Magazine finds Southern niche

CHARLESTON, S.C.- Rebecca Darwin, a Southerner who made her career as a New York magazine publisher, had settled into life as the preacher's wife, content that her once-bustling professional life was over.


Then the former publisher of The New Yorker and Mirabella heard the idea for Garden & Gun, a saucy Southern glossy with a puzzling name. The magazine would focus on the story-rich Southeast, with tales written by renowned authors such as Pat Conroy. The magazine would walk the delicate balance between conservation and hunting.

Not too long after she heard the pitch, Ms. Darwin was back in the business.

"I plan to be doing this for a while," she said recently from her offices in Charleston.

The magazine, which has guaranteed advertisers 150,000 copies each issue, has published twice this year. The magazine plans two more editions this year, then six issues next year and 10 in 2009.

"The first two issues have been very, very well received," said Pierre Manigault, the board chairman of Evening Post Publishing Co., which owns the magazine. "I think it's really filling a void that existed."

But what makes Ms. Darwin - or anyone - think Garden & Gun can build and retain readers in a world driven by the Internet?

"I do think there's a niche, there's an audience and a desire for a magazine like that," she said.

The magazine's name comes from a popular Charleston disco in the late 1970s and early '80s. The "garden" part of the title symbolizes a focus on conservation while the "gun" encompasses the sporting life, she explained.

Rebecca McPheters, who works for a company that tracks advertising values of media brands, said no other U.S. publications are chasing Garden & Gun's affluent Southeastern audience. She said in an e-mail that, given time, the magazine could do well with national advertisers, who these days look for publications "where they think ready involvement is higher than for general interest titles."

The magazine has received some strong buzz. Marketing director Sharon Bruner has a folder filled with positive e-mails and letters from those excited about its uniqueness, and Ms. Darwin proudly tells how actress Sandra Bullock invoked the startup in an interview on last month.

"If you don't have a copy, I do," Ms. Bullock said in the article.

"We made the big time," Ms. Darwin said.

She has already been in the big time. She moved to New York after graduating from the University of North Carolina to attend the Tobe-Coburn School for Fashion Careers. Instead, she got an internship at GQ, and her career path was set.

In 1998, she became The New Yorker's first female publisher as part of the Advance Group publishing company owned by the Newhouse family.

Ms. Darwin learned a lot from mogul Samuel I. Newhouse Jr. Perhaps the most important, she said, was to think "more from the gut than looking at a bunch of numbers."

So when Mr. Manigault asked her to take on the publishing company's foray into major magazines, she jumped.

Ms. Darwin demurs when asked whether her publishing background attracted writers and subjects to the young magazine.

"I don't think it hurts," she said with a grin.

The cover of the magazine's debut issue this spring featured Mr. Conroy standing barefoot in a garden pond. The author of The Lords of Discipline and The Prince of Tides wrote about his journals and how they fed into his popular novels.

The second issue, released this summer, profiled Forrest Gump author Winston Groom and the late Doug Marlette's story about his day with Southern author Walker Percy. The cover story featured female surfers.