Michael Crichton's done it. Jeffrey Archer has had it done to him in his Lambeth penthouse. And, according to hot goss, Bill Clinton did it in the Oval Office, though he might perhaps have paid a little more attention to his helpful people orientation. Feng Shui is all the rage.
And from today, you can bring it into your own home. A new glossy, Feng Shui for Modern Living, promises to increase your wealth, improve your relationships, turn dreams into reality and transform your life. Not bad for pounds 2.95. Affinity publishing, the money behind the mouthpiece, certainly seems confident: the magazine is launching simultaneously in the UK, US, Australia, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore. The initial UK print run is an ambitious 135,000, and subscriptions are already running at 15,000.
"We're aiming it at anybody who's interested in their home and wants not to struggle through life," says Nimita Parmar, editor, pictured above. "Feng Shui is a good means of doing this, harmonising your surroundings and helping you through any aspects of your life you're not happy with. We're aiming mainly at ABC1 women: women generally take over the decoration of a home, and feng shui and decor go hand-in hand. If you can enhance one aspect of your house it can have quite an effect on your life".
Parmar, who has come to the publication from editing the grey market magazine Gold Life, has been working on the launch for the best part of a year, chasing down members of the Feng Shui society and sitting at the feet of publisher Stephen Skinner, a practitioner since the 1970s and author of many a tome on the subject. She has had her own home Feng Shui'd: "It was basically a question of taking out the clutter, moving furniture, putting in plants and taking out the dried flowers to enhance the chi flow, and putting in warm lighting. If you feel better in your surroundings, that's going to have a positive effect, but I believe that if I hadn't done it, my career wouldn't have taken off as it has."
Whatever, it's a great kick-start for the design market. What could be better than convincing an increasingly superstitious population that their health, wealth and happiness depend on the direction in which their bedhead faces? "Everybody's been involved in some sort of psychic explorations," says Parmar, "though Feng Shui is not really a psychic art, more a science. I don't think it's a fad: it's something people want to use to enhance their lives. There are women who will try anything, and Feng Shui is a good place to start. I think it's got every chance of lasting: if people use it correctly, they'll see a lot of positive response."
And it's a gift to advertising: beside the inevitable slew of practitioners, full-page ads in the February-March edition feature furniture, garden ornament and waterfall designers, massage oil, lipstick, upmarket bathroom and kitchen dealers, coir flooring, health-shop vitamins, air fresheners and conservatories. On the back page, Taylor Woodrow showcase new flats in Battersea whose prices start at pounds 495,000. Other marketeers, then, are confident as to who will buy in to the dream.
So what do you get for your pounds 2.95? Lots of pretty pictures and virtually incomprehensible text. Feng Shui for Modern Living will look lovely on aspirational coffee tables, but if you're looking for demystification, forget it. The problem stems from the fact that most of the pieces are written by experts, who have two distinct disadvantages: few can write well and most of them don't want to give the impression that their skills can be picked up by just anybody. The text is both mysterious and full of dark hints about karmic responsibility. "Don't try this at home" seems to be the message: all very well as a rider to Gladiators, but hardly encouraging in a lifestyle magazine. And, of course, a lot of feng shui seems to come down to simple matters of taste. Take this quotation from an expert doing up an office: "[there is] nothing like dark brown carpeting, filthy white walls and lots of dead plants to really set the ch'i on a downward course." Yes, and it's ugly as well. Most houses could benefit from fresh colour and extra storage, and the theory that people who leave the loo seat up are flushing away their wealth seems an admirable solution to one of the greatest irritants inflicted by men on women since the introduction of plumbing.
At least they practise what they preach back at home base: the magazine's offices have been done, though rapid growth has rather cluttered things again. "We're moving to a larger office soon," says Parmar, "but we've got fountains and ch'i dispersers everywhere, and candles burning. There's a very nice atmosphere here, and we haven't had any staff problems". How lovely. Maybe it does work. But isn't it odd that we should be seeking tools for harmony and success in China, a country with a history of repression, suffering and book-burning almost as old as civilisation itself?Reuse content