- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 11, 2005

Washington, in all its sudden newfound fabulousness, is under a full-scale media blitz as two of three new upscale luxury magazines are officially launched this week.

Yowza, how did fuddy-duddyville become so instantly the epicenter of style? Deserving of not one, but three big shiny books celebrating the noncelebrities of the Potomac with mug shots, breathless party coverage of yawn-inducing charity events, blizzards of invitations and lists. Ah, the lists. Who’s in, who’s out. The Top 100 Beautiful People, the 50 Most Fabulous Guests, the 10 Best Dressed Indicted Co-Conspirators.

Capitol File, the brainchild of the very rich young New York publishing phenom Jason Binn, debuts this week and has already made its mark by throwing glitzy, celebrity-filled parties, much to the envy of his competitors, DC Style, which debuted in May, and the simply named DC, which officially lands in town tomorrow, courtesy of Modern Luxury Publishing Inc. (DC will publish only two issues this year, but eventually plans to go monthly.)

All three books have controlled circulation, which means they are mostly giveaways to people in the right ZIP codes, luxury hotels, limos, the New York-Washington shuttles, congressional offices, embassies and trendy boutiques. All three are competing for the same ad dollars.

Capitol File will target homes valued in excess of $750,000, with household incomes above $250,000 and credit card expenditure upward of $100,000.

“There’s tons of money,” said Mr. Binn in a telephone interview from New York. “And the money’s outside, in the suburbs. And I find it strange to be in a ‘war.’ I embrace my competitors.”

Is Washington big enough for all three mags? Snarky bloggers already are dissing 37-year-old Mr. Binn — his unbridled social aspirations, his shameless self-promotion — but all three publishers and their hired PR guns believe there is untapped gold in this sleepy Southern town where guests routinely slip out of dinner parties by 10 p.m. and where the President barely stays up past the evening news.

Is this buttoned-up city, where a woman wearing Roberto Cavalli cleavage is considered a certified tart or from New York, ready for its extreme makeover?

“I think so,” said Washington publicist Linda Roth, who works for Mr. Binn. “I think D.C. had a reputation for being stodgy, and no one bothered to question it. I think it’s heating up a notch, all around town.”

The mag wars began back in early spring when Capitol File hired away the advertising director from Washington Life, previously the only oversized social diary in town, which has been in business for 14 years. Then Mr. Binn went after Washington Life advertisers and subscribers.

While editor Nancy Bagley claimed not to be threatened, Mr. Binn has an impressive track record. His company (Niche Media LLC) — which publishes free luxury titles L.A. Confidential, Aspen Peak, Gotham and Hamptons — raked in $60 million in revenues last year, according to Advertising Age.

Capitol File, said Mr. Binn, is his biggest start to date: 70,000 copies, 350 pages, more than 100 full-page ads at $16,000 a page.

Washington Life, a longtime bible for the increasingly tiny Old Guard, has stayed afloat thanks to the vanity of the partygoers it fawningly chronicles. All three new glossies promise to skew younger and hipper. And all three have sharp elbows and high-priced publicists prowling for press coverage.

Washingtonian magazine, which has 150,000 subscribers, has managed to survive based on service pieces (Best Doctors, etc.) But it will likely seem as futzy as a Brooks Brothers V-neck sweater next to the newer, flashier interlopers.

“It will be fun to see them come, and you’ll probably see some of them go fairly quickly,” said Washingtonian editor Jack Limpert.

DC Style hosted a coming-out party in March at Oya restaurant, featuring splits of Moet & Chandon and a velvet rope line. Thirty-five-year-old publisher Dana Spain-Smith, chief operating officer of DLG Media Holdings LLC, made her mark with the highly successful Philadelphia Style magazine. The part-time Washington resident promised more launch parties with each of its six yearly editions — with a planned circulation of 60,000 aimed at 25- to 45-year-old, two-paycheck-earning urban professionals.

Capitol File raised the bar when it hosted a pre-pre-launch party for actress Fran Drescher in May and then celebrated it’s pre-launch with a movie premiere (the aptly titled “The Great Raid”) attended by Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat; John McCain, Arizona Republican, and stars Benjamin Bratt and Joseph Fiennes.

Jason Binn, who with his wife Haley owns homes in New York, Los Angeles and Southhampton, hitched a ride to town on producer Harvey Weinstein’s private jet.

The official launch party takes place Wednesday, hosted by premier cover subject actress (and non-D.C. resident) Ashley Judd.

The magazine also plans to host a fashion show next month at the Corcoran Gallery of Art where Mr. Binn’s brother Jonathan Binstock reigns as a curator. (Somewhere along the way, Mr. Binn had his “stock” removed from his last name.)

There is no doubt that Mr. Binn has developed a highly successful formula: celebrity on the cover, head shots of himself and a few others at parties and after parties; lush, full-page ads for Hermes, Dior, Cartier, and David Yurman jewelry; boldfaced names as “contributors.” (Bill Maher writes a column for Gotham magazine. Capitol File’s first issue includes guest columns by Larry King, James Carville and Wolf Blitzer, among others.)

And a plethora of lists: What’s hot, what’s not. This is a guaranteed formula for endless cutting-edge cultural revisionism, as any editor knows. What is smoldering this month — vintage motorcycle boots, gold-flecked shrugs — surely will be cinder by the next issue.

Mr. Binn allows us to dream. He invites us into the mink-lined inner sanctum, and reading his glossies is a mesmerizing escape. A fantasy where women wear $15,000 Chanel gowns and leggy models are draped over Armani-clad boy toys.

As fantasies go, why not let Washington in on the dream?

“It’s a sign of the times,” he agreed.

Mr. Binn has been known to pay large sums of money for marketing databases. His partners also include Cristina Greeven Cuomo, daughter-in-law of former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo. His associate editor is Jamie Biden, nephew of Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat.

John Carroll, publisher of DC, once sold ads for Washingtonian magazine.

Indeed, all three titles will likely have a cross-pollination of advertisers at their parties and in their pages. The first issue of DC Style features a shiny, upbeat spread on Tareq and Michaele Salahi, owners of Virginia’s Oasis Vineyards. Coincidentally, the winery has a prominent ad and link on the magazine’s Web site.

But already, there is some sniping. Capitol File reportedly listed an “advisory” board on its Web site but had to pull it after several high-profile so-called “members” were surprised to find their names included.

(Mr. Binn said this was not exactly the case. There was one person who did not wish to be included and the list was never “sent out or distributed.”)

In Boston, where Niche is starting a new magazine Boston Common, publisher Mr. Binn reluctantly admitted that his company stole a list of ad contacts from established Boston magazine and recently settled a lawsuit out of court.

There have been claims of party crashing by rivals and bad-mouthing. Used to be, that was politics — not publishing — in Washington.

All three newbies will no doubt proclaim what is hot: the hottest chef, the hottest plastic surgeon, the hottest personal astrologer.

Can Washington withstand all this heat?

“That’s a good question,” says Washingtonian’s Jack Limpert, noting that the magazine is celebrating its 40th anniversary. “They’ll be highly visual, which will be fun. Who doesn’t like to look at pictures of people? The question is whether that will be enough to carry a magazine.”

Longtime Washington publishing types see one setback to Mr. Binn’s formula: There simply aren’t enough real celebrities in Washington to celebrate. Alan Greenspan would certainly qualify, but it’s unlikely his scowl would sell. “It’s not about celebrities,” Mr. Binn argued. “It’s about capturing the culture of a city.”

One thing in all the magazines’ favor is the amount of money flowing through Washington these days, a vast difference from 20 years ago. Lawyers, lobbyists and international types have all ratcheted up the annual charge card bills, and observers say Washington is a top retail market, with plenty of upscale shoppers and plenty of ad dollars to go around. But the local magazine graveyard already has three titles that went toes up in the 1980s: Regardies, Museum & Arts, and Dossier.

As for future skirmishes, “If we can co-exist and get along, it will be good for everyone,” said Dana Spain-Smith of DC Style. “It’s a red-hot market, with new restaurants and boutiques with luxury lifestyle goods. The people who win are the readers.”


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