NEW YORK — Forget men, waifs and quirky covers. For women’s fashion magazines in 1993, the old formula — supermodels and a blockbuster September issue — produced the bestsellers of the year.

In fact, issues with waifs and men as cover images often came in dead last on the newsstand.

Mirabella flunked with Jeremy Irons in October, and Harper’s Bazaar fared poorly with waif model Amber Valleta in June.

Unusual or eclectic covers didn’t perform well, either.

Vogue’s worst-selling issue in 1993 was a montage of models in January, and Elle’s biggest clunker was an upside-down photo of Elaine Irwin in May.

Celebrity covers, long resisted by some fashion camps, appear to be working. Vogue did well in December with Sharon Stone, and Harper’s Bazaar scored with Daryl Hannah. And while Mirabella may have bombed with Jeremy Irons, its second best-selling issue of the year featured Hillary Clinton on the August cover.

But September once again proved to be the pivotal month.

While observers agree that last year’s box office success in September was more a function of timing than the actual cover, a supermodel or two certainly didn’t hurt. September’s Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar were helped along by covers featuring Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington, respectively.

Elle’s September issue, its biggest of the year and the first under editor Amy Gross, highlighted four models, none of whom are household names. It sold 445,000 newsstand copies, versus 430,000 in September 1992.

“It’s not who you put on the cover, but the size of the magazine,” said David Leckey, vice president, circulation director, Hachette Magazines.

“[Each month] you may be delivering 200 to 250 pages, but with the fall fashion issue, the book size doubles. You have your typical Elle or Vogue buyer, but in September you bring in that individual who’s interested in fashion. It brings in that incremental buyer that makes the issue so profitable for all of us in the field. Every year it’s the one you bank on,” he said.

Elle’s worst-selling May issue, featuring an upside-down photograph, sold only 200,000 newsstand copies, versus 342,000 the prior May. It was fewer than Elle’s first half average of 260,000 newsstand copies, said Leckey, which was down 20 percent from the previous year.

“It was such a departure from what most magazines do,” said Leckey. “Quite frankly, within the circulation department, we knew it wouldn’t be our bestseller.”

“In the fashion field, covers really are what drive that incremental buyer to buy that magazine. We went for the shock impact. Sometimes you hit a major home run, or it can be very disappointing. For that 30-day cycle, it didn’t draw what we think we could sell,” said Leckey.

Last January, Vogue experimented with a fashion montage of runway shots. “It didn’t perform up to our expectations,” said a Vogue spokesman, noting it was the worst-selling issue of the year. It sold 518,144 newsstand copies, according to Audit Bureau of Circulation, versus 685,184 in January, 1992. Vogue’s first-half newsstand average in 1993 was 689,507 copies, off 10 percent from the prior year, according to ABC.

Vogue’s best-selling issue, featuring Evangelista, carried the dominant coverline: “Here It Is. The Fall Fashion Special.” It sold 1 million copies, said the Vogue spokesman, up from the previous year’s score of 993,747. Runners-up included August’s issue with Cindy Crawford on the cover, the April “cheap” issue with several top models — selling 854,388 newsstand copies — and the December issue featuring Sharon Stone.

Mirabella tried something new in 1993 and probably won’t repeat it in 1994.

“A man on the cover just won’t do it for a fashion magazine,” concluded Gay Bryant, editor-in-chief of Mirabella.

Mirabella experimented with a split cover run in October — where Jeremy Irons was distributed to the Eastern U.S. and Lauren Hutton to the West. It was the magazine’s worst-selling issue of the year, and Irons did worse than Hutton. Mirabella declined to give figures, but sources indicate it sold 110,000 newsstand copies.

“I’m not sorry we did it; it got lots of attention, but it wasn’t a real success,” said Bryant.

Like the other fashion magazines, its best-selling issue was September, which featured model Sarah O’Hare. Sources estimate it sold about 150,000 newsstand copies.

For the first half, Mirabella’s average newsstand sales were 134,939 copies, down 6.4 percent from the previous year, according to ABC.

Betsy Carter, executive editor of Harper’s Bazaar, said she believes the Amber Valleta cover in June, which sold only 156,000 newsstand copies (versus 290,000 the previous June), didn’t perform well because of the coverline “Feel the Heat.”

“Maybe people didn’t feel like feeling the heat in June,” she said.

Harper’s Bazaar’s first-half average newsstand sales were 197,620 copies, off 14.5 percent from the prior year, according to ABC.

“Our covers, in general, are very sophisticated. They play very well in New York and L.A., but maybe not in the rest of the country,” Carter added.

Allure, meantime, didn’t do as well as some others in September. The magazine ran a photo of Valleta on the September cover, which “was a good selling issue, but wasn’t our best,” said Linda Wells, editor. She declined to name the worst-selling issue.

She said Allure has discovered that “a waif with a vacant face doesn’t appeal on the newsstand.”

“I was a little surprised the September cover didn’t do better. What we find is beautiful in New York isn’t necessarily considered beautiful across the country,” she said.

But Wells noted that it’s debatable whether the model or the coverlines sell magazines. Its best-selling issue, March, featuring model Leilani Bishop, carried the coverline: “Flawless Skin — Finding the Right Foundation.”

“It was a very attainable goal, and it did really well for us,” said Wells, noting it sold 284,000 copies. For the first half of 1993, Allure’s average newsstand sales were 250,579, up 51.2 percent from the prior year, according to ABC.

Coverlines seem to come and go at Harper’s Bazaar. Sometimes they’re plentiful, other times scarce.

What surprised Carter about its best-selling September issue, which sold 327,808 newsstand copies, was the use of only one coverline, “Pure Simplicity.” (In September 1992, editor Liz Tilberis’s much hyped debut issue, the magazine sold 375,000 newsstand copies).

“Lately, we’ve been adding more coverlines,” Carter said.

Another departure for Harper’s Bazaar was using a celebrity on the cover for the first time under Tilberis. In what sources said was an attempt to boost soft newsstand sales, Bazaar ran Daryl Hannah on the December cover. Publisher Carl Portale estimated the December issue will have sold 228,000 newsstand copies, versus 163,000 a year ago when Kate Moss was featured on the cover. “That’s encouraging to us,” said Portale.

Carter said the magazine would continue to run celebrities sporadically.

Elle, meantime, is dead set against running movie stars.

“It’s just not Elle’s policy to do celebrities,” said Gross. She also said she didn’t feel a recognizable model was essential.

“The model doesn’t necessarily carry any weight. Elle never does personalities. I’m personally so bored by it,” she said.

Magazine editors said they wish there was a formula to determine a best-selling cover, but said it’s largely a crap shoot.

“It’s this magic thing that happens on the newsstand. It’s one of the great unknowns,” said Bazaar’s Carter.

“You should sit in on one of the [cover] meetings,” said Elle’s Gross. “It’s a pitiful thing. People trying to psych each other out. Sometimes it’s just a function of the month.”