This year, Allure celebrates 20 years of covering all things beauty. While shipping the next issue and jetting off to global fashion weeks, Editor in Chief Linda Wells reflected on Allure's two decades of growth. To find out how the magazine has evolved, what Wells thinks about bringing curvier women into the fold, and the best beauty advice she knows, read on for our Q&A.
BellaSugar: How was Allure received at its launch?
Linda Wells: The reaction to Allure's first issue was mixed, to put it gently. Some people loved its energy, the deliberate rawness and audacity of its design, and the bold voice in the writing. But a number of advertisers were outraged and called me into their offices to tell me so, not so gently. To quantify the reaction: by the fourth issue, which was in July, we dwindled to 10 and a half pages of advertising.
BellaSugar: What is your proudest accomplishment as editor in chief?
I'm proud that Allure survived that moment and participated in making beauty a compelling, serious, appealing, provocative subject. I'm happy that we've earned readers' trust. We give women the confidence to care about the way they look along with the tools to look their best. I'm also proud that many of the finest beauty editors working today started their careers at Allure.
BellaSugar: Looking back, are there any trends Allure has covered that now make you groan or laugh?
Besides the predictable follies in hair and makeup, what makes me laugh/groan is Allure's coverage of a battery-powered bra that claimed to massage the breasts and make them grow. Oh, and as a side-effect, it also stimulated the libido. What could be better, right? It was a medical device from a legitimate company, and we were so excited because we got the exclusive. We even heralded it on the cover. There was only one problem: it didn't seem to work. We even tested it on someone under a doctor's supervision, and nothing happened. But for a while there, we were real believers.
Even the supermodels of the '90s would be considered "big" compared to today's ultra-thin ideal. Going forward into the magazine's next decade, is there more room for women who aren't a size 2 — or even a size 12 — in Allure?
The short answer: Yes, of course there is.
My hope back in 1999 when we changed from putting models to celebrities on the cover, was that we'd represent more variety in ages, sizes, and appearance. That's been a positive aspect, but now so many celebrities are tiny — in part so they can fit into designers' samples. So there's been some progress. But models and actresses are still really thin.
Here's a story about trying to show different body types in the magazine: A year ago, we photographed about six models in underwear with their backs to the camera. One model was noticeably curvier than the others, and when I saw the picture, I thought, "Good. A real body!" About a week before we went to press, the photo came back from the retoucher, and the curvy model was now as skinny as the other girls in the picture. Someone had decided to alter her body with retouching. I couldn't believe it. A number of editors from different departments — research, production, PR — came into my office, really upset by the change. We managed to reverse the retouching and return the picture to its original state in time. But I couldn't believe that someone took it upon him- or herself to change this photograph. When the magazine came out, a huge number of readers wrote to thank us for showing a woman who was bigger than the typical model. And it almost didn't happen. The whole incident really alarmed me.
Models today are thin, yes. They've always been thinner and younger than most of us. They're also taller, have straighter noses, bigger eyes, fuller lips — I could go on and on. That has always been true. But there is unquestionably room to improve our representation of what is attractive.
BellaSugar: What is your absolute best beauty advice?
Make a little more effort, and you'd be surprised what a difference 10 extra minutes can make both in the way you look and in your self-confidence. Then, look at yourself in the kindest mirror and the most flattering light, and keep that image in your mind as you go through the day. It's better to see yourself at your best than to expose yourself at your worst.
BellaSugar: What are the biggest ways in which the beauty world has changed since Allure's launch?
Women are more willing to care about the way they look today than they were 20 years ago; and they're less apologetic about it. Intelligent, successful women used to believe sincerely that looking attractive could undermine their credibility. Now that's no longer true.
Beauty products, too, are more credible — they perform better, they deliver on their claims more effectively, there are more true breakthroughs. It's a good time to be a beauty brand.