The New Queen of Beauty

Connecticut-born NYU art grad­u­ate Emily Weiss spent six years at the top end of fash­ion pub­lish­ing, work­ing at Teen Vogue, W and American Vogue. And then three years ago, armed with this rig­or­ous jour­nal­is­tic back­ground in print, she ven­tured into online to tackle a sub­ject some people think of as triv­ial: beauty. I think it gets a bad rap, like it’s more friv­o­lous than fash­ion,’ says Emily. I wanted to see a more chic rep­re­sen­ta­tion of beauty, more about how women live with beauty.’ Now her web­site Into The Gloss – with its detailed prod­uct reviews, inter­views and reg­u­lar The Top Shelf ’ slot, in which women in the fash­ion indus­try talk read­ers through their beauty rou­tines – attracts eight mil­lion views each month, making it one of the most trusted author­i­ties on cos­met­ics in the world.

Photography by Robbie Fimmano, Styling by Vanessa Chow

Tell me a bit about where you’re from.
I’m from Connecticut orig­i­nally and I went to New York University. I was a studio art major and I’ve always been very visual; I’ve always been super into pho­tog­ra­phy and fash­ion and beauty for as long as I can remem­ber, since I was eight or nine, and I always knew I wanted to work in the indus­try. My mum was not par­tic­u­larly inter­ested in fash­ion, so I’m not sure where I got the bug. My edu­ca­tion really started with an intern­ship at Teen Vogue mag­a­zine that I had for three and half years when I was at school. I wound up work­ing in the fash­ion fea­tures depart­ment in about 2004, and it’s funny because a lot of what I was doing there was sim­i­lar to my cre­ative approach now, which I would say is very people-ori­en­tated. I was always very inter­ested in telling people’s sto­ries, and a lot of the fea­tures in Teen Vogue were based on real girls. 

This was before the style blog­ger boom.
Yeah. I think that’s part of what made Teen Vogue so unique – they were focus­ing on a lot of these inspi­ra­tional young girls who had cool style. I would see girls in Martha’s Vineyard or down in the streets in Soho and sort of streetscout them and pitch them to the mag­a­zine. I’d say I saw this great 14-year-old artsy girl in Converse and it sounds like her par­ents are artists – lets do a Room of my Own’ fea­ture with her or some­thing. I was always very fullpic­ture like that. It’s part of my job now that I am a cre­ative direc­tor at Into The Gloss: who’s this girl? Why is she dif­fer­ent from the other girls? What’s inspir­ing about her? How does she put her­self together? I’ve always just been super-curi­ous about women and their style, and that goes for women who aren’t famous or in the fash­ion world too. I was at W when Alex White was at the helm and Karl Templer was styling. I was doing a lot of the requests for shoots and it wasn’t until I finally went on one of those shoots that I said I want to be a styl­ist. I wanted an oppor­tu­nity to assist on one of Alex’s shoots, on one of Karl’s shoots, and from there I got a job work­ing with Elissa Santisi. She was going free­lance from Vogue where she was a style direc­tor for well over a decade, and I assisted her on all of her Vogue shoots and what­ever else she was doing, like her runway shows with Derek Lam. I remem­ber it being really fun: like, you know, We need a navy blue 1980 Mercedes con­vert­ible for tomor­row, make it happen’; those kinds of chal­lenges. So I’d then been in mag­a­zines for close to six years. I’d always really loved beauty but I think it gets a bit of a bad rap, like it’s more friv­o­lous than fash­ion. It says some­thing about who you are as a woman that you should be sort of embar­rassed about beauty or wear­ing make- up or admit­ting to time spent on your­self. I wanted to see more of a chic rep­re­sen­ta­tion of beauty, inspi­ra­tional beauty, more about how women live with beauty. And that’s when I got the idea. I remem­ber I was sit­ting on a beach in Connecticut near my par­ents’ house in August 2010. I thought, there really is room for a new beauty plat­form. And I wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily think­ing dig­i­tal; you know, I’m a child of print. But obvi­ously it’s much easier to buy a domain name than it is to figure out how to pub­lish and dis­trib­ute a print mag­a­zine. So I built it based on what I wanted to see and I assumed there had to be more people like me out there who would respond to some­thing that was really ele­vat­ing beauty. I said, I’m going to do a blog,’ and my par­ents and friends were weirdly sup­port­ive of me jump­ing off this cor­po­rate ladder. Even today I think blog’ is a still dirty word but I never minded it to be honest.

I sup­pose people’s per­cep­tions might have been, She’s doing that the wrong way round – surely you go from blogs to Vogue, not the other way around’…
Yeah, I think so. But at the time I was look­ing at people like Tommy Ton and Scott Schuman and seeing that they had this very par­tic­u­lar vision and that they had an audi­ence who really liked it. I guess I had assumed that they were making money with it and it seemed like the most log­i­cal place to launch some­thing. It was very impor­tant for me from the get-go to align myself with some­one who could build a beau­ti­ful web­site. I found Michael Harper, who is Into The Gloss’s visual direc­tor and one of my two part­ners – the other being Nick Axelrod, who was senior fash­ion news editor at Elle mag­a­zine. Michael had been doing web stuff at Teen Vogue. I went to coffee with him with my Moleskine note­book with a sketch of a logo and how I envis­aged the web­site. He built it in about two weeks and I started shoot­ing.

So you went from styling to being a pho­tog­ra­pher!
I was writ­ing too! I’d dab­bled in every­thing at NYU from video art to per­for­mance art, to paint­ing, draw­ing, sculp­ture and pho­tog­ra­phy. I would never say I was a tech­ni­cally trained pho­tog­ra­pher, I just sort of knew how I wanted these Into The Gloss pic­tures to look. I think the beauty of Into The Gloss lies in the cura­tion, the cura­tion of every­thing from the people we fea­ture to the prod­ucts we high­light to the things we talk about. There is always a human aspect to it, even though we’re talk­ing to Isabel Marant or Inès de la Fressange or Victoire de Castellane or Inez van Lamsweerde. I think there is a dis­tinct point of view to the site where it’s about dis­cov­ery; it’s about learn­ing from cool girls and women. I’m still wait­ing on Jenna Lyons, by the way. Jenna, if you’re read­ing this, I’d love to do your top shelf! 

Jenna, look her up!
The first person I think I shot was Sally Singer, who I had walked by in the hall­ways at Vogue, but we’d never worked together. I cold-called a lot of people and they were very sup­port­ive. I hadn’t even launched Into The Gloss yet when Sally said, Sure, you can come on over to my bath­room and talk to me about what mois­turiser I put on my face.’ And there were brands that were very early sup­port­ers. Kerry Diamond was at Lancôme at the time and was our very first adver­tiser. Lancôme threw us a launch party and they adver­tised on the site, so there were a lot of people who believed in it.

What’s a typ­i­cal day for you and your team? What goes into making the fea­tures that we see each day?
Well, it’s changed a lot since I launched in September 2010. For the first year I was still work­ing full time at Vogue with Elissa, so I was basi­cally doing every­thing, from going on a Saturday to do a top-shelf shoot where I would pho­to­graph the person for an hour and half and record an inter­view on my iPhone, and then before work three times a week tran­scribe those fea­tures, edit those fea­tures, edit the photos in Photoshop, upload every­thing onto WordPress, pub­lish it, pro­mote it across social media, and at the same time manage the busi­ness end of things, so adver­tis­ing for the projects that we would do – and this was just me at the time. After about a year I ended up doing it full-time, but it was still out of my apart­ment – I was work­ing with my two cats and my laptop not real­is­ing what a big dif­fer­ence a 24-inch mon­i­tor might make. Then last summer, Nick Axelrod, who has been my best friend for many years – he was at W, he was at Women’s Wear Daily as a fash­ion assis­tant when I was at W as a fash­ion assis­tant – he joined Into The Gloss when we relaunched last July as edi­to­r­ial direc­tor as well as doing a lot of our busi­ness devel­op­ment.

Was it really impor­tant for you to have some­one with a proven edi­to­r­ial back­ground, some­one who really knew con­tent from more tra­di­tional media?
Yes. Content is king and I am such a per­fec­tion­ist about what we put up. I think the qual­ity is really part of what dis­tin­guishes us. Hopefully it’s not full of typos and we pride our­selves on smart writ­ing and smart pre­sen­ta­tion and smart design. So that’s why I was only doing three posts a week: I could have done many more posts, shorter things with no orig­i­nal photos, but I didn’t want to sac­ri­fice qual­ity. There are so many brands taking people away from print to create brand con­tent online that I thought it was really impor­tant if we were going to expand the site to get some­one who wanted it to grow with me. And Nick and I were best friends, so there had been many a dinner con­ver­sa­tion where I was telling him about my day and the deci­sions I was making. We both wanted to make it a print expe­ri­ence online, and I think that does come from having trained in mag­a­zines with the most bril­liant edi­tors. You know what it’s like to fact-check, to edit copy – you do really need those skills.

How many people visit your site in a month?
At the moment, we get around eight mil­lion views a month and 300,000 uniques, about 50 per cent US. The UK, France and Canada are big mar­kets for us. Our audi­ence is very sophis­ti­cated and we know who they are. The major­ity are 24- to 35-year-old women who are col­lege-edu­cated and spend a lot of money on beauty prod­ucts and fash­ion. They are very vocal about what works and what doesn’t. We’ve had der­ma­tol­o­gists and women in med­ical school com­ment on ingre­di­ents. These are not teenagers who are watch­ing YouTube videos and don’t have their own credit cards. These are the women who are really shop­ping and who on the week­end are buying a new lip­stick to wear to the party on the Saturday night from YSL that they sell at Sephora. I think that these women obvi­ously exist every­where in the fash­ion-cen­tric cap­i­tals where we have a big pres­ence: New York, LA, Paris, London, Brazil…

There was an arti­cle in the New York Times recently about the boom in beauty blog­gers. For years we’ve been hear­ing about the fash­ion blog­gers, now there’s a market for the cul­ture of fash­ion that there never was before, and people want to know about Anna Wintour, Anna Dello Russo and Emmanuelle Alt. Now we’re seeing the same thing with what you do. And you’ve been a pio­neer in this new media busi­ness. How do you react to pub­li­ca­tions talk­ing about you and taking notice?
Of course, I’m always flat­tered. I’m always appre­cia­tive when anyone really goes into all that it is that we do, because I think there is a ten­dency to con­sider blogs as a sort of hobby or about the blog­ger making her­self a celebrity. Into The Gloss has never really been about me, it’s about who and what I find inter­est­ing. Imran [Amed] did a fan­tas­tic, thought­ful piece on our busi­ness model, our growth last September [for Business of Fashion]. It shed light on inno­v­a­tive adver­tis­ing and what we’d been doing with brands like Nars and Marc Jacobs fra­grance and Bumble & Bumble. A lot of brands, instead of giving us their assets that run across 500 web­sites and print mag­a­zines, have said to us, We really like what you guys are doing, so why don’t you con­tex­tu­alise this new launch or this new prod­uct through your lens?’

So how do these col­lab­o­ra­tions come about? Is it brands
approach­ing you? Do you approach brands?

It’s both. cer­tainly we’re still very new in the scheme of things; I think the entire busi­ness is new. I think the busi­ness of online con­tent and inde­pen­dent online pub­lish­ers is new and I think there’s a lot of risk and also a lot of reward on both sides. These brands you are talk­ing about are big com­pa­nies and they put a lot on the line. There’s always an approval process and it takes a cer­tain kind of pub­li­ca­tion who’s very for­ward-think­ing to iden­tify the really fun and super-inven­tive ways to market beauty prod­ucts. There’s a lot of oppor­tu­nity to exper­i­ment and see what works. We’ve had a lot of fun with cer­tain brands cre­at­ing things, cre­at­ing pro­grammes and cre­at­ing con­tent.

I guess in you they have a name that they trust. They could do a paid adver­to­r­ial in a mag­a­zine, but what­ever you guys are doing comes from a legit­i­mate place, an honest place because you’re only going to col­lab­o­rate with brands that you truly believe in.
That’s cor­rect, yes. We curate our busi­ness as much as we curate our con­tent, and I think great con­tent is great con­tent whether it’s spon­sored or not. I wouldn’t put any­thing on the site that I would not want to see, and it’s been really grat­i­fy­ing when we’ve done spon­sored pro­grammes – like some­thing we did with Giorgio Armani and their Lip Maestro, a new lip prod­uct: we did a Fashion Week diary, talk­ing about some of the rich colours we chose for five days on myself and our asso­ciate editor, that read­ers really loved and responded to. Our view­ers are very vocal: they will tell us if they don’t like some­thing, they will tell us if they loved it, they will tell us if they have a better idea, if they would have done it dif­fer­ently. That’s one thing you can never do in print: there’s a real pulse with cre­at­ing con­tent online. I can check my phone right now and see com­ments that have come in in the last five min­utes. We get ideas for sto­ries, we get ideas for people to shoot, it’s con­stant. Our read­ers have a big influ­ence on us.

** How impor­tant is social media to your busi­ness? Do you use those plat­forms for spe­cific purposes?88
Social media is hugely impor­tant and increas­ingly so. I think it can be very over­whelm­ing because obvi­ously there are new plat­forms cre­ated every day, and the pres­sure to have a new account…

Yeah I know, like, ‘OK great, I’ve got to have Vine now!’
And there is a whole gen­er­a­tion of people who do that too. We are about to hire a com­mu­nity man­ager, a social media man­ager, and that’s a job in itself. I think anyone who is pro­duc­ing great con­tent needs to be pro­mot­ing it in the right way in order to reach new audi­ences. We have a very engaged audi­ence already, but to reach new people you really do have to engage with Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr – they all do really well for us. We’re huge on ana­lyt­ics as well; we’ll get our ana­lyt­ics sev­eral time a day on what posts are being shared through our biggest refer­ral sites. It does take a lot of time, but you do have to do it because I don’t think going from post­ing three times a day to post­ing five times a day actu­ally increases your over­all audi­ence. It might increase your page views but I think I’d be just as happy post­ing three times a day and get­ting those posts out there in the right way.

I think it’s inter­est­ing how quickly you’ve become an author­ity in what we see as a niche…
Beauty is a niche?

Yeah. Well, beauty blog­ging is a bit of a niche.
What’s inter­est­ing is that I think a lot of our audi­ence would say they don’t look at any other beauty blog – they’re actu­ally a fash­ion audi­ence, they’re an audi­ence that reads Garance, that reads The Sartorialist. Of course, there are plenty of quote-unquote beauty junkies who read our site, but what I’m proud of is that we’ve con­verted a large number of read­ers who prob­a­bly wouldn’t have been inter­ested in beauty before who are now seeing it in a new way.

Do you think that’s how you’ve been able to dis­tin­guish your­self? The fact that you kind of have this fash­ion audi­ence and yet you’re not talk­ing about fash­ion?
Every woman – every person, even every man – is a con­sumer of beauty, they might just not be inter­ested in read­ing about it. With Into The Gloss what I think we’ve done is open a lot of people’s eyes to this par­tic­u­lar kind of beauty con­tent. There’s a lot of people who come up to me and say they would never have been inspired to read about beauty before but now they really enjoy it. Maybe they’re not as ashamed of it some­how? I think there is still a cer­tain stigma, because a lot of the women who I want to shoot for Into The Gloss Top Shelf will say, Well, I don’t know if I’m the right person for you to shoot, I’m really boring when it comes to beauty.’ And I’m like, Well, why?’ And they say, I’m really low main­te­nance, I don’t do much.’ And I say, Well, that’s OK.’ I want to know why, and what’s the one thing she does use every day, because that’s just as inter­est­ing to me. Why does she only use Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturiser? Chances are it’s because that person has used every other kind of foun­da­tion and five dif­fer­ent tinted mois­turis­ers, and they’ve learnt that they absolutely love the Laura Mercier one. A lot of those women start out their inter­views by saying, Oh, I don’t really do very much, I’m not a beauty girl,’ and then open their med­i­cine cab­i­net and actu­ally it’s over­flow­ing with prod­ucts that they alter­nate or use on any given day. Beauty should be out in the open as some­thing that’s a very impor­tant ele­ment of style and some­thing that women can be proud of talk­ing about and chat about with each other with­out it seem­ing silly. That’s impor­tant to me.

Photography by Robbie Fimmano, Styling by Vanessa Chow

You fea­ture a lot of people from the fash­ion indus­try, but do you fea­ture celebri­ties?
Yeah, sure. We’ve done Dita Von Teese, who gave me one of the great­est quotes anyone has ever given me for an Into The Gloss fea­ture. She’s writ­ing a beauty book, and I asked her what she was going to say in it. She said, I don’t want it to be like all the other beauty books. I want to get real. I want to say, Girls, before you go on a date, make sure you pluck those nipple hairs!”’ And in one of the Into The Gloss movies I did on her, Jean GodfreyJune, who is a leg­endary beauty editor, said, Women really let their guard down when they are talk­ing about beauty prod­ucts; it’s a really great equaliser because you can’t be snobby when you’re talk­ing about hair removal.’ We can all con­nect to each other in a very human way. Yes, we’ve done Drew Barrymore, we stopped Aziz Ansari at a party once and he gave us a hys­ter­i­cal, totally made-up quote about how he’s obsessed with putting pome­gran­ates on his face… Celebrities are a whole lot trick­ier to pin down, but I’m not opposed to includ­ing them at all.

Which people in the indus­try have given you advice or point­ers on what you’re doing now?
I’ve been very lucky to have men­tors from the begin­ning since I’ve started this site. Someone who came back into my life who I met com­pletely ran­domly when I was 15 years old is Jeanine [Lobell] who founded Stila. She was always such a hero of mine before I knew her per­son­ally, and I’m really grate­ful that I con­sider her a close friend now. I just think anyone who is entre­pre­neur­ial and can think out­side the box can be help­ful. People like Jeanne have really encour­aged that why not?’ atti­tude – I always think, what’s the worst that can happen? I think there’s a lot of pride in fash­ion and beauty, you have to sort of play it cool a lot of the time. That’s never really been my thing – I put myself out there con­stantly, I’m con­stantly rejected and then I’m also con­stantly given a green light. I’m not afraid to ask for advice and help when I need it. I think people think it’s scary to ask ques­tions, like they need to have all the answers. I would encour­age every­one to reach out and ask ques­tions and just keep taking risks. I think you have to work really hard. No one in my family worked in this indus­try, no one worked in fash­ion. I’m not a trust-fund baby. Being an entre­pre­neur, some days are great, some days are ter­ri­ble, but it’s really excit­ing to know the sky’s the limit. I think it’s the same with dig­i­tal right now too: there are end­less pos­si­bil­i­ties.

Where did you get your busi­ness acumen? Is it self-taught? Did your par­ents come from a busi­ness back­ground?
My dad did – he worked for the same com­pany for 30 years, he was very ded­i­cated and prob­a­bly taught me a lot about ded­i­ca­tion. I think in busi­ness, a lot of it is asking for help and having the right team. I have a won­der­ful team at Into The Gloss and every­one we hire, every single addi­tion to the team, has a huge impact on the suc­cess of the com­pany. I tell every­one who comes in, even our interns, You are all entre­pre­neurs and this com­pany can be what­ever you want.’ I really earned my stripes at won­der­ful media insti­tu­tions and I do think it’s really impor­tant to intern and it’s really impor­tant for people who are young, my age and also younger, to work really hard.

Is it harder to get the oppor­tu­ni­ties that will arise now
in becom­ing part of the bigger media voice? Bloggers are coming together – they under­stand they have a gen­uine busi­ness on their hands, and we’ve seen this group­ing of blog­gers with sites like Now Manifest and Fellt in Australia; it’s becom­ing more preva­lent. Is that some­thing you would ever want to do? Or is remain­ing com­pletely inde­pen­dent impor­tant?

First of all, in this cli­mate, things change all the time. We’re sit­ting here in May – God knows what’s going to happen by September. In the last two and half years there have been lots of really excit­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties pre­sented to me in terms of ad net­works, acqui­si­tion, col­lab­o­ra­tions with brands. I think every­one has to make their own deci­sions for what’s right for them, and every inde­pen­dent pub­lisher has dif­fer­ent objec­tives. We have been in a posi­tion where, although we are small rel­a­tive to some other web­sites and pub­lish­ers, we’ve been lucky to have a con­stant source of income. We’ve been doing our adver­tis­ing since the begin­ning so we’ve never the­o­ret­i­cally needed to part­ner in order to mon­e­tise our busi­ness – that also comes from me really being full time on the web­site, whereas if I’d spent more time devel­op­ing side projects or per­sonal aspi­ra­tions then yeah, for sure, I would def­i­nitely have to hand the reins over to some­one else. As long as we con­tinue, I think we will be able to be able to manage our busi­ness in-house. Partnerships make sense strate­gi­cally at dif­fer­ent points in time, so it’s not some­thing I’ve avoided on prin­ci­ple. I want this to work, this isn’t just a hobby for me and I’m not hell-bent on keep­ing it all in-house for its own sake. But I think it just comes down to timing, and so far we’ve been a prof­itable com­pany. We’ve been very strate­gic in terms of our deci­sions and not want­ing to do any­thing too quickly or too soon. Things are chang­ing so much all the time in the indus­try but noth­ing has really made us want to make a big jump yet.

We’ve seen it happen with a lot of new media sites, where once you’ve got the con­tent and you’ve estab­lished your­self as a trusted author­ity, the nat­ural next step is to move into e-com­merce and make the things that you talk about on your site directly avail­able to your reader. Is that some­thing you’ d con­sider? Or could that com­pro­mise your author­ity?
I think there is a lot of oppor­tu­nity for e-com­merce with Into The Gloss. My stance on cre­at­ing any­thing in my life is that I don’t want to make some­thing that already exists or if I’m not saying any­thing new with it. The reason I was so pas­sion­ate about start­ing Into The Gloss in the first place was that it was some­thing that didn’t exist and I was shocked that it didn’t exist. If some­thing dawns on me where I say, Oh my gosh, I can’t believe this has been miss­ing’ then of course that will be very excit­ing and I will be behind it 100 per cent. But I have no inter­est in just being another voice in the crowd, with prod­uct or any­thing else we do.

So have you got any­thing new planned for Into The Gloss?
We relaunched Into The Gloss in July 2012 and since then the focus has really been a con­tent phase, which means tran­si­tion­ing the web­site from being a single person – you know, Emily’s blog’ – to a team of people who are trusted, and how we go from I’ to we’, and main­tain­ing that qual­ity while increas­ing our con­tent by five times. And I think we’ve been really suc­cess­ful in doing that. I think we would like to try and intro­duce it to a new kind of reader. I think we’ve been speak­ing to that very hyper-informed fash­ion reader, but there are a lot of girls and guys out there who would really enjoy our con­tent who maybe don’t follow fash­ion so closely but really love beauty. So I think we are hoping to amp up our social and really increase our audi­ence. Something else I want to do: we’ll have three years of con­tent by the time this arti­cle comes out. We’re almost like an ency­clopae­dia of people and prod­ucts now, so I think we def­i­nitely want to make this site more usable, make it some­thing that really can become a bit of a direc­tory. We’re sit­ting on so much incred­i­ble infor­ma­tion about prod­ucts and beauty and we really want to unpack that con­tent.