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'My job is so weird'

Luis Barajas: Founder, Flaunt magazine

February 6, 2001
Web posted at: 5:19 p.m. EST (2219 GMT)

Luis Barajas: Founder, Flaunt magazine

In this story:

'I'm a good guy'

'The middle of it all'

'I have a very unorthodox way'

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(CNN) -- It was late summer of 1998, and Luis Barajas was at a crossroads.

After spending more than a decade taking Detour magazine from local-publication status in Dallas, Texas, to a Los Angeles-based hipster rag, Barajas was suffering creative differences with the people who helped him put the magazine on newsstands.

They were differences, he says, that he couldn't overlook.

So he left.

"I just opted to leave and let them keep the magazine," he says. "I just said, 'You can have it. I'll start another one.'"

Actually, it wasn't that simple.

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"I make it sound like I didn't cry my lungs out," he admits. "But I was having a really, really hard time."

Barajas would spend those days lying in his pool at his Los Angeles home, like Benjamin Braddock in "The Graduate," wondering what he was going to do with his life. And his cell phone started ringing -- the contacts he had built up with Detour told him they didn't want to see him leave the business.

  QUICK VOTE
graphic Flaunt it a little for us -- the software doesn't make it possible for us to ID you yet, so you're safe. Would you like to sell the kids to a Jell-O commercial maker, hock the spouse for photographers' fees and start your own Flaunt-like magazine?

Know where the nearest pawn shop is? I'm paginating at the very thought of it.
Can you give me a few days to think about it? No? OK, then, do I get the home phone numbers of the models in the photo layouts?
I can't do it, I can't, I just can't. I look at my kids, my loving partner, I could never leave for a reckless fleck of cultural gloss like Flaunt. But don't stop asking me yet, I want to protest some more.
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"They said, 'You know what? Don't be stupid. Do it again. We'll support you,'" Barajas says. "So when you have the support of the people, then you get some courage, and you don't feel like it's that difficult."

Three months after leaving Detour, in November 1998, Barajas released the first issue of Flaunt, an envelope-stretching monthly dedicated to covering all that is hip, or wants to be hip.

Over two years later, the magazine is going strong. Its first year, it took in $1.8 million in advertising, and nearly doubled that in 2000. It has a circulation of 100,000, but Barajas is eyeing the 250,000 plateau.

Flaunt's latest issue features actress Heather Graham on the cover.

Flaunt also has a travel company, run by Barajas' sister. And Barajas is considering an expansion of the Flaunt umbrella to include a music label, book publishing, a line of clothing and another magazine.

"We're on the route to do the right things," he says.

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'I'm a good guy'

Barajas, 40, is one of those anything's-possible entrepreneurs. Success is an afterthought, and he never fears new challenges.

"I'm only afraid of my mother."

He doesn't get flustered with the daily grind, either, like when his cell phone rings nonstop and each phone call is from a different side of the magazine business.

"My job is so weird," he says. "Since I'm the owner and pretty much do everything, I talk to the movie companies and the publicists and the photographers and the advertising directors and the designers. It's a strange mix. But it's fun. I like those things."

His biggest strength?

"I'm a good guy," he says. "I enjoy being able to help, I enjoy talking to people. And obviously, I'm honest and I'm an optimist."

Barajas was born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela. He moved to New York City when he was 17, then went to college in Texas -- first attending the University of Houston, before transferring to University of North Texas, and finishing at the Art Institute of Dallas.

Luis Barajas: Founder, Flaunt magazine

After graduating, he managed a J. Riggins store, selling suits in the mall. But he had bigger plans. Inspired by the pages of Interview magazine, he and partner Jim Turner founded Detour for the Texas Urban Culture, a magazine that promoted "the arts and up-and-coming people in Dallas."

"We did one issue and after that issue was done, we did the next one and the next one and the next one, and we did it every month," he says. "After three or four years of doing that, we packed our U-Haul and moved to Beverly."

Actually, they moved to L.A. That's when the magazine title was shortened to Detour, and Barajas made his way in the national magazine business.

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'The middle of it all'

Today, Flaunt is based in the heart of Hollywood, a block south of Chinese Mann Theater on Highland and Sunset. Its New York offices are located in Union Square.

"I like to be in the middle of it all," Barajas says.

The magazine's founders -- Barajas, Turner and Long Nguyen -- work with 11 other full-time staffers and dozens of contributors, advertisers, designers, etc.

Does Barajas have a mission statement?

"Get rich? Party my heart out?" He laughs, "No. Obviously, we try to be the center or the eyes of the culture we're surrounded by. For us, it's important that people get a chance to express themselves in the pages of a magazine. We give people the medium to express themselves."

Flaunt has earned raves for its presentation of content, which covers the cutting-edge and mainstream of entertainment and fashion. Names ranging from writer Joyce Carol Oates to photographer David LaChapelle to designer Tommy Hilfiger have contributed their art to Flaunt pages.

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The covers are die-cut; the ads and fashion layouts often feature women in provocative poses. The feature pieces serve publicity more than journalistic integrity.

"We're not Time magazine," says Barajas.

But some other publications apparently are taking notice. Barajas says at least one has switched to Flaunt's font and started using the same photographers. He sees it not as plagiarism, but as a compliment.

"It was good for us because it proved that we're doing the right thing," he says, "Obviously if someone is knocking you off then there's something to what you're doing.

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'I have a very unorthodox way'

Barajas is the energetic core of the Flaunt machine -- the atypical business leader who provides the spark in the creative environment.

"Ever since the days that I moved to America, I just don't comprehend a 'no,'" he says.

Luis Barajas: Founder, Flaunt magazine

"I have a very unorthodox way of doing things and I think people admire that -- I'm not worried that it's not supposed to be done that way. I say, 'Hey listen, I only know how to do it the way I do it.' And obviously, it works."

Barajas' days are a spin of the wheel, or a ring of the cell phone. He says he's constantly doing favors, asking favors, all in the name of business.

"Sometimes I spend a lot of my day doing stuff for other people," he says. "They ask, 'Can you get me ... ?' I'm like, 'OK, let me call this person who knows this person.' But that's how everything works. There have been plenty of times that people have done that for me."

Does Barajas hope one day that his work will pay off, officially transforming him from J. Riggins suit salesman to publishing baron?

"We have never done the magazine to make money," he says. "We have done the magazine so we can continue to live our lifestyle. That lifestyle comes with having nice things.

"But I never feel like this is the last thing I can do," he says. "I just search and search until things happen.

" I just don't let myself die."


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[watercooler]



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