Q&A with Allure Editor-in-Chief Michelle Lee
MAKERS interviewed Allure's new editor-in-chief Michelle Lee on how she is redefining the 25-year-old beauty brand and changing the way women consume beauty coverage.
Since joining Allure at the end of last year, Lee has not only made instrumental advancements to the magazine but has been supercharging their digital and social platforms and growing Allure's e-commerce, video and branded content businesses — building an overall smarter, more dynamic brand.
Be inspired by reading our Q&A with her below.
Q: Here at MAKERS, we are always curious to know who inspires the women who inspire us. Who has been your greatest career role model and why?
A: I've been very fortunate to have amazing role models throughout the years. My first job in New York was working at Glamour with Cindi Leive, who's had a big influence on me. And of course, I feel so fortunate to work with Anna Wintour now, who's taught me so much. I found one of my very early mentors while I was in college. I had arranged all of my classes to be at night so I could work all day. So, one of my first jobs was as a full-time staff writer at a weekly newspaper. My editor in chief, Susan Dix Lyons, had a great impact on me. She was someone who is still a wonderful friend to this day. I admired her so much for doing things with integrity and being clear with her opinions but also being open to the ideas of everyone on staff, no matter what their level. After spending years in journalism, she's now focused on incredible humanitarian work in Nicaragua. She's someone who makes me want to be a better person whenever I spend time with her. That's true influence!
Q: What are some of the ways the beauty and publishing industries have changed over the years and is it for the better?
A: Wow, well, we've seen beauty change a phenomenal amount over the past five years, largely driven by the Internet and social media. First and foremost, there's been an explosion of interest in makeup, hair, nails, everything, which has been fabulous. Just look at the social media accounts devoted to only eyebrows or the meteoric rise of contouring. It's been fascinating to watch the market respond with new product development — and it has to happen faster and faster. Also, beauty is something that is so personal and is becoming even more personal. It's why YouTubers and social stars have become so influential in the space. We want to know exactly what products someone is using to get a look; we want to know her exact routine and technique. It's also influenced beauty trends as a whole. It used to be that beauty trends were driven seasonally by the runway shows. Now, new micro-trends are being started and reported on every day. It's changed everything not only about the way we consume beauty products, but also the way they're made and marketed. It's a fascinating time. Publishing has also changed so much in recent years: I think there's a huge white space when it comes to high-quality beauty content that connects with people on a personal level. On one side of the spectrum, we have the individual creators who connect but may not bring the quality and expertise. On the other side of the spectrum, there are a lot of brands who create high-quality content that's overly produced and feels too much like a TV commercial. They have the quality but it fails to connect. I kind of hate the word "content" because it's become so overused in recent years but there's an overwhelming amount of content out there these days. So my goal is to make Allure the brand that cuts through the noise.
Q: Tell us about the new Allure.com. Why did you feel the need to re- launch the site?
A: When I arrived in November, Allure had some catching up to do digitally and socially. It's the most trusted brand in beauty but had not realized its full digital potential. The magazine is still infinitely important to us — it's the core of everything we do. But there hadn't been enough attention and resources put towards digital, video, and social media, where millions of people were hungry for higher-quality, trustworthy, gorgeous beauty content. So from Day One, I started talking to my team about how the web site should evolve. I didn't want to just re-skin it and change colors and fonts: we needed a complete reimagining. We tore up the entire old site and started with two questions: What does the world of beauty need? What do users really want? We sat in what we call our Allure War Room with key members of various teams and deconstructed what our audience wants. This brand has always been known for its amazing information about products: people turn to us to know the Best of Beauty. So we wanted to merge the world of information with inspiration. Our mission became: 1) merge inspiration and information; 2) think mobile-first; 3) include video everywhere; and 4) lead users on the ultimate journey to find the products that will truly help them. On every platform, I wanted to freshen up the image of Allure to be elevated yet approachable, more diverse, and to connect more on a personal level. And I wanted to be sure we're entertaining our visitors, too. Beauty touches on so many interesting topics: it's not just how to apply eyeliner. Beauty touches on sociology, psychology, gender and political issues, race, business, there's such a wealth of topics when it comes to appearance. A few months ago, I hired a new digital director, Simone Oliver, from the New York Times Digital. She and I share a vision for the Allure.com 2.0 and we're committed to building an experience that feels more complementary on every platform. Allure in print is smart, beautiful, modern, and inspiring. The digital experience should not feel like a rehash of that—it should be the moving, living, breathing embodiment of those pillars, which informs and entertains in real time. We've already seen incredible growth — 86 percent YOY — in traffic. And we haven't fully turned the engine on yet. From a technology perspective, we needed to start viewing ourselves as a technology company and focusing on innovation and data. The old Allure.com had been built about five years ago, which in Internet years, might as well be about 20 years ago! The technology that our new site is built on is faster, smarter, and more data-driven. We also thought a lot about the ad experience and how native advertising would look from the get-go. As an editor, I want every piece of the experience to look beautiful and to be engaging, so I'm thrilled that our native offerings will look spectacular!
Q: What are some of the new features and why are they important to the brand?
A: One of the new features I'm most excited about is that we'll have Buy It buttons on products, as well as Try It buttons. We have a library of 6,500 product reviews (and growing!). We'll be partnering soon with some major beauty brands to offer sampling opportunities for a number of those products. Again, looking at it from a user experience, I'd want to come in to the site, be inspired by a look or story, read Allure's honest review of a product, possibly buy it, or possibly sample it. How cool is that? Another new feature I'm excited about is what we're calling our Makeup Collections. On nearly every page, we have a selection of products that can be curated in any number of ways: a celebrity's five favorite skin care products, five must-have products for your wedding day, the five best-selling products right now at Sephora, the list goes on. On top of the new features, we're also launching some new verticals, including tech, travel, and wellness. We'll also be launching new celebrity- written columns (more on the A-listers who will be participating at launch in the next few days!) and a whole new slate of video programming. One of my favorites is a docu-series called "Pretty Powerful," which features a range of strong, sexy, bad-ass women at the intersection of beauty, fitness, and wellness, like purple-haired Olympic fencer, Dagmara Wozniak.
Q: How does Allure's audience consume beauty and how is their relationship with beauty changing? How are you making sure to not only grow with your audience but lead the way
A: My goal when I arrived was to get us caught up and then to jump ahead quickly through smart partnerships and a focus on innovation. I strongly believe that Allure shouldn't be following the trends — we should be leading them. We have access to the best experts and our editors are experts in their own right. So rather than following the trends, we should be the ones who are setting them. The Allure audience consumes beauty everywhere and she's quickly becoming more mobile. Our digital audience has moved to mobile at a breakneck pace, with about 80 percent of our traffic now coming through mobile. And our readers are engaging in the magazine equivalent of the two-screen experience. When you're sitting reading your magazine, you typically have your iPhone right next to you, right? We want to meet the Allure fan where she is, so we're launching a cool new print-to- mobile activation in November with our How-To Issue, which will allow magazine readers to launch video and other mobile content straight from the pages of the issue using the Shazam app.
Q: How have your own personal experiences with beauty impacted your vision for the magazine, website and overall brand?
A: When I first started wearing makeup as a teenager, I was clueless. This was long before YouTube, and I felt frustrated the how-tos that I read in magazines didn't apply to me. I have what's called monolid eyes, meaning I don't have the same crease that most people have on their eyelids. My mother wasn't a big makeup-wearer, so anything I learned, I had to learn through years of trial and error. Oh, imagine my teenage angst. Coming to Allure, it was really important to me that we do better when it comes to diversity. All faces and bodies are not one-size- fits-all. My goal is to make Allure more personal and more personality-based. We used to speak from the Royal "we" but I want to hear more of the editors' real voices: if you have dry skin, say it. We have a real opportunity to connect with our audience on a personal level but also with a level of expertise that the individual influencer doesn't have.
Q: Explain some of the ways Allure uses its social platform to inspire women.
A: I view Allure as the intelligent, honest beauty expert. Beauty can sometimes be viewed through such a narrow lens but we strive to give broader context to important issues and look at how beauty intersects with our audience's world. We delve into topics like the politics of beauty and body image, cancer, ethnicity, gender...our audience loves Allure and it's incredibly gratifying to be able to influence the way people view the world.
Q: Where do you see Allure in the next 10 years?
A: I think Allure will continue to grow on many different platforms and in many new directions, including live events, product licensing, and other business offshoots like our Allure Beauty Box. Most importantly, we have the power of Conde Nast Digital behind us, which is becoming world-class at using data to better serve users. Being able to give the Allure reader/user/viewer a more personalized experience is on the horizon and it's so exciting.
Q: What is one thing many people don't know about you?
A: I'm a self-taught tech nerd. Over the past few years, I've taught myself CSS, responsive web site design, digital photography, video editing, and some light motion graphics. I love that I can open up the source code in a web page and understand it (at least on some level!).
Q: What would you say is the most rewarding part of your job?
A: We've had a great time connecting directly with our followers on Facebook Live lately, and I love reading comments from viewers who are so thankful for the information. It's wonderful to meet people who share a common love for beauty and fashion and to build a community together.
Q: Here at MAKERS, we’re all about sharing stories to empower and inspire the leaders of tomorrow. Do you have any advice for someone who wants to become an editor-in-chief or to break into the beauty world?
A: To me, the secret to success in almost any field is to nurture a lifelong love of learning. I didn't graduate from an Ivy League school, but I made up for it and then some by working hard and continuing to evolve. I've always had a knack for recognizing trends in the market — like branded content — and taking the initiative to learn skills that would help me become proficient in those things. A lot of young people I know think that they don't have time to learn new skills. But I believe they'd find they do have time if they really examined how they spend their days. The Internet can either be an enormous waste of time or it can be the greatest educational tool, depending on how you use it. I drive about an hour to work every day and I felt so depressed at a certain point to think that I was wasting two hours of every day commuting. My husband suggested I listen to podcasts during that time, and it completely changed my view of those hours. Now, I spend my drive learning something and I actually look forward to it! Becoming an editor in chief these days is so different from when I was starting out. Back then, you were in charge of the editorial vision of the magazine. Now, EICs must be polymaths. We are responsible for every facet of our brand, from the creative vision of photography to video to every social media channel to licensed products, you name it. My advice to anyone who dreams of being an EIC is to learn business and management. Most editors start on a journalism track but don't know a lick of business. Then they're thrust into the top spot and have to learn on the fly. No matter what you do, knowing more about business will take you far!
Q: Who are some of the women you admire inside or outside of the beauty industry?
A: I look up to women who have helped to build business — and in some cases — empires, but still remain fun, down-to- earth, wonderful people. Jenna Lyons, Pat McGrath, and Drew Barrymore come to mind.
Q: Are there any additional Allure projects coming up that MAKERS should look out for?
A: We're celebrating the 20th anniversary of Allure's Best of Beauty Awards in October, so it'll be one of the most jam-packed issues of the magazine ever, as well as a full-blown celebration online, too. We're also expanding the Allure Beauty Box, which is our monthly subscription box. We've done a limited-edition collaboration box with our sister brand Brides as well as upcoming editions with Conde Nast Traveler, GQ, and Teen Vogue. We're also launching our own Allure Social Influencers Network and incubator. We'll be able to say more about that in the coming weeks. Across the board, I want Allure to revolutionize the world of beauty. We're in the prime position to innovate in this space and that's so exciting.