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Stores Thank Their Lucky Stars

LOS ANGELES — This season, BCBG director of publicity Tara Connaughton has Lucky magazine to thank for her perfect pair of Balenciaga knock-offs. She spied them in the August issue, logged onto Delia’s.com — a Web site she’d...

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LOS ANGELES — This season, BCBG director of publicity Tara Connaughton has Lucky magazine to thank for her perfect pair of Balenciaga knock-offs. She spied them in the August issue, logged onto Delia’s.com — a Web site she’d never heard of — and bought the $42 fatigue green cargo pants immediately.

“Every season they literally create a shortcut path to the best pieces. Everything from cheap and cheerful to sort of classic,” said Connaughton, admitting she was one of those who initially found the “magalog” concept “abhorrent.”

“Now, I’m addicted,” she added.

Lucky, which was prematurely derided as the light beer of the fashion world and then heralded as AdWeek’s 2001 launch of the year, has been pegged once more. Now it’s being called one of the best merchandise-movers in the business — and is one of the fastest-growing titles out there. Its circulation is up to 750,000 while ad pages are up 49.2 percent through August to 504.64 pages, according to Media Industry Newsletter.

In fact, the glossy magalog, which cuts to the shopping chase with a heap of pictures and a sprinkling of text, has at least this much in common with Oprah’s book club: a mention from either causes retailers to stock up.

Sources said sell-throughs increase anywhere from 20 to 100 percent after appearing in Lucky — with items moving immediately after the magazine hits the newsstand. Many industry players privately likened Lucky’s impact to the splash In Style’s Simple Solutions pages made several years ago, but with a customer that’s slightly younger and trendier.

One industry player dubbed Lucky the “Holy Grail of product placement.”

“Lucky has come up really fast in the market,” observed Liza Stewart, a showroom owner here. “Before, it was all about getting in In Style, but now it seems they’re about equal — In Style has greater distribution, but seems like Lucky has found this whole new readership. And they buy.”

Jaclyne Brander, owner of the Fun boutique at Fred Segal Santa Monica, ranked In Style as still the top merchandise mover, with Lucky nipping at its heels in second place. Brander currently has 110 orders for a $74 James Perse Tencel dress featured in Lucky’s August issue. Readers called for “about eight months” after being instructed in one issue they could purchase a $27 Hello Kitty T-shirt from Fred Segal Fun.

“They pick up an old Lucky in a beauty salon and get obsessed with something,” Brander said. “Especially women who don’t live on either coast jones for what they see in Lucky or In Style.”

According to Hype/Jonathan Martin owner Uri Harkham, Lucky is “attracting a customer with her pocket book out, not the Looky Lou’s.”

While Lucky staffers initially had trouble getting return calls, vendors are starting to pay the sort of attention they lavish on well-heeled competitors: sending out massive boxes of samples, informing retail accounts when an item will appear and cutting extra in anticipation of reorders.

Hilary Chasin, executive vice president of marketing for Delia’s, said the trendy youth catalog went into additional production on a $24 floral Mexican handbag a week after being featured in the magazine. After several such experiences, Delia’s executives now make sure customer service representatives have copies of Lucky pages before the magazine hits.

“Consumers get to them quickly. This magazine hits the newsstand and we get our first call,” Chasin said. “I think they’ve filled a white space that was just sitting out there in the publishing world.”

Delia’s catalog requests are up double digits this year to date — and Chasin gives Lucky a hefty chunk of the credit.

“Lucky has enabled us to reach a slightly older customer, an audience that Delia’s had not been reaching for the last few years,” she said. “Lucky’s demographic has helped us stretch on that end.”

Showroom owner Stewart said most of her retail accounts beef up their order when they hear an item will be in Lucky, which is owned by Advance Publications, owner of WWD.

“Some have ordered in excess of a hundred units per style,” Stewart said. “I had one who was taking advance credit card [orders] on the phone, which is great because its inventory they didn’t even have to carry.”

At e-tail boutique Girlshop.com, which is constantly credited in Lucky, publicity director Patrick Bradbury said he’s started checking in with vendors about inventory before he sends out samples.

“I’ll ask ‘Did you over-cut this? Will you have some extra?’’’ Bradbury said. “Just to make sure we’re prepared. Our buyers take Lucky very seriously.”

Recently, a $92 Gara Danielle carved rose necklace featured on the July cover sold 250 units. Bradbury estimated the site would have moved 30 units without the credit. More significant, Bradbury said, is shoppers purchasing Lucky items also place other items in their cart.

Designers value a credit in Lucky “particularly highly because they know it’s going to impact sales,” BCBG’s Connaughton noted. “Other magazines are great for inspiration and setting a mood, but it isn’t such a literal transaction.”

In recent months, the magazine has practically bear-hugged readers, introducing a new giveaway section called Lucky Breaks and upping its use of hand-scrawled notations and a chatty “girlfriend’s guide” tone.

Instead of using celebrities and bossy fashion terms as “must buy”, “in/out”, the magazine chronicles the shopping marathons of cute career girls who rubber-stamp everything from Wal-Mart totes to Garnet Glow Shiseido nail polish.

Andrea Linett, Lucky’s fashion director, said she noticed publicists changing their approach, pitching clients for front- and back-of-the-book sections. “It used to be everybody only wanted to be big spreads in the center of the book,” she said. “Now everyone wants to be on shopping pages — and I think Lucky’s directly had a role in that. It’s not just about the glamour shot, it’s about moving product.”

Meredith Corp.’s Living Room, which launches Sept. 17, is mixing one-part In Style and one-part Lucky to challenge lifestyle magazine Real Simple. A prototype cover shows a row of catalog-style images below a larger “lifestyle” image.

Asked about Lucky’s influence on other titles, editor-in-chief Kim France joked, “I try to remind my editors we didn’t invent the still-life.”

Indeed, Lucky didn’t pioneer the product shot, the shopping pages or the detailed credits. But the magazine is one of the first to reflect the dichotomy of today’s consumption — item-driven, with a customer who can shop Saks one day and Target the next. In fact, the magazine seems to be cross-pollinating customers, sending shoppers to new stores, back to retailers they thought they outgrew or onto Web sites they’ve never heard about.

Katie Jones, a music industry executive, ventured into Express “for the first time in years” to purchase a trenchcoat she’d found in Lucky. But besides the inexpensive coat, Jones also plunked down $215 for a Francesco Biasia purse on Lucky’s February cover.

Robert Burke, vice president and senior fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman, said by regularly featuring designers like Diane Von Furstenberg, Catherine Malandrino and Katayone Adeli, the magazine has helped redefine the troublesome “bridge” category.

“They entered the publishing world when no one really knew anymore what the bridge market was,” he said. “Lucky started using those designers at a time when most magazines weren’t. They gave that price-point new definition, a little more life and luster.”

Each issue focuses on five or six key pieces or silhouettes that will be all over retail for that season. One item will frequently be something “difficult,” such as a corset top. The magazine is becoming more mainstream in its trend coverage with each issue, focusing on wearable and wear now. Accordingly, an item will be axed if it’s by special order only, or if the delivery date isn’t close enough to the magazine’s drop date.

“Nothing ironic, nothing that speaks to the ‘secret language of fashion editors.’” Linett explained. “If you have something you think we’d like, just send it. Things have come across our desks no one would think we’d notice and we’ve put them in.”

France said the magazine will need a bigger fashion closet soon. “I wouldn’t say our editors are knee-deep in graff,” she said. “Now we get return phone calls. But we still do not always get the Miu Miu top in the color we wanted.”

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