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Citizen Media Critic: Lucky magazine

Writer Rachel Kramer Bussel discusses her conflicted relationship with the infamous women's shopping mag

By Rachel Kramer Bussel - February 9, 2005

Lucky, the self-proclaimed magazine about shopping, is, much like its subject matter, easy to simultaneously love and hate. "How would a glorified catalog (something that's usually free) ever stay in business?" I scoffed when the magazine debuted. Then I found myself subscribing, lured by dreams of fashion nirvana.

Now, I read Lucky like I read the Mrs. Fields catalog: late at night, a little bit hungry, when I'm just tired enough to be suckered in by the idea that these clothes, if only I were to possess them in spades, would change my life. In addition to "soft blazers," makeup and decorating tips, it also features Lucky editors' favorite picks in the appropriately-named "What I Want NOW" section. Filled with ex-Sassy staffers, Lucky holds the promise of being just like any of them—cool, arty girls all grown up who care less now about being wacky and brainy and more about drawing stares on the subway (though they take pains to distance themselves from the Vogues of the world.) As the Lucky media kit proudly proclaims, editor-in-chief Kim France didn't rise through "the fashion farm team."

And if there's any doubt that Lucky is here to stay, just look at the other shopping mags have sprung up in its wake, including Cargo, for men, and Shop, Etc. At least Lucky is honest. Instead of trying to soft-peddle its sales pitch, it's all right there: Buy this! And this! And this! It even features little "Yes," "No," and "Maybe" stickers you can use to mark your favorites. There's something equally seductive and repulsive about a magazine that's an unabashed, nonstop paean to consumerism. But the hating is easy. It's wanting the items that's a bit trickier.

"There's something equally seductive and repulsive about a magazine that's an unabashed, nonstop paean to consumerism. But the hating is easy. It's wanting the items that's a bit trickier."

I've continued to subscribe because there's just something about all the shiny, pretty new shoes, bags, and clothes, nestled together like they were born that way, that draws me in. It's not that I'm about to buy that pair of beautiful $400 shoes, but I will hang a page filled with several pairs of sexy heels up on my cubicle wall as a sort of reminder that these things exist. I can appreciate their beauty as art, the curve of a scalloped suede ankle-strap (their terminology; I just call it a "pretty shoe") without needing to own it, or mustering the energy to go search for it. It's seeing all of the newest of everything laid out together—nine pairs of sneakers, or twelve handbags—more than I'll ever need or use, but somehow blending together in a way that almost makes me want to own them all. They wouldn't be as fun singled out, and altogether they form a pretty picture, like a little girl's dolls lined up neatly in formation.

As I try to dig my way out of five years' of accumulated goods in my apartment, one of the main components is magazines. Digging out from three feet of rubble means endless bags of recycling, but a few issues of Lucky remain. The last thing I need is more stuff, but I can't quite seem to part with them.

But just when I started to get truly lost in Lucky-land, seriously contemplating what I might have to give up to get the latest trendy handbag, headlines like "if this perfume were a dress…" put me back in my place. One dress, from Calvin Klein collection (paired with Calvin Klein's Eternity Moment) goes for a $5,300. This is followed by The Lucky Bag Guide, featuring 14 full pages of bags, including eight in "cow print." Yet somehow Lucky tries to include even the nerdy girls: in the same issue, they ask four female novelists (mostly of the chick lit variety) to "reveal their favorite statement-making makeup."

The last page is actually the most helpful, and features quickie guides to local spas and shops, which I have actually used to find a good manicure. For me, Lucky is a little bit of late-night escapism, because the truth is, even with all the money in the world, I could never pull off being a true Lucky girl, wearing the best in office casual, knowing when to wear a ruffled blouse and having a daytime and nighttime outfit. I still like to dabble in every kind of color at Sephora, consider purple fishnets a fashion statement, and am thrilled when I can match my skirt to my shoes, so perhaps I'm beyond Lucky's help.

Reading Lucky gives me a peek into other girls' lives—girls who actually mix cocktails—and put them on coasters. I'm usually left feeling hopelessly clueless and out of the loop, as if everyone but me somehow learned to be a grownup who doesn't pin posters of their favorite bands on the wall or eat cereal for dinner anymore. Lucky girls, I imagine, host dinner parties and drink wine and call each other "darling," while I'd be hard pressed to recall the last time I had someone over for Chinese takeout. The closest I get to feeling truly part of the Lucky universe is entering the series of "Lucky Breaks" contests they offer each month.

"Reading Lucky gives me a peek into other girls' lives—girls who actually mix cocktails—and put them on coasters."

But Lucky isn't without its redeeming features. Each issue offers an extended travel piece, giving you the best of shopping in Vancouver, Austin, or Boston. You can leave town but still return laden with bags, these stories seem to say, and there's something equally audacious and alluring about going to another city just to shop. And I'll admit that I love coming back from a trip and being able to say about my new favorite article of clothing, "Oh, I got this in ___," as if somehow having a non-New York item in my wardrobe automatically makes me cooler. Yet again, Lucky manages to tap into my own consumer obsessions, ones I don't always like to acknowledge but that run deep. Anyone who's ever used shopping as a cure for a breakup, depression, boredom, or procrastination will understand the spell Lucky can cast.

Any criticism of Lucky's shop-till-you-drop attitude is tempered with the knowledge that when I pick it up, I know that's what I'm gonna get. Since they state it loud and clear, I can only be disgusted with myself when I drift off to sleep feeling like a loser for not being able to afford the femme frills I covet. But if instead of letting Lucky fill me with material lust, I read it like a child's picture book, oohing and aahing over the bright, pretty colors, I can retain a little of that Lucky glow as I drift off to sleep. It can be less about shopping, and more about browsing, and dreaming—of endless, ever-expanding closets, where every item in them makes me look beautiful. And after a long, draining day, I can't find the wherewithal to argue with that.

Rachel Kramer Bussel is an editor, freelance writer, and blogger

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