Thursday, July 15, 2004

'Cosmos' worldwide put focus on fashion

By Samantha Critchell
The Associated Press

Israeli women love their tummy-baring tank tops and Dolce and Gabbana, while South African women embrace the local culture with their turbans, scarves and beads.

Meanwhile, Russian women like to get all dolled up - and wear a lot of makeup.

That was the fashion buzz at Cosmic, a recent gathering of editors in chief of Cosmopolitan magazines from all over the world. Editors from Australia, Croatia and Taiwan were among those in New York for what basically was a giant sleepover party for globe-trotting grown-ups.

There were serious business discussions about publishing, advertising and circulation, too. And, of course, when you get so many style-conscious women together, the conversation eventually turns to fashion.

"South African women have fallen in love with themselves again, and that's great for fashion," says Vanessa Raphaely, that country's top "Cosmo girl."

She credits the end of apartheid as the impetus for a stronger women's movement.

"We had been isolated but there was no pride in South Africa. But in the last few years, women have found themselves, and they are melding South Africa - which is like the America of Africa - and the rest of Africa's authentic fashion sensibility," Raphaely says.

South Africans are stylish, she says, but these women like being individual and would hate to look like anyone else.

Also, because of the heat, women are much more likely to show off some skin, Raphaely says.

The same is true in Israel, according to Lea Kantor-Matarrasso.

"We have our tummies exposed, we wear tank tops, sandals and sunscreen," she says, "but there also is a strong influence of European and U.S. fashion."

Israelis embrace color so the current candy-colored styles have proven popular, and this season's 1950s-inspired styles fit their mostly pear-shaped bodies, Kantor-Matarrasso adds.

The Israeli Cosmo is almost a year old and it just featured its first homegrown model; often, a U.S. television star graces the cover.

It's the opposite in South Africa. "We don't usually like American blond hair - that whole American corn-fed cheerleader. It reminds us of South Africa's past. We're in love with our celebrities. They're mostly black and it reflects the success of our own country," Raphaely says.

"Things that sell visually in America also works in Russia, but never something that looks too British," says Elena Myasnikova.

(Russian Cosmopolitan boasts the highest circulation of any glossy magazine in Europe at 610,000.)

"When Russia opened up to the West, everything became very flashy. It was about Versace, Cavalli - which is still popular. Every store in New York City came to Russia," she says.

The overall Russian look has toned down since then but women still wear high heels and "evening" makeup every day - and Russian Cosmo still features glittery letters on its flag, she adds.

"The common denominator among all the Cosmos is that women want to feel like they can claim their lives for themselves, in their look, in their relationships and work," says Kate White, editor in chief of U.S. Cosmopolitan.

When Helen Gurley Brown joined Cosmopolitan in 1966, she helped grow it into a sexy brand name, but in the past decade the Cosmo culture has evolved to become more about confidence than seduction.

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