Originally published May 5, 1997
Any woman who ever wore a size 12 or larger dress knows the frustration of seeing a shelf full of women’s magazines starring nothing but size 1 models.
Oh sure, those mags are about more than fashion — there’s sex, food, fad diets and celebrities, too — but on principle alone, they give most larger gals a bad case of hives.
Enter Julie Lewit-Nirenberg and Nancy Nadler LeWinter, two well-traveled veterans of the women’s mags. They may just represent the salvation that fuller figured women are crying for. They call it Mode, “the real-sized woman’s ally.”
Two things you won’t find in Mode: miracle diets and quick fitness fixes.
Like its little sister publications, Mode is also about fashion, sex, food and celebrities. But its models are fleshy, womanly — a different size of beautiful than usually seen in print. Not fat, not Reubenesque — normal. And while there is the requisite Revlon cosmetics ad featuring not-size-12-plus Cindy Crawford, most models in the ads are likewise larger than you would find in Cosmopolitan.
Driving this magazine is marketing, pure and simple. Women’s Wear Daily reports that about half the female population of the United States — 65 million women — wears size 12 or larger. And clothes in those sizes represent $20 billion in annual sales.
At the wheel of the revolution are Lewit-Nirenberg and LeWinter, two confessed opportunists — but not two women with a personal interest in their target market.
“Are you trying to ask us if we are that size?” Lewit-Nirenberg asks Mr. Media, giggling at his obvious discomfort.
On the one hand, it’s not like I asked their age.
“We have an enormous personal interest,” LeWinter says, “although we are not physically in the category. We are shapely women who are not at the point of 12 and up, but I am pretty close. I am a 10, and Julie is an 8.”
This is LeWinter’s fourth magazine launch, after Esquire Gentleman, Esquire Sportsman and Marie Claire. She was also a director of Glamour and Vogue.
Lewit-Nirenberg is almost as experienced; her resume includes being the founding publisher of Mirabella and New York Woman. She was most recently publisher of Mademoiselle.
Although they never worked together before, they do have one magazine, Esquire, in common. LeWinter was its first woman publisher and Lewit-Nirenberg was there a decade earlier as an editor.
After so many years of working with the enemy of average size women, the partners saw an irresistible marketing opportunity for identifying and serving the Mode woman, who they assume is entirely disaffected from the little sister mags.
“We knew how narrow-visioned the other fashion magazines were in terms of dealing with reality and what the sizes of the American women actually are versus the size of their models, and we said the two should be closer together,” LeWinter says.
Mr. Media — who, in the interest of full disclosure, wears a size 34 short — doesn’t understand why the established women’s magazines don’t cover a broader range of women.
“Fashions are cut in Misses, which is, let’s say, a 2 through 14, and Women’s, which is 12W through 24W,” LeWinter says. “So it would be pretty hard for one magazine to do all fashion. That is the logical or rational reason. The irrational and more emotional reason is that conventional fashion magazines honestly don’t think that fuller-figured women are as fashionable and that instead, a boyish body, waif-like appearance, is fashionable. Not more motivating, certainly, but yet they obviously think that is more fashionable because it is what they are putting on their pages.”
“The more waif-looking, thinner models are used as clothes hangers,” Lewit-Nirenberg adds. “They are used to display the clothes that the designers are designing and are not intended to be seen as women wearing clothes.”
If nothing else, the greatest service the Mode partners may present is pointing fuller figured women toward more sources for fashionable clothes. Finding clothes in size 12 and up that don’t look like sacks is a challenge for many women outside of major metropolitan hubs.
“Just as in Misses, you can find fashion at all price points in the Women’s category and our first issue dealt with some major retailers,” LeWinter says. “Our second issue deals with catalogs. Our third issue will deal with mass marketers such as JCPenney, Sears, Lane Bryant, as well as Dillard and Marshall Field.”
Supermodels such as Crawford, Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks are virtual brand names in the little sister magazines. The only size 12-plus woman approaching such fame is Emme, who models Playtex bras for women who wear sizes 36-50, B to DD. She was recently profiled in the New York Times, which mentioned the launch of Mode as an afterthought. But if Mode catches on, it will no doubt launch a generation of Emmes.
“We feel strongly that there is a great deal of talent,” Lewit-Nirenberg says. “We are going to be identifying and creating a whole new look of model.”
“There are women in our second issue that you will look at and you will just know, this one is destined to be famous,” LeWinter says.
Lauren, Mode‘s first cover model, is photographed from mid-chest up, so to speak, and she doesn’t actually appear much larger than a woman who might be on the cover of Vogue. Are the editors intentionally shading her physique to draw in more readers?
Not at all, Lewit-Nirenberg insists.
“Women come in all sizes and all shapes,” she says. “A fuller-figured woman might not have a fuller face. There is no cookie-cutter. You can’t say, ‘You are going to be a size 14 from the neck down and a size 6 from the neck up. Everybody is different. Lauren, for example, our cover model, has a great bone structure and she is full-figured from the neck down. Somebody else could have a round face and be very thin, so there is no standard.”
Among the feature stories in the first issue of Mode is “On the Flaunt Line,” a “plus size women we love” story that collects size-positive remarks from robust celebrities such as Bette Midler, Rosie O’Donnell and Aretha Franklin.
Whoopi Goldberg is quoted as saying, “Even at my heaviest, I’m a fairly good-looking chick. Just because you’re a big woman doesn’t mean you’re not sexy and attractive as hell.”
Unfortunately, none of these women was actually interviewed for this particular story; the quotes were nicked from other sources. Is that because celebrity women won’t want to be identified with Mode‘s size 12-plus audience?
“I don’t think we are going to have any problem there at all,” LeWinter says. “One of the reasons that a full-figured woman gets to be a celebrity in the first place is that she has a real confidence about herself. When you look at what the press does to celebrities who gain weight, they are usually celebrities who have always positioned themselves solely by their beauty and the press becomes very cruel. But whether or not Bette Midler gains or loses weight is not an issue.”
The voice LeWinter wants Mode readers to hear in the magazine is very different than that of Cosmopolitan or Vogue, perhaps closer to Marie Claire.
“The tone is ‘Lighten up a bit, this isn’t brain surgery,'” she says. “If you don’t buy the right pair of shoes this season, you will be okay. And while we will tell you what we think might be the right pair of shoes, we won’t tell you you must buy them. The other magazines are more dictatorial.”
Mode will publish four times in 1997 and 10 times next year. The partners say advertiser response has been exceptional.
Let’s wrap this interview with an answer to the question on everyone’s lips: What the heck does “Mode” mean, anyway?
“It means fashion in French,” according to Lewit-Nirenberg.
“And how to get there in English,” adds her partner. “Like if someone said to you, what is your mode of transportation? We felt that this magazine was literally going to be both to the women who read it.”
“Nancy’s last launch was Marie Claire,” Lewit-Nirenberg continues, “and mine was Mirabella, and what we wanted to do was have less than five letters in the name . . . ”
“Well, actually,” LeWinter counters, “we lined all of our magazines up — Mademoiselle, Mirabella and Marie Clare — and we wanted to keep an “M” thing going.”