Consumer Reports, December 2007 The Pitch:"201 Best Gifts"Target Audience: Geeky dads who wouldn't dream of buying so much as a garden trowel without first checking the online reviews. Organizational Spirit: Cold and efficient. Unlike its more glamorous newsstand competitors, Consumer Reports considers plainness a virtue—it's the Amish farmer of the magazine world. As a result, only a tiny fraction of the recommended products are actually shown; the rest are just listed under headings like "Food choppers" or "Portable table saws." Good values are noted with "CR BEST BUY"; there's also a handy "Tops for $200 or Less" box at the end. (Skip the clip-and-save compendium of shopping tips—you already know those extended warranties are scams, right?) Standard Absurdity: The $3,300 L7 Series Pro Sports Trainer from Landice. Bright Idea: For weak-wristed amateur chefs, a KitchenAid hand mixer for $80. Bottom Line: Eminently useful, provided that the folks on your list are OK with prosaic gifts. Save for a few wine and chocolate recommendations, almost everything here requires electricity—no chic knickknacks, no semiprecious stones. Consider this guide, then, perfect for folks who blanche at the mawkishness of those ubiquitous Kay Jewelers ads: Sometimes a miter saw says "I love you" more effectively than a sapphire-encrusted brooch. Naughty-or-Nice-O-Meter: 7
Plenty, December/January 2008 The Pitch:"79 Earth Friendly Gifts"Target Audience: Your friend who flips out and screams, "Pigs!" whenever she sees a Hummer limousine. Organizational Spirit: Earnest, but not annoyingly so. Like a lot of magazines, Plenty breaks down its gifts by intended recipient—"The Outdoor Adventurer," "The Homebody." Brief captions explain why each product represents a shout-out to Spaceship Earth, a helpful addition since the green attributes are often hard to guess by merely looking—an eco-friendly water bottle, for example, doesn't visually differ from its planet-killing peers. Standard Absurdity: An $850 pair of diamond earrings from Brilliant Earth, a purveyor of conflict-free gems. Bright Idea: An "ecologically thinned" cedar briefcase by Japanese designer Takumi Shimamura, for $325. Bottom Line: A helpful roundup with some nifty, concise writing that makes clear the environmental angles. But you'll probably want to save these gifts for people you'll see in person so that you can pass along the back stories. For example, the belt buckles featuring Indian chiefs—if you aren't around to explain they're made of "lead-free pewter and ten layers of nontoxic sealant," the recipient might just think you have exceedingly gaudy taste. Naughty-or-Nice-O-Meter: 7
Domino, December/January 2008
The Pitch:"Our obsessively researched roundup, from unapologetic luxuries to perfect everyday touches"Target Audience: Recent condo buyers whose glass-and-steel boxes bear such highfalutin, risible names as "The Olive Tree."Organizational Spirit: Straightforward and detailed. The first few pages are dedicated to 50 gifts under $50. At the end is a section titled "Exquisite Indulgences," where Wall Street types can waste their cake on overpriced objets d'art. Standard Absurdity: A crystal obelisk for $495, from Bergdorf Goodman. Bright Idea: A retro Diana+ camera—"cherished for its soft, blurry photos"—for a piddling $50. Bottom Line: Domino's taste is impeccable, albeit a little strait-laced; if the folks on your list prefer the Hades Almighty to Coldplay, this probably isn't the guide for you. But there's plenty here to please nesters for whom cleanliness is next to godliness—a group that obviously skews more female than male. Buy the $69 candelabra for your guy friends at your peril. Naughty-or-Nice-O-Meter: 7.5. Bump that score up a half-point if no one in your circle would dream of hanging a Bloodsport poster on their wall. (Disclosure: Deborah Needleman, Domino's editor in chief, is married to Slate Editor Jacob Weisberg.)
Vogue, December 2007 The Pitch:"Present Perfect: 250 Dazzling and Disarming Gifts for Everyone on Your List"Target Audience: Socialites who pity the declassé masses. Organizational Spirit: Ambitious. Vogue offers three guides for the price of one—a lengthy feature called "Gifts, Bagged!" in which professional shopaholics "strategize the season," a section on eco-conscious holiday shopping, and, finally, a colorful-yet-cluttered checklist of 79 tony products. Consider yourself warned: The written-through stories of holiday excess, penned by the hopelessly overprivileged, are likely to leave you either green with envy or pining for a Glorious Worker's Paradise. (Sample quip: "I get a fawn-colored, long-bodied V-neck sweater by Vanessa Bruno that looks as slouchy as it does hip for my performance-artist nanny, who lives in Brooklyn.") Standard Absurdity: So many to choose from, most of them involving alligator hide. But the cake-taker comes from the eco-conscious section: a bucolic landscape painting by Salomon van Ruysdael for only $1.6 million! Bright Idea: A gorgeous print dress by S-Sung for $375. Bottom Line: Vogue gets an A for effort and props for its flawless sense of style; unlike fellow aristocratic traveler Town & Country, this magazine doesn't wallow in the fads of yesteryear. There are even a few affordable ideas for aspiring heiresses who lack trust funds. But let's face it, most people are just reading this for escape. A $695 straw hat from Behnaz Sarafpour? It's enough luxporn to keep you playing Powerball for the foreseeable future. Naughty-or-Nice-O-Meter: 8. Mark it down several points if ostentatious displays of wealth give you the dry heaves.
New York, Nov. 26 Issue
The Pitch:"A gazillion ideas, at every price, and for everyone in your life"Target Audience: A 32-year-old VP of marketing who organizes her closet according to the designers' countries of origin, from Australian Michelle Jank to Zambian-born Naomi Ngoma-Simunyola. Organizational Spirit: Hyper-methodical. New York is the king of identifying specific gift-recipient archetypes, such as the "Green-Minded Teen" and the "Hobby-Loving Grandparent." There's also an extensive listing of budget gifts—a nod to the city's creative underclass—as well as an excellent rundown on the finest chocolates and liquors. The one major misstep: an overly twee photo spread of well-heeled rug rats enjoying their holiday loot. Standard Absurdity: For "Worldly Mom," a Dennis Colomb cashmere scarf for $900. Bright Idea: A dapper felt fedora from Brooklyn boutique Dalaga, for a paltry $52. Bottom Line: New York's guide is a perennial favorite for its bounty of creative ideas as well as its smart organization. This year's edition is no exception, though it's perhaps a notch less enjoyable than some of its predecessors—if nothing else, this guide gets docked a half-point for putting the "Tireless Toddler" page opposite a Vera Wang ad that seemingly depicts a couple in flagrante delicto. Naughty-or-Nice-O-Meter: 8.5
Maxim, December 2007 The Pitch:"Everything Your Cold Heart Desires"Target Audience: 24-year-old mortgage brokers who can't stop talking about that one time these buxom twins were totally up for a threesome, but too much Cuervo foiled the plan. Organizational Spirit: Maxim follows the trend of breaking down its guide according to recipient archetype. But lots of the archetypes are pretty similar—what, pray tell is the difference between "Ladies' Man," "Good Time Charlie," and "The Entertainer"? It's redeemed, however, by sharp writing and ample cheesecake. There's a delectable model clad in ridiculous swimwear throughout, and some droll minifeatures on horrific Christmas tree ornaments (such as Sarge, the Gay Merman) and famous folks who died on Dec. 25 (Pope Adrian I, James Brown). Standard Absurdity: The $1,599 carbon-fiber Rider from Blackbird Guitars. Bright Idea: If the recipient smokes, Tobias Wong's $31 smoking mittens will make it easier for him to light up without exposing his digits to the elements; if he abstains from nicotine, then the $72 Skeletool from Leatherman is a better choice. Bottom Line: So, the superfluous T&A is more of a lure for some readers than others. But Maxim surprises with its witty and varied gift ideas, which are frequently accompanied by well-written snippets of prose—hail to the anonymous scribe who praised a pair of goggles for helping to prevent "spaghetti-steam blindings." And as long as you're not a vegetarian, you can't help but love a guide that mentions python filets at $40 a pound. Naughty-or-Nice-O-Meter: 9