NEW YORK — Turns out Fairchild’s new luxury lifestyle magazine Vitals is a cross-dresser.

Fairchild president and chief executive officer Mary Berner will today unveil a significant development in the positioning of the company’s new magazine. Beginning with the February/March issue hitting newsstands Feb.15, Vitals will begin alternating as a men’s and women’s title with a frequency of eight issues a year — four aimed at men and four at women.

“This is the first time anything like this has been attempted in the publishing world,” said Joe Zee, Vitals’ editor in chief, whose decision to target women was prompted by what he saw as an unmet need in the marketplace. “I think there’s a group of intelligent women out there that doesn’t want to read, ‘This is what slims your figure,’ but does want a lifestyle service magazine that addresses their needs in a smart, peer-to-peer voice.”

Added vice president and publisher Alyce Alston, who also is publisher of W: “When you read Vitals for Men, it begs for a sister companion. The New Yorker, Condé Nast Traveler, Vanity Fair, Departures, Town & Country — these are all magazines that reach both male and female audiences and are a dual target for advertisers.” (W, Details, The New Yorker, Condé Nast Traveler and Vanity Fair, like WWD, are all owned by Advance Publications Inc.)

But while those other magazines’ monthly content is evenly blended, giving each publication a consistent identity, Alston said of Fairchild’s new approach, “I think when you provide the degree of service that Vitals provides, it needs to be specific to women and specific to men.”

Zee agreed. “This particular blend of lifestyle, product and unapologetic service is a really concrete idea that, we think, will cross over well with both audiences,” he said. “The hope is to be practical and functional for both genders.”

Though the split editorial configuration came as a surprise to many media watchers, an earlier move giving Alston control of ad sales indicated the title might be looking to cultivate its softer side. “When we first saw the editorial product,” said Alston, “we thought it didn’t need to be just a subset of Details. It had the potential to be bigger than that.”

This story first appeared in the September 15, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Zee plans to continue to use celebrity as a “springboard” for lifestyle content now that women have been added to the mix. “Cameron Diaz is into surfing, Reese Witherspoon is a producer and a young mother. That’s relevant to a lot of readers,” he said, hinting at potential future cover subjects.

“We don’t approach celebrity as being invasive,” said Zee. “The point is, these people often lead interesting lives that the world doesn’t necessarily know about.” He added that a key element in courting cover subjects is using highly specialized writers. “It might be a matter of sending in, like we did with [September cover subject] Matt Damon, an accomplished sports writer to talk about the Red Sox.”

A total of 125,000 copies of the first Vitals for women will be sent to newsstands. The other 160,000 copies will go to a targeted circulation group whose income and purchasing power are similar of their male counterparts. As for advertising, “It’ll be called the Vitals network,” said Alston. “Advertisers can buy space in women’s or men’s or both and earn frequency. So it behooves an advertiser to stay within the network.”