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* United Colors of Benetton's loud and culturally savvy publication is one of the most ambitious for youth today.

Tibor Kalman, a former art director of Interview magazine, is the czar of the Colors creative department (and not, as you might suspect, Oliviero Toscani, the man behind Benetton's nervy ad campaign). Mr. Kalman's aim is to drive home the lofty notion of cultural equality via startling and outrageous pictorial packages. This premise leads him to target his magazine for youth around the world, he says, ``because they're the group most likely to change their minds.''

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This magazine's main vocabulary is images a la Benetton ads: big, brave, and brazen (a photo essay on condoms; semi-nude photos in the issue on racism). As Kalman puts it, ``No matter what your cultural sophistication or what language you speak, everyone can understand images.'' He and his staff of 15 ``manufacture'' Colors in Rome. Working with 29 researchers around the world, they cobble together stories for readers in 80 countries. Five bilingual editions are produced every two months, and sell for $3. Circulation is about 400,000.

The magazine's big-photo storytelling is sparsely woven with punchy, compassionate voices that plunge into a blend of fun and provocative cultural topics. Most issues are driven by a global-friendly theme (past issues have explored racism, and ``the street as a social architectural structure'').

One unsettling shade of Colors is Benetton's grip on its marketing. Apart from the newsstands, this magazine ``about the rest of the world'' (much of which is impoverished) is also sold in pricey Benetton shops, bundled with the company's catalogs and a self-indulgent corporate ``news'' publication.

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