Is Conde Nast living with Easy mistake?

What
is wrong with Easy Living? Why is it not flying out of Vogue House?
Why, eight months after launch, does it still require persistent
promotion and cheap subscriptions deals?

Why did the November
issue need to peddle a nasty covermounted bag that certainly wasn’t
designed by editor Susie Forbes’ up-market husband Bill Amberg?

Conde
Nast is too imperious ever to admit it is wrong. But the news that
ex-InStyle and Elle writer Natasha Poliszczuk has been appointed to
bring a “sprinkling of celebrity” to Easy Living is an acknowledgement that something must be done.

Although
it managed a debut ABC of 171,000, newsstand sales are shaky: could
this have anything to do with the visual impact of Easy Living’s
covers? A limp, forgettable blonde model – an idealised Notting Hill
mummy – is the default choice. The first issue featured Christy
Turlington and the latest Laura Bailey, but who cares about their lives?

Just think of
the bona fide super-famous mid-30s-toearly- 40s beauties with kids,
divorces, cancer battles etc who could be on the cover: Elle McPherson,
Liz Hurley, Nigella, Nicole Kidman, Kristin Scott Thomas. Conde Nast
certainly has the cachet to pull in these names.

But until now, Easy Living has made a point of not running with the celebrity herd.

A
feature in the first issue, about friendships between different
generations, led us to expect entry into a cool milieu of arty and
sophisticated folk such as Anita Pallenberg, Tracy Emin or Betty
Jackson, women who’d lived a little and accomplished a lot. I was
anticipating a snoop around Cath Kidston’s country house, Jo Malone’s
New York pad, the room where Zadie Smith writes.

Like many women,
I’m fascinated by the domestic secrets of those I admire – I’d pay good
money just for a peep in Madonna’s airing cupboard.

But in issue
two there was no-one special, just a bunch of ho-hum real-life stories.
And the current issue only manages an “at home” with Ruby Wax, who’d
show you her episiotomy scars if you plugged her new bag range.

When Forbes has worked out who her readers want to meet, a good celebrity wrangler is just what Easy Living needs.

A
bit of stardust will help conceal the real weaknesses in the magazine.
Apart from the fashion, which is brilliantly judged and beautiful, the
practicals – for a practicals-based title – lack authority and rigour.

The
recipes are, at best, an insult to a half-way competent cook (this
issue, a Victoria sponge), at worst downright bishbosh (one cake recipe
in an earlier issue omitted eggs and would have turned out like a
frisbee).

Easy Living is aimed at women whose homes are their
chief medium of self-expression, who are design literate, spend
fortunes on furniture and decorating. So what is this month’s big idea?
Winter bunting. No, I’d no idea either that a garland of corduroy and
velvet scraps would be “perfect for warming up dull corners”. And the
Expert Tip features a woman who grows a bowl of ivy on her kitchen
table: at Christmas she sprinkles it with nuts and icing sugar. How,
er, festive.

The homes pages are all throw cushions and retro
toasters, the twiddly bits you can pick yourself. Where is the big
stuff: the coolest kitchens, the most indulgent bathrooms, other
women’s fabulous homes to salivate over, then copy?

Practical
magazines are far harder to accomplish than they look. Sue James (Woman
& Home), Lindsay Nicholson (Good Housekeeping) and Matthew Line
(She) are all total pros.

Conde Nast picked Jo Elvin to launch
Glamour because she is a brilliant, seasoned editor, not for her great
taste in shoes. But such is its cavalier attitude to the practicals
genre, it chose Forbes, deputy editor of Vogue, who had neither worked
on a practicals title nor edited anything before, but does have an
exquisite home.

Insiders say Forbes can be indecisive and the
magazine certainly lacks a firm editorial overview: one summer issue
had two separate features on dying of cancer. But above all Easy Living
lacks a proper conversation with its reader: an affirmation of her life
choices, resourcefulness, and humour. Forbes’

Editor’s Letter is never more than a luxury shopping list.

It
is telling that amid Easy Living’s advertising campaign, Good
Housekeeping gained 60,000 readers (year-on-year in the Jan-June ABCs).
It seems many women were enticed into newsagents by the EL marketing,
but walked out holding GH.

Once you’ve got over the old-fashioned
title, the pure scope of GH – from politics and books to Nigella and a
witty modern etiquette guide – is breathtaking. It has one of the
largest staffs of any monthly magazine, and it shows. Conde Nast has
sneered at GH for its frumpiness. But, although I’m precisely the kind
of London domestic lightweight who should love Easy Living, I know
whose “stress-free suppers” I’d cook.

And although Conde Nast is
also scornful about relaunched She, it is a new tank on Easy Living’s
lawn. While the design, a cheerful rip-off of US bestseller Real
Simple, is too chilly and anal for some, She has a Martha Stewart-esque
skill, diligence and love in every detailed page.

Tina Brown once
likened editing Vanity Fair magazine to hosting a glamorous party. Easy
Living needs to be a PTA barbeque at the coolest school in Holland
Park, a mid-week pot-luck supper chez Trudie Styler. It needs to be
somewhere its reader aspires to be. But even then I’m still not sure
I’d trust the canapes.

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