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What's hot today? DailyCandy in Los Angeles

IF YOU'RE one of DailyCandy's 2.5 million subscribers, you already know the online newsletter with its sly signature illustrations and chirpy, conspiratorial tone. Each piece reads like a whisper in the ear from a giddy chum who's always in the know -- the girl who told you where to score a one-of-a-kind feather headband and dragged you to an after-hours vegan cafe before the food fundamentalists flooded in. Even better, this gal pal never stands you up for a new beau or a better plan. She's just one click away, with a tip on where to buy a vintage croquet set or skinny leather leggings.

Sure, maybe it was easy to dismiss DailyCandy as a breathless coed in the world of heavyweight online sites and fashion magazines. But not anymore.

On Aug. 5, cable TV behemoth and Internet provider Comcast Corp. bought the 8-year-old company for a reported $125 million. (Expect to see enticements for DailyCandy on Comcast properties such as Fandango.) The blogosphere gulped and then promptly smirked. Fashion magazine editors stomped their stilettos for not starting their own lifestyle newsletters. The sale inspired the type of jealousy reserved for twentysomething blonds who land septuagenarian billionaires. (For context: MySpace sold to Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. for $580 million in 2005; NBC bought iVillage, a female-focused site oozing estrogen, for $600 million in 2006.)

But beyond envy, what emerged from this sale is a toast to the new brand of tastemaker. It's a street-level source that bucks the fashion system of seasonal offerings and big-name advertising pressure, but still manages to spur subscribers to scurry off to snap up of-the-moment striped knee socks or an ionic hair treatment. DailyCandy squeaks out fresh style content every day, and fashion magazines later nibble from their content. There's no iconic Wizardess of Oz like Anna Wintour dictating the trends either. Behind the gingham curtain here in Southern California are Crystal Meers, 29, the Los Angeles editor who works out of her Silver Lake home, and editorial director Eve Epstein, 37, who divides her time between her Chinatown house and the mother ship in New York.

At DailyCandy, the recipe for a write-up is Betty Crocker simple: Find a fresh angle on a product or an activity, add humor and make it actionable. Don't mention a price, unless it's bracingly high or low. Here's a recent DailyCandy dispatch from Meers for a new line of designer denim: "Jammie pants, fluffy bunny slippers, and a half empty box of Gallo -- looks like someone's got the blues. Or, in this case, a lack thereof."

The tone is always empathetic and often tinged with self-deprecation. Think of pretty girls who slouch to be more approachable. Zany works too.

"This job is perfect for me because I don't have a very long attention span and I love to try new things like . . ." says Meers, who resembles Charlie Brown's love interest, the little red-haired girl. She brushes aside her ginger bangs and narrows her blue eyes. "Um, a trapeze class."

Meers, who gets 300 e-mail pitches per day, mostly scouts neighborhoods to find new fodder. "I will trot down a street like Abbot Kinney in Venice and leave a note and my business card at a storefront that's under construction," she says.

On a recent expedition, Meers -- who is as fair and slender as a birch tree -- eyes a vintage painting of a ballerina and trails her fingers on a dainty Victorian tufted sofa. She smiles slightly at an oversized ceramic zebra from the 1950s, but doesn't linger long enough to attract sales help.

"What a great shop. When did you open?" she asks the owner of this furniture and curio shop called 45 Three Modern Vintage Home on Fairfax Avenue in Little Ethiopia. The inquiry is subtle and ordinary -- but it's a million-dollar question, one that could conceivably triple the store's sales and start its phone a-jangling nonstop. But in only three words -- "two months ago" -- the owner loses it all. The store isn't new enough to merit a write-up.

How sweet it almost was.

"Our hits tripled within three days after we were on DailyCandy," sweater designer Lynne Hiriak says of her line Cardigan, which was featured Aug. 11. "My sales director got calls from buyers at other stores too."

Last month, DailyCandy published its second book, "The DailyCandy Lexicon: Words That Don't Exist But Should." Here's a term that's not in the book: "Retail sugar rush" -- when shop owners gush like Oreo addicts after being written up on the site.

"Tyra Banks came in because she saw us on DailyCandy," says Melissa Richardson, whose Melrose Heights boutique Beckley nabbed a write-up in May on its opening day. "We did like $12,000 in sales on our first day of business, which is amazing."

With such beefy stats on their side, the editors don't mind flexing their biceps. Mention DailyCandy to a few fashion and restaurant publicists and they start to choose their words as carefully as U.N. diplomats.

"They definitely like to be first to write about something and get exclusive deals for their readers," says Kris Ferraro of Wagner/Junker Agency, a firm that represents restaurants, shops and salons. "We try to make them happy."

Another publicist puts it more bluntly: "Look. You don't want to get on the wrong side of the DailyCandy girls," she says, after being assured that she won't be named. "They're perfectly nice. But they like to get their way."

Sweet strength

"THE DailyCandy girls"? Sounds like a gang of hyperactive prep-school teens with braces. Click “who we are” on the website's "About Us" page and you'll see photos of dozens of pretty, smiling women with confident hair. Dany Levy, a style writer who worked at New York magazine, started the newsletter with an e-mail blast to 700 people. Now, those blasts go out to readers in 12 cities, including San Francisco, Seattle and London. There are 60 employees scattered about.

Over a recent lunch at the bistro Palihouse in West Hollywood, Meers and Epstein demurred when asked about their reputation around town as tough chicks. "It's not like we're being demanding . . . " Meers says, poking at her arugula. "But my biggest fear is that someone will read something I wrote about and say, 'I already knew that.' "

Epstein, who is petite and has a smile that could get her out of a speeding ticket, nods. After some awkward back and forth, the two trade thoughts on the importance of getting exclusives and suddenly they're empowered by their, well, power.

"We want to keep the content fresh and our readers are already so savvy," says Epstein. She sits up straighter. "I'm unapologetic about wanting to be first."

That eagerness to best the competition can force a retailer to open shop before the paint dries. Case in point: When Santa Monica boutique Poolside was written up in June 2007, owner Stephanie Addis hadn't yet fully stocked her inventory of clothes, accessories and vintage bric-a-brac. "The walls were still being painted when I sat in the store with the writer and told her what would be there," Addis recalls. "I was nervous, but you don't want to say 'no' to DailyCandy."

Not that she's complaining, mind you. When the piece ran on the site, Addis says she received hundreds of phone calls and e-mails within days. She adds that Lucky and Domino magazines both came calling because they spotted the DailyCandy review.

Daily Candy does have its detractors. The feminist website Jezebel.com routinely parodies the write-ups under the heading, "Daily Cavity." And Meers' reference to a "box of Gallo" probably doesn't resonate with a woman who prefers a bottle of Grenache. Will that friend you have in DailyCandy help you pluck out those gray hairs?

"We don't intend to grow old with our readers," Epstein says. She sighs and smiles, sounding almost sad to part ways with a friend. "That said, some of us are growing old, and I am one of them." The company has already branched out with regional versions of its DailyCandy Kids.

How about DailyDiabetic?

monica.corcoran@latimes.com

Read Corcoran's blog, All the Rage, at latimes.com/alltherage.

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