TRYING TO FASHION A DISCUSSION ON STYLE

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It is a question that could be asked in any field, among athletes, or mathematicians, or statesmen: Is greatness innate, or can it be learned? In W magazine, the context is fashion, so it asked the icons: How did you get to be so stylish?

The answers, as they would be in any arena, were consistent only in their inconsistency. Lauren Hutton tells writer Jessica Kerwin that she got her trademark trench coats and worn jeans from an old boyfriend. Caroline Herrera cites some early influences, but says style "comes from inside you."
 
Some styles were born of necessity, such as Jackie Onassis's oversized sunglasses, "which offered protection not only from UV rays, but from the incessant flashbulbs." Practicality also produced Madonna's "Lucky Star" look, she says: "Being a dancer, I was used to dressing in layers with tights underneath skirts."

Not surprisingly, the drive to stand out comes out time and again. Says tennis star Serena Williams, who designs her own on-court wear: "If someone is outplaying me and her outfit isn't nice, I refuse to lose to her."

What is surprising, at least a little bit, is that W asks the question at all.

Not one of the experts said, "I check out all the ads in magazines like W, and make my choices based on what all the houses are selling and what everyone else is buying."

A NEW POLICY STUDY

Although it is largely a case of joining the rest of the magazine world, a revamped style is part of the story at Foreign Policy magazine, now on its third redesign since its founding in 1970.

It used to be known as "the long, skinny one" for its unorthodox shape, said managing editor James Gibney in a phone interview, but it changed to more of a book format in the spring of 1995, and in September/October it adopted standard magazine proportions and full color.

Along with the cosmetic changes have come a new production schedule - they'll do six issues annually instead of four, and a set of new features that Gibney said aims to dissect globalization. One of the features in the current issue seeks to quantify the phenomenon, assessing levels of personal contact and economic integration, on the grounds that it's impossible to have a useful discussion on globalization if its effects haven't been established.

A bit more palatable to the casual reader is Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa's assertion that cross-borders activity actually frees people from nationalism's narrow-mindedness, rather than being a negative force stamping out local cultural variety. The latter half of that argument is the weaker one, since he concedes that "many forms of traditional life will disappear." Isn't that the issue? But Llosa sees only the opportunities, and points out that "when given the option to choose freely, peoples . . . opt for modernization without the slightest ambiguity."

FOR LAND'S SAKE

The stylish Metropolis magazine, which says it covers the confluence of architecture, design, and culture, visits Cambridge for its February issue to canvass the interactions between Harvard and its environs. The story recounts the process that will likely lead to a consolidation of Harvard's art holdings in a Renzo Piano-designed museum on the site of Mahoney's Garden Center on Memorial Drive, and reprises Harvard's secret land grabs in Allston, which so upset the neighbors and Mayor Thomas M. Menino when they became known in 1997. It's a creditable summary for Metropolis's audience, whoever that is, but for local readers, it offers little new.

SHINING BY DEGREES

The gems in several magazines this month come in small sizes. In Commonwealth magazine, for example, the features on Governor Paul Cellucci and Lieutenant Governor Jane Swift at midterm and on philanthropy in the new economy are, well, hard to get excited about. But a front-of-the-book visit to Athol, where a small town's deep fissures have resulted in a one-a-year procession of school superintendents, was illuminating, and a back-of-the-book essay by Neal Dolan on how he was quickly welcomed into the fabric of the North End was warming, although its conclusion that government should somehow step in to save the neighborhood's "organic depth" is puzzling.

A third short item, Michael Crowley's Washington Notebook, speaks mostly about the reborn political prominence of three Massachusetts Republicans, most notably White House chief of staff Andrew Card. But it concludes by saying that the renaissance speaks more about Bush family loyalty than about native brilliance. And it fails to say what effect, if any, the circumstance will mean for any Bay Staters other than the trio, which may mean that for the rest of us, it's no big deal.

A NATURAL FORCE

Outside magazine devotes only a couple of pages in tribute to David Brower, whom contributing editor Bruce Barcott credits with "inventing environmental activism as we know it." Brower succumbed to cancer in November at age 88.

Barcott and eight figures from the modern environmental movement heap mountains of praise, beginning with Stewart Udall, secretary of the interior under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson; Udall puts Brower in a class of two with Rachel Carson as "giants in the conservation movement in the last 50 years." Others say he was "the most vigorous fighter," "the outstanding wilderness advocate of the 20th century," and "a planetary hero."

By the end, I was wishing I had appreciated Brower while he was alive, and wondering why such a outsized man was given such a brief send-off.