Alex Heard on the strengths and weaknesses of Malcolm Forbes' new hipster magazine ''Egg''

All about ”Egg”

”Why Egg?” Malcolm Forbes asks in his opening letter for the new ”downtown” magazine published by Forbes Inc. He doesn’t hit us with hard information — namely, that his failed attempt to buy Interview in 1989 left him and his son Timothy (Egg‘s day-to-day publisher) with a bag of downtown ideas and no place to use them. This is a style manifesto. The story begins, ”One Monday night two years or so ago, after a couple of us had dinnered at a new restaurant ” Forbes and pals decided to go downtown — club-hoppering, as it were — so cycles were straddled and the hunt for ”really jumping” party spots began. Eventually Forbes ”got clued in” and decided to launch a magazine that would keep up with trends in fashion, music, clubs, and celebs. Items so hot they’re still on the griddle. ”By the time things have arrived on the establishment’s magazine pages,” Forbes snipes, ”they’re over over here.” Odd that he should say that, given that his main magazine is a Domesday Book of the establishment’s doings and sayings.

When I first read of Forbes’ plan to invade the turf of Interview, Details, and L.A. Style, I thought, ”Great, a downtown-magazine war.” It hasn’t come to that, but in trade publications advertising executives are predicting a Darwinian struggle for stylish, tony ads as the number of ”scene” magazines grows. In this environment it’s interesting to watch where Egg positions itself. Judging by the ”Premiere Issue,” Egg is going after Fogey Hipsters — people who, like Malcolm himself, want to dabble in the downtown scene but also want to stagger home to an apartment guarded by a liveried doorman. ”It looks like it’s meant for the more hip readers of Forbes,” says Martin S. Walker of Periodicals Studies Service, a magazine consulting firm. Egg is promising advertisers an upscale audience: men and women in their late 20s to early 40s with household incomes of $50,000 and up. Its media kit boasts controlled circulation to ”an exclusive…select, highly desirable audience….in affluent zip codes in NY and LA.” In short, not Jim Jarmusch characters.

All of this sheds light on the editorial mix of the first issue. Egg has most of the basic components of Interview and Details — the rambling anti-interview interviews with cool performers like Chris Isaak and Ann Magnuson, the moody ads for nebulous fashion gear — but it’s quite a bit creakier than those magazines. Last fall, Egg editor Hal Rubenstein told Folio, a magazine trade journal, that the publication would be like ”Interview as siphoned through Mad.” In truth, a lot of Egg is like Interview as siphoned through Joe Franklin’s Nostalgia. It is amiably square. (It is also physically square, measuring 11 by 11 inches.) For the cover story, Egg sent William Geist to Hollywood to profile Mary Hart’s legs — a cute spin, but why is an allegedly avant-garde magazine writing about an overpublicized TV cornball? Jim Mullen’s ”Hot Sheet” pathetically touts stand-up comics, the phrase ”get a life,” and ”The Japaning of America: What’s everybody so wollied about?” And Linda Ellerbee (ouch, s-s-sizzlin’!) files a plodding report from the Berlin Wall.

Rubenstein also told Folio that people he knows carry around $40 worth of hip magazines at any given time, so there will always be room for one more. But for most Americans the demands of family and career require making choices: one news magazine, one sports magazine, and one magazine featuring grim, slick-haired models wearing ridiculous outfits.

Judged alongside Details and Interview, Egg is less hip, certainly, but it has a couple of strong points. It’s friendlier, and writers are being encouraged to write with individual style, rather than with the generic, flat reporting favored by Interview (”When I went to visit (ventriloquist) Doug Skinner, he was alone; (his dummy) Eddie Gray was in a suitcase on the floor”) or Details‘ lockstep screw-you attitude.

But let’s be honest: Words have little to do with it. People buy these magazines to look at the ads and the insane fashion spreads. Interview is still the champ, but Details is coming on strong. Details‘ February issue contains the silliest men’s fashion concept I’ve seen in years, entitled ”Dressed to Till.” ”Ma brushed her hair back with her hand,” reads a caption to a photograph of a model in overalls, a 1930s straw hat and work boots. ”Her jaw tightened. ‘We got to git.’ ” Yes, that’s right. Coming at you from the windswept plains midway between New York and L.A., it’s Okie Chic. And now Egg is in there pitching too — the best ad in issue one shows a stylish older woman wearing a hat that looks like an upside-down nuclear reactor cooling tower- — ut it has some catching up to do.