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New Colors - "Toning Down The Colors Of Benetton"

Bitter that my Colors/Kalman entry didn't win the Trivia contest? Not me. (Intimidated by all the rhyming going on in Round 2? You bet.)

Anyway, The New York Times (free registration and retinal scan required) has a piece on Kurt Andersen's revamped – and more accessible – Colors magazine for Benetton.

"Benetton Race issue"
The "race" issue

''It seemed important to have a subject that wasn't too off-putting at first glance, said the new editorial director, Kurt Andersen, perhaps best known as a founder of the trouble-making Spy magazine.

Colors had become so confrontational under Oliviero Toscani, who started the magazine in 1991, that it seemed to defeat the original mission, which was to bring a sense of social responsibility to Benetton's $2 billion-a-year apparel line

''It has been very focused on misery and pain,'' said Mr. Andersen, promising that future issues would be a blend of old Life magazine and National Geographic.

In some ways it is the same old Colors. It still insists that fashion is beside the point and it is still run at a loss by the Benetton family, one of Italy's wealthiest, whose holdings include not just their apparel stores but also Argentine real estate, the Autogrille chain of restaurants in Europe and the revenue it collects from running Italy's privatized highway system. What has changed since Colors was introduced 13 years ago is the world itself.

The new issue takes up fandom and all its permutations -- and for the first time the magazine actually contains reported articles. But there is no imperative; it is unclear why you should care now about sports fanaticism or the celebrity worship.

Mr. Toscani, who was Benetton's creative director, and Tibor Kalman, the graphic designer who was the magazine's editor, started Colors under the fairly new rubric of multiculturalism. The first issue announced itself with a squall: on the cover was a photograph of a newborn baby still bloody from its trip down the birth canal as its gaping little mouth gave lung to headlines like ''Cowboys in Poland'' and ''Heroes in Guatemala.''

Colors wasn't the first magazine to present global issues in terms of actual lives, ''real people telling their stories,'' but it was the first to do so with a clothing catalog appended to it. At the back, sharing equal time with articles about Thailand's sex trade and the rain forest, were pages of models in Benetton's latest fashion. But by the end of the 90's, Colors had become more and more strident and less credible. Other magazines have come along, frankly aimed at products rather than principles. You don't even need to wait for a journalist to tell your story. You can do it on a blog.

Approached last summer by Carlo Tunioli, Benetton's chief executive in the United States, Mr. Andersen said he took the job in part because he had admired what his friend Mr. Kalman had done and in part because it fit in with his other activities, which include finishing a novel for Random House and being the host of a public radio program.

''There was this certain sentimental karmic appeal of picking up Tibor's baton,'' Mr. Andersen said one afternoon on the terrace at Pastis in Manhattan. One of the first changes he proposed to Mr. Tunioli was to trim the Colors publication schedule, to four times a year from six, so that more resources could be devoted to staff. The magazine has a circulation of 200,000, predominantly outside the United States. Single copies are $7.95.

''The idea of overseeing a quarterly, just selfishly, was very appealing to me,'' Mr. Andersen said. ''It gives me exactly as much magazine involvement as I want to have, given the other stuff I'm doing.'' The staff includes Simon Dumenco, who is executive editor, and Emily Oberman and Bonnie Siegler, both of the graphic design firm Number 17, who have given new punch to Mr. Kalman's original look.

''So far, it's been a fabulous gig for us all because we've gotten no very specific guidance from anybody,'' Mr. Andersen said. Mr. Tunioli said that Luciano Benetton, the chairman of the company, viewed Colors as an extension of the family's other social and philanthropic interests, and had no plans to interfere.

Perhaps because of that free reign, Mr. Andersen doesn't see any loss of prestige in being associated with a magazine subsidized by a maker of trendy clothes. ''I suppose a certain kind of traditional, highly serious journalist would say, 'Kurt, are you out of your mind?,' '' Mr. Andersen said, shrugging. ''But if I had listened to them, I would have never started Spy, either.''

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But this time the subject is fan worship, with surprisingly little resonance to the political turmoil of the world.

"It seemed important to have a subject that wasn't too off-putting at first glance, said the new editorial director, Kurt Andersen, perhaps best known as a founder of the trouble-making Spy magazine.

Who was it that said; it's easier to tame a wild horse than blow life into a dead one? While it might look like Kurt is filing down the edges of colors, I'm sure the old SPY master has a trick or two up his sleeve.... Fan worship. Interesting. While it might look glitzy on the surface that can be a really sick subject. What am I chatting here for, I better hit the newsstand and see what the fuss is about.

Oh, I too am intimidated by the rhyming masters of the trivia thread. They should start an adland rap-group if they are ad libbing all that.