or Us Weekly are feeling litigious this afternoon, they oughta slip their attorneys a copy of the flaccid Cosmo spin-off Cosmopolitan Style & Beauty. Because even in these originality-free times, it's rare that a new publication so blatantly apes the competition. It's even rarer, in fact, that a new publication debuts without a basic existential premise.

The thinking behind Cosmopolitan Style & Beauty seems to go something like this: Women like celebrities! Women like to look like the celebrities they like! Women like celebrities who look like celebrities and wear celebrity-like outfits! Given how this market has been tragically underserved by the media, which has been occupying itself with in-depth coverage of sub-Saharan poverty and disease, the good people at Hearst rushed to fill an unoccupied niche.

Mostly I'm surprised that somebody convinced Cosmo's brand minions to allow its hallowed name to be slapped onto such a half-assed project. Beyond the bits about "stealworthy Hollywood hair" and women "on the prowl-Hollywood style!," Style & Design runs the dummyhead gamut. Filler stats? Check ( "64% of people say they ask themselves on Sunday night, 'Where did the weekend go?'"). Half-assed "At Home" coverage? Check (one page on bedroom sets, two pages on cocktails/"hip sips"). Topless guys modeling jeans while sipping from generic "all natural milk" cartons? Check. SEXY check.

Style & Beauty gets in the most trouble when it abandons Cosmo's patented sunny voice. Style & Beauty attempts, with results that border on the sad, to replicate the snark of Us Weekly's celeb fashion coverage. "Stylists' Day Off" offers up the following witticism about Cate Blanchett, pictured wearing some kind of black-and-white thingamadress: "Cate's a walking Rorschach test. What do we see? Mistake!" Me, I'd have gone with an even more strikingly oblique Othello-board analogy, but I'm kinda cerebral that way.

Style & Beauty also strays from its parent pub with its too-busy design. I don't read Cosmopolitan every month, what with having a penis and all, but I can't recall the last time the mag crammed 16 products onto a single page, lumping them under the we-don't-know-what-else-to-do-with-them heading of "Everything Else." I also imagine that Cosmo would excommunicate any photo-type person who cropped a pic of li'l Anne Hathaway in such a manner that she appears to be wearing either painted-on hair or a Raiders helmet.

The Katherine McPhee photo spread somehow manages to make its subject resemble Victoria Posh Beckham Rodham Spice. The cover lines are alternately grammatically sketchy ("5 Sex Skills All Women Have... But Don't Realize") and obsessed with alliteration ("Reese's Sexy Single Style," "Hot Hollywood Hair Looks"). The "100 Ways to Feel Sexier Naked" exclude the tip I contributed ("extinguish the electricity in your building... actually, just to be safe, extinguish the electricity in your area code"). There's nothing here that you haven't seen rendered much more professionally elsewhere.

The mag does, however, include my favorite-ever disclaimer: "Cosmopolitan does not suggest that the models actually engage in the conduct discussed in the stories they illustrate." Of course not. The gal on page 44 doesn't want to be known for her snug prep-school blazer so much as for her romps on Larry Ellison's yacht with the Sultan of Johor.

And so goes yet another inane brand extension. Here's what I don't get: Cosmopolitan remains one of the few magazine brands that hasn't overextended itself into oblivion via plodding reality shows or licensed products. It hasn't flooded newsstands with gimmick covers or limited-edition-special-for-the-love-of-God-purchase-this-before-it's-too-late issues, plus the mothership mag seems to be choogling along quite nicely. So why bother with a print extension thrown together with minimal forethought?

If Cosmo has cash burning a hole in its pocket, Hearst's sugar mommies should earmark it for the web. A quick romp around reveals no distinctive voices and little else of interest, save for a few quirky games and a "Be In Cosmo" solicitation that asks, "Have you recently been diagnosed with an STD?" ("Why, in fact, I have! I don't have to hide behind a pseudonym, do I? My aunt still reads Cosmo at the beauty parlor and I'd like her to know about my alleyway encounter with that darling, if slightly pestilent, Filipino seaman").

If I'm calling the shots at Cosmo, I'm trolling the Web for "fun, fearless" voices who can give the site some needed personality and free the magazine writers to concentrate on the core product. I'm ignoring anything that smacks of "Sex and the City" and sidling up to the Jezebel gals and their ilk. I'm sure as hell not waiting around for the sales figures to tell me that Cosmopolitan Style & Design is a lemon.

Published by: Hearst Communications Inc.
Frequency: Twice a year, maybe? The current issue is likely a test drive.
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