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NEW YORK — Absolute, the latest controlled-circulation title aimed at the wealthy, isn’t necessarily against celebrity. But it’s much keener on the concept of “product porn.”

Glorified images of luxury goods printed on high-gloss paper stock are Absolute’s raison d’être and fill its first issue, which will make its debut March 8 with an initial print run of 75,000. Of those, 60,000 will be sent directly to New York households with incomes of more than $500,000. The other 15,000 copies will go to newsstands.

This type of controlled-circulation strategy was honed by other magazines, including Departures, Robb Report and, more recently, Vitals, which, like WWD, is part of Fairchild Publications. Luxury advertisers have flocked to the direct conduits to upscale consumers — Departures was up 11 percent in ad pages last year to 874, Robb Report was up 15 percent to 1,437 pages and Vitals first three issues carried a combined 161 pages.

Absolute editor in chief Andrew Essex, however, is more interested in the editorial perks of the nonnewsstand business model. “We don’t have to have all the bells and whistles you’re supposed to have on a cover since we don’t have to compete on the newsstand,” he said. Absolute may not have any bells and whistles, but it does have bubbles — the first cover image is a pea green parabola of effervescent champagne.

“The important thing was to be different,” said Essex, conceding the bubbles were an odd choice. “Our cover strategy is still emerging,” he said, “but we thought it was important not to put on a celebrity.” Which is not to say that celebrities won’t be making appearances inside the magazine. In the first issue, Liev Schreiber is shown smoking a cigarette and Amanda Peet models spring clothes.

“We’re not completely immune to celebrity,” said Essex, former executive editor of Details (also part of Fairchild). “We’ll show New Yorkers. Some of them just happen to be famous.”

But even the famous will take a backseat to what Essex calls “product porn.” A front-of-book section called “Absolutes” prominently displays Bruce Hoeksema clutches, a Duncan Quinn cashmere scarf and, of all things, a $22 piece of wasabi root. Items are chosen not by the magazine’s editors but by experts in the field such as Jeffrey Kalinsky, owner of the boutique Jeffrey, and Le Bernadin’s chef, Eric Ripert.

This story first appeared in the March 2, 2005 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“That whole principle of peering [into other people’s worlds] is interesting,” said Essex, who has imbued his magazine with a classic New York pedestrian pastime — looking into town house windows to glimpse other people’s tastes.

Taking up feature space is editorial director Caroline Miller’s profile of New York philanthropists and art collectors Thomas Lee and Ann Tenenbaum; Nina Burleigh looks at the old Cloud Club in the Chrysler building, and Ruth Shalit Barrett writes about moguls who drink Diet Coke for breakfast.

“I don’t think there’s enough coverage out there of New York eccentricity,” said Essex. Absolute apparently aims to rectify that.

Despite the start-up’s frenetic pace — Essex was named editor last October and the first of this year’s eight issues closed Feb. 1 — the magazine debuted with a healthy 42 ad pages from, among others, Chanel watches, Harry Winston and Estée Lauder. (Of course, that Estée Lauder spread was likely helped by a story on the Lauder family’s pet project, the Neue Galerie, on page 36.)

That sort of advertising support is crucial for the large format glossy’s plans to publish 10 times in 2006, especially since the reported $12 million of startup cash Essex received for the first year was a relatively modest investment.

Already looking ahead to the April 5 issue, Essex said, “We’re still figuring out pacing. Some of the section openers didn’t work in retrospect. There are still architectural issues which will help define what the magazine is.”

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