Girls just wanna bake cakes

Easy Living magazine is pitched at women who love life - and cooking. Ciar Byrne meets its editor

There are certain perks to launching a magazine. All those flowers for one - the day after the launch party for
Easy Living, its editor Susie Forbes's office is brimming with vases of roses and lilies. Receiving a telephone call from her mother in North Yorkshire to say it is on sale in the local newsagents is another.

There are certain perks to launching a magazine. All those flowers for one - the day after the launch party for Easy Living, its editor Susie Forbes's office is brimming with vases of roses and lilies. Receiving a telephone call from her mother in North Yorkshire to say it is on sale in the local newsagents is another.

But is there an appetite for yet another magazine aimed at women in their "second youth", the marketing jargon for those who remain young in attitude long after their 30th birthday? Haven't such magazines as Red and Eve already got the market cornered?

Condé Nast, which has invested more than two years in researching and developing its new monthly glossy, insists that there is a gap to be filled. Easy Living was inspired by the success of the Vogue publisher's first foray into the mainstream women's magazine market, Glamour, which currently sells more than 600,000 copies and is the biggest-selling monthly title in Europe.

When the company tested ideas for new titles on 12,000 women, the only one that got a "yes please" response was a proposal for a "grown-up women's magazine that was both stylish and useful". Focus groups revealed that women are most frustrated when they buy a magazine for its cover lines and are then unable to find the relevant features inside. To solve this problem, Easy Living is divided into simple sections. Real Life includes book reviews, a feature on "lifestyle envy" and an item that feels as if it's come from the Fifties, such as how to make your own wrapping paper. Other Stepford Wives-style features include "Don't be afraid to bake a cake" and "The no-fuss guide to noodles". There are also articles on fashion, beauty, home and emotional intelligence. All very Desperate Housewives.

Forbes, an elegant, down-to-earth 38-year-old who lives with her husband, the designer Bill Amberg, and their three children in Kensal Rise, north-west London, is the embodiment of the Easy Living lifestyle. A year into development, the Condé Nast managing director Nicholas Coleridge told her to put the research to one side and to create the magazine she wanted.

"Inevitably, it's very personal to me and I love it as a result, but it would be arrogant to create a magazine just to please me," she says. "I would hate it to come across as my personal folly, but it is from the heart. I can have more ideas for Easy Living on the way to work in the morning than I could have for Vogue in a year. Working on Vogue, you're projecting a life you don't lead. At the end of the day I go home on the number six bus to Kensal Rise."

Although it is easy to forget in the tasteful surroundings of Easy Living's Old Bond Street offices, which are scattered with boxes of tempting soft furnishings, the new magazine is an extremely hard-headed business proposition. It is aggressively priced at £1.90 to ensure that prospective readers buy it at least once. The circulation target for the first year is between 150,000 and 200,000 copies a month, but the initial print run is a massive 600,000. In its first five years, Condé Nast plans to spend £17m on marketing - £6m in the first year alone on two waves of television, print and poster advertising. It is also a novelty for the publisher - home to more rarefied titles such as Tatler and Vanity Fair - to be able to attract advertising for white goods and food products. But Forbes believes their competitors have little to worry about.

"Everyone has been longing for us to say we're going head-to-head with another magazine, but it is unlike anything else on the newsstand. Although we're pitching into the grown-up market and there are other magazines out there doing the same, our sincere hope is to grow the market in the way that Glamour did. The woman I would love to reach is the woman who is not buying a monthly magazine any more, who might be grazing her way around the Saturday and Sunday supplements but doesn't feel that there's a relevant magazine out there for her."

Conventional wisdom would suggest that readers in their 30s and their 50s would have little in common ( Easy Living aims to appeal to women aged 30 to 55) but Forbes says that the research turned such thinking on its head. "You meet incredibly conservative 32-year-olds who have two children and live in their perfect home, and then you meet a dynamic 50-year-old who's just divorced and is back on the dating scene. At that point she's the one more interested in clothes. What unites them is their attitude to life - it's all about having grown up but not given up. They don't want to feel old."

As a woman approaching 40 herself, Forbes declares: "I certainly don't want to feel that life's all about elasticated trousers and baggy jumpers from now on."

THE EXPERTS' VERDICT

Claire Beale, editor of Campaign

"I think Easy Living serves a gap in the magazine market for something targeting upmarket older women, the Sex and the City generation. They have more disposable income than ever before and a real thirst for fashion and homes and lifestyles: editorial that isn't being served at the moment in a single package. Advertisers have always struggled to attract that higher-spending, slightly older female consumer through the print medium and I think Easy Living is a great platform for the luxury goods advertisers."

Trish Halpin, editor of Red

"It's much older than Red, but I'm not sure what it's aiming at. Maybe it's trying to be all things to all women, but I don't know how successful a strategy that might be. I couldn't identify who exactly the reader was when I looked at Easy Living. I think the age range is too wide. I thought the idea of the colour-coding was very good, but once you actually got into the magazine it was quite difficult to understand where you were. There are an awful lot of promotions in there!"

Claudine Collins, editor of media.com

"It's very professional and excellent value. It's slightly older than I thought it was going to be - the age range is a big difference, the difference between my mum and me. There were some articles I really liked and some I didn't like and I'm sure they'll find their way by the third issue. Generally I think it's a really good product and it does live up to their concept."

Sally O'Sullivan, editorial director of Highbury House

"There's a skill in editing which is the difference between feeling as a reader you've been recognised and feeling as a reader you've been pigeon-holed. There were a few points in the magazine where I felt they were trying to pigeon-hole me a bit much. It was a little cloying and you found yourself feeling a bit trapped. But I liked a lot of the ways they've tackled things and I liked the lifestyle approach. It was a good first issue."

Marcelle d'Argy Smith, former Cosmopolitan editor

"The title is very misleading. It's not about living at all: it's mostly fashion. I found the living section hugely disappointing. But it is a brilliant package and it's certainly easy. When you open a magazine and you've got Estée Lauder, Chanel, Dior, Mercedes Benz, you feel you're moving around in an incredibly glossy world and that's very Condé Nast and very charming. I liked being there. I thought: 'This isn't vexing my intelligence and that's why it's easy.' Their subscription - 12 issues for £12 - is bloody brilliant. It's delightful to look at and the production quality is incredibly high. It's going to be another Glamour."

Janice Turner, media commentator

"I know lots of people have been whinging about it, but that's the nature of the type of women they're aiming at: we are the most difficult, hard-to-please and fussy bunch of people in the whole of Britain. It's done what it set out to: be a cool modern Good Housekeeping for a certain kind of urban metropolitan sophisticate. They've pressed all the key buttons and it's done with that Condé Nast confidence. I would buy it and read it in the bath and I can't say that about many magazines."

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