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.
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.
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.