Getting a Lucky break helps a shopper keep up

What do you wear to go shopping with an editor of the hottest shopping magazine in the country? The tweed skirt and a daring red top? Or something safer -- gray slacks and a ribbed sweater? Though I may study the models, fashion is not my strength, and my closet -- although groaning -- does not come with instructions.

But then I remember my date. She's an editor at Lucky, "the magazine about shopping." It won't matter what I wear because she'll understand and want to help find me something new to make me look even better. Without patronizing, she'll offer tips to "warm up" my gray slacks with a soft pink sweater and kitten-heeled pumps.

This isn't a rendezvous with some high-fashion editor glaring at me through rhinestone-studded glasses. This is Gigi Guerra -- effervescent, wrap-around smiling Gigi -- the newly named executive editor of Lucky, but really just a sweet kid from Texas who used to work in a shop but now shops for a living.

She shops for all of us in the hopes that if we read closely and frequently enough we will be able to put ourselves together as effortlessly as she does.

For some of us this is a stretch: Guerra is 30, tall, a lanky size 4, an impossibly chic New York woman. But frankly, the job of this or any Lucky editor is to check the attitude at the door each morning and think for busy, bargain-happy women with no fashion sense in their DNA.

In the new Conde Nast skyscraper at 4 Times Square -- a lush layer cake of the slickest publications in America from Vogue to Vanity Fair -- the eighth floor is what could be considered the cheap custard filling. Nasty things are said about the editors on 8.

"Nobody in the pure fashion world cares about Lucky, and nobody recognizes [editor] Kim France in the front row at shows or is even curious about who she is," sniffs an editor of a dog-whistle fashion magazine -- as in the pitch is so high only certain breeds can hear it.

If only Lucky's circulation hadn't rocketed to a million since its launch in late 2000.

If only Conde Nast wasn't so ecstatic over Lucky's success that it will launch a male version, Cargo, this spring.

If only advertisers weren't competing for space in Lucky as the best bet to generate sales.

If only Lucky hadn't been named Advertising Age's Magazine of 2003, driving the "real" publishing world crazy because of what it lacks -- journalism -- if that's what you call endless articles about Gwyneth Paltrow's eyebrow arch and how to hold onto your man.

Lucky is a "maglog," an unvarnished focus on clothes, shoes, bags and beauty products displayed with minimum of text in bold layouts aimed at getting readers into stores. It feels like a cross between a hobby magazine and a catalog with a "self-help" point of view. But while there are page upon page of items, they are displayed in context: how to coordinate 30 pairs of jeans with a top and shoes, how to care for them, how to find the best fit. Gigi Guerra is her own kind of purist. She'll shop anywhere -- malls, flea markets,dangerous neighborhoods. On this day, she is just back from Mexico, where she visited 65 stores for a future shopping guide. She is bearing up well under the intestinal bug she picked up on this tough assignment. Still, she is all too happy to show me around her favorite shops in Manhattan.

"Shopping with another woman or talking about shopping is really intimate, you really connect," she says.

Before we troll the Lower East Side's Ludlow Street, we stop for coffee. I offer to buy her a cookie -- today is her 30th birthday. She carefully examines several wrapped desserts, smelling them first and eyeing every nut and berry before choosing one. This is a window into how a Lucky girl shops.

"There is something great to buy everywhere. You just have to know how to look at it and evaluate and, always, have fun doing it," says Gigi, who calls herself a "scent hound."

This is not my strength, smelling beauty products or fingering fabric. I try it, though, running a hand over a teal blue velvet cargo skirt and matching jacket at our first stop at a hip boutique. I wonder how a normal-size woman could wear that much teal velvet without looking like a sofa.

Gigi whips into action, picking out a wacky T-shirt, cute pointy shoes and a couple of tangled necklaces that would break up all that teal and give the outfit a professional polish. If only I could have Gigi with me next week when I will be struggling to dress for a black-tie dinner. She reminds me, again, this is the point of Lucky: to station a Gigi in every closet, advising what makes your hips look too big and your bust too small.

A day later, Andrea Linett, Lucky's creative director, is supervising a shoot in a small photo studio on W. 4th Street. Here's the problem she will solve for readers in the February issue: "In one week, you have an important meeting followed by a date and no time to shop. Here's what you can order out of a catalog."

A Lucky editor has gathered clothes, shoes and jewelry from two dozen catalogs. A lanky and remote model, who babbles in Russian into her cellphone, is made up, head to toe, to play the part of a young career girl on the go. Linett gets ready to style the whole problem by plugging her IPOD into the studio computer and cranking her favorite country-western tunes.

Linett, 38, has just returned from Los Angeles, where she was promoting "The Lucky Shopping Manual," a sort of fashion-for-dummies book. Although the average Lucky reader is around 30, Linett says she is stunned that grandmothers and teenagers beg her for autographs. "They love us," she says.

As she runs her hands along the rack of catalog clothes trying to decide what to put on the model, Linett, who is wearing skin-tight corduroys, an oversized 1965 silver belt buckle featuring a bucking bronco, old cowboy boots and a black T-shirt, admits she wouldn't be caught dead in any of it. She wears no makeup and long wild hair that she repeatedly puts in a bun, then unloosens.

She pulls a white blazer, white satin shirt, gray pin-striped pants, black suede heels and a lime-green clutch out of the pile. The model is too skinny. So they pin the clothes around her tightly.

Aware of the complaint that Lucky is no more than a catalog itself, Linett tries to make sure the model avoids the cliche hand-on-hip poses.

"Awful," Linett whispers as the photographer shoots. "She's horrible." The editor dresses the model in different outfits. The next day they reshoot all the outfits with a new model. "Our girls have to look like the one really pretty girlfriend you have rather than some unattainable crazy alien kind of girl like the models in other magazines," Linett says.

That problem is solved. But what about my dinner next week?

Secretly, I'm wishing she could she just run her hands through my closet and put together something classy. I tell her what I have in mind: a black organza shirt, pencil skirt, fishnets and sling backs.

"Do you feel great in it?" she asks.

Does anyone every feel great at a black-tie dinner?

Evidently she does. At her L.A. book party, she cut off a glitzy long dress at the hips and threw it over a pair of blue jeans. "That's my look," she says. "It's more me than wearing just the dress."

Lucky, Linett explains, is trying to help the reader feel confident enough to develop "her own look and go with it."

I hear her. I'm confident. I picture a fabulous me all decked out.

As if she's reading my mind she instructs: "Don't wear the fishnets. That's too much."

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