Fashion Scene, Hip-Hop News Grace Current Mags Editors from two of the nation's top magazines — Vibe and O, The Oprah Magazine — walk listeners through items featured in the latest issues of their publications, including scenes from Fashion Week in New York and tips for finding bargain styles, along with a recent profile of R&B star Keyshia Coles.
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Fashion Scene, Hip-Hop News Grace Current Mags

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Fashion Scene, Hip-Hop News Grace Current Mags

Fashion Scene, Hip-Hop News Grace Current Mags

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I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Coming up, as Black History Month draws to a close, a conversation about Afro-Latinos and their impact on American culture; that's in just a few minutes. But first, it's time for our monthly visit with the magazine mavens. That's when we talk with editors of some of our favorite magazines and try to get the story behind the stories that grace the pages of their latest issues. Joining us today are Danyel Smith, the editor-in-chief of the hip-hop culture magazine VIBE, and Suzan Colon, contributing editor for O, The Oprah Magazine. Ladies, welcome to you both - welcome back, I should say.

Ms. DANYEL SMITH (Editor-in-Chief, VIBE Magazine): Thank you very much.

Ms. SUZAN COLON (Contributing Editor, O, The Oprah Magazine): Thank you very much.

MARTIN: And I wanted to mention that both of your latest issues, your March issues, feature fashion, and I wanted to ask if it was difficult to put together a fashion issue when the economy is in such difficult straits and so many people are having hard times. Danyel, why don't you start?

Ms. SMITH: I find that our readers are very wise about mixing sort of the high and the low about style being sort of what they make it, what we make it. And so, no, it wasn't difficult. I don't think it was difficult at all.

MARTIN: So, it's never really about the money, per se?

Ms. SMITH: I don't think it is about the money, and when it is sometimes about the money, I think that there are things that our readers want to see and want to know about. They might want to aspire to these things or dream about these things or, frankly, figure out ways to make things look like those things for way less money.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: OK. And Suzan, O goes right at the cost issue, the cover tease for the spring fashion issues. "What do we want? Spring fashion. How do we want it? Cheap."

Ms. COLON: Yeah. We're not leaving any guesswork here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. COLON: It's like, gee, I wonder if I'll be able to afford - yes, you will. Don't worry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. COLON: And one of the things that we did in order to address the fact that, you know, money is a concern right now for almost everyone is to offer a splurge, a good deal and a steal in our "Refresh Your Style" feature. In that way, we can also emphasize buying what you love and buying what will last. So, it's an investment.

MARTIN: You also talk a lot about how to dress different body types, and you don't really make a big deal out of it. You just do it.

Ms. COLON: Yeah, that's right.

MARTIN': You always have an array of body types featured in the magazine.

Ms. COLON: Because there is no one right body type, you know? I mean, there are people who are all different shapes and sizes, and we don't think that there is one more than another. I mean, look at our January issue. Our own Oprah, you know, said, I have fallen off the fitness wagon, and I need to lose some weight and get fit. And so, when you have a leader who is saying, you know, I am different sizes; I fluctuate; we must address every size. There is no right or wrong here.

MARTIN: Well, the other thing I want to point out, it's not just every size, but it's every age.

Ms. COLON: Every age.

MARTIN: In fact, you have one model who is...

Ms. COLON: My favorite one...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I don't want to - how old is she, but she's got this fabulous white hair.

Ms. COLON: She's 87 years old.

MARTIN: Eighty-seven? Hello!

Ms. COLON: And she's a style maven. I love her. She's my favorite model in the magazine.

MARTIN: And she's wearing some fierce pants, I should say.

Ms. COLOGNE: Her name is Iris Barrel Apfel, and she is a designer herself. And she is this 87-year-old chic style maven. She's unbelievable. I totally want to be her when I grow up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Me, too. I just want those pants.

Ms. COLOGNE: I just want those pants and those glasses.

MARTIN: All right. Danyel, VIBE this month also profiled fashion designer Tracy Reese. Tell us about her.

Ms. SMITH: Oh, Tracy is a fabulous young woman who is just, I think, on the verge of becoming sort of an international fashion superstar designer.

MARTIN: What do you think is the key to her success? The fashion business is not an easy business for anybody.

Ms. SMITH: What is the key to Tracy Reese's success?

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. SMITH: I think one is talent. I think the other is persistence. I think the fact - she always talks about the support she has from her family. I also think she takes a very sort of Obama attitude and a very VIBE attitude that sort of just because she is African-American does not mean her clothes are solely for African-Americans. She makes her clothes for everyone; she makes them for a variety, speaking of ages, of women of different sizes, and of all nationalities. She's an incredible young woman.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to Tell Me More from NPR News. We're having our monthly visit with the magazine mavens, editors of some of our favorite magazines. Your March issues are not just about clothes, I do want to emphasize. Now, Danyel, your cover story this month is about singer Keyshia Cole, popular singer. She has her own reality TV show on BET. Hers is not - this is not a fairy tale...

Ms. SMITH: No, no.

MARTIN: Existence by any means. Tell us a little bit her story, for people who aren't familiar with it.

Ms. SMITH: She is so beautiful, but she was a foster child. She was somewhat given away to a friend of her biological mother's. She has lived in homeless shelters. And she just made up her mind at a very young age, though, that she had talent, that she did have a voice, and she was singing, you know, sort of all over Northern California, and she ended up getting a deal with Interscope Records. And then from there, you know, the first hit, and it just started turning. She's so authentic, so genuine. She keeps it so, as the kids say, real. And then she has her mom, who was, by her own admission, a former crack addict. And our cover is actually a split cover, and one is of Keyshia looking very, sort of, much like a model, like a supermodel, and the other one is kind of a family portrait of she and her mother, and they actually look very much alike, a shot of two people that could have very much gone another way, a wrong way. And really, it's just sort of a rebirth of their mother/daughter relationship.

MARTIN: It's a lovely and joyous cover, but the article does not shy away from the difficulty of Keyshia's having to learn to trust her mother again after her mother was so absent during her upbringing. In fact, Keyshia Cole's last name is not her mother's last name.

Ms. SMITH: It isn't.

Ms. COLES: It comes from woman who took her in, who was her mother's best friend.

Ms. SMITH: She says it very clearly that, no, her biological mother, Frankie, who's on the cover with her, didn't really teach her anything. She says it's the woman that raised me, taught me to go to church and to always wear a slip with a dress and, basically, how to act and how to be. But make no mistake about it. Even with that sort of wonderful foster mother that Keyshia had, she was still very much on her own. She was struggling. She was often searching for her biological mother, and it was kind of amazing, actually, at the photo shoot to see them interact. They don't make a lot of time for lovey-dovey-ness. They're very clear with each other. They love each other, but it's complicated.

MARTIN: It's interesting because, Suzan, your magazine has a series about trust...

Ms. COLON: Yes, we do.

MARTIN: Which is one of the things that struck our eye. And why was this important topic for your magazine right now? And learning to trust an addictive family member was one of the things you talked about, but not the only thing. Why was that an important topic for you?

Ms. COLON: We live in shaky times right now, and many of the institutions that we thought we could trust previously we can't really trust anymore. And you know, you always had the feeling of, like, well, if I can't trust people or whatever, at least I can trust my 401k. Whoops, can't trust that anymore. Well, I can trust that money is in the bank. Oh, wait a minute, the bank is closed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. COLON: And so, we wanted to ask the question, theme for this month's issue is, what can you trust in?

MARTIN: And a wide variety of answers. One I loved was medical Web sites that one of your medical advisers trusts. I thought, well, that's helpful. But what about you? Anything caught your eye?

Ms. COLON: I love what Suze Orman always says. She has always said this before the Great Recession and she's saying it now: You cannot afford to trust someone other than yourself to handle your finances. So, I like that, but I also like the lighter side of it, which is that the hairdresser Ken Paves says that the hairstyle he trust the most is the bob because it looks good on everyone. So, there's a little bit of heaviness here, and there's also a little bit of, you know, you can use your fingers as makeup tools, says Bobbi Brown. It's OK...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Yeah, but bob doesn't work for me. So, I'm going to go with the fingers. Yeah, the bob thing isn't...

Ms. COLES: Use your fingers.

MARTIN: Yeah, I would go with that. You know, I always ask this question, it's always unfair, and you always hate me for asking, but I'm going to ask, what was your favorite article this month, Danyel?

Ms. SMITH: I think I would have to - it's kind of a tragic article, but I know the work that went into by our reporter Linda Hobbs. It's about a celebrity stylist who was - well, it's undecided; they don't know if she was murdered or if she committed suicide. And to further tie it into VIBE, she is a former intern here at VIBE.

MARTIN: Oh, yes.

Ms. SMITH: And so, they aren't certain if she was pushed over the roof of an apartment building or if she jumped. She lived kind of a life close to the streets, at the same time, close to a lot of celebrities, and it really is kind of a tearjerker, it's very interesting and it's very, very sad.

MARTIN: I like that one, too."Fresh to Death" is the title of the piece.

Ms. SMITH: Mm-hmm, yes.

MARTIN: And Suzan, what about you? What your favorite article in O this month?

Ms. COLON: Well, it's kind of strange pick for me, but I really like the liberating aspect of "The Great Weight Debate," which shows that the BMI, the Body Mass Index, is not exactly a reliable predictor of how fit or allegedly fat you are. So, I think that's kind of good news for a lot of people.

MARTIN: It's also helpful because it gives you a language to talk about with - if you're working with someone professional, weight-training professional, it puts you more on an equal footing, I think...

Ms. COLON: Exactly.

MARTIN: You know?

Ms. COLON: Exactly.

MARTIN: Can I tell you what my favorite was in O?

Ms. COLON: Please.

MARTIN: "The Gift." It was a piece at the back of the book. It's about one mother in particular, but it's about the whole network of people who donate breast milk.

Ms. COLON: Yes.

MARTIN: And I knew nothing of this and...

Ms. COLON: A lot of people didn't.

MARTIN: The piece is a - like Danyel was saying of the piece in her magazine, a bit of mystery story, a bit of a tearjerker, but just a wonderful window into the way people give of themselves in order to make people's lives better in a way that perhaps we would never imagine. Of course, the idea of having a wet nurse....

Ms. COLON: Yes.

MARTIN: Is something very - it's much of the - a very old-fashioned...

Ms. COLON: Old-fashioned in way.

MARTIN: Much of the last century...

Ms. COLON: Yes.

MARTIN: It's not always a healthy thing at all, but this is a very modern version of that. And I just thought it was a wonderful gift.

Ms. COLON: These women are the unsung heroines of infants who, you know, desperately need breast milk and do not have it, and it's just a way of giving that is previously, maybe, unknown, but just astonishingly beautiful.

MARTIN: So, thank you for that.

Ms. COLON: Absolutely.

MARTIN: Thank you for that gift.

Ms. COLON: Thank you for pointing it out.

MARTIN: Suzan Colon is a contributing editor for O Magazine, and Danyel Smith is the editor-in-chief for VIBE Magazine. Both were kind enough to join us from New York. Ladies, mavens, thank you so much.

Ms. COLON: Thank you for having me.

Ms. SMITH: Thank you for having me. It's much appreciated.

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