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Boss Babes: Michelle Lee Editor-In-Chief of ‘Allure’

As a company created by two women, we know how important it is to celebrate women who are trailblazers in their respective fields. That’s why we’ve started our Boss Babes series. Each month we’ll highlight one woman who’s leading the way and is absolutely crushing it, in business and in life. Here, they’ll answer questions on everything from how they started out and advice they think every woman should know, plus their beauty routines and how they take care of themselves. This month: Michelle Lee of Allure.
As editor-in-chief of Allure magazine, Michelle Lee is as passionate about showcasing diverse stories and points of view as she is about beauty products. Since taking over at Allure, she has ushered in a new era of inclusivity in not just media, but also in the beauty industry as a whole. We chatted with Michelle about her journey, why it’s important to always evolve, and, of course, her biggest beauty secrets.

Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get started in the media industry, and how did you become EIC of Allure? Why did you choose this as your passion? 
My degree is in magazine journalism, so I knew in college that I’d go into magazines. Throughout the first 10 years of my career, I was a generalist. I wrote about everything from cars to technology to finance to fashion to extreme sports. In the last 10 years though, I started to focus more on women’s publishing and really diversified my experience not just in print and digital but also video and brand marketing.
I’ve worked with beauty in various ways throughout the years, but this is the first job I’ve had that has been solely focused on it. It’s a really exciting time to be in this industry, with everything happening in skin care, makeup, hair care, and beyond. In my past few roles, I’ve been seen as an agent of change—someone who comes in to help transform and modernize an iconic brand, which I find to be a really fulfilling challenge. You have to dig down to understand the essence of a brand and then creatively work out how to evolve it.

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Wow, I’ve been so moved by all the comments and stories written after we unveiled our new Hair Issue cover yesterday featuring 3 Asian models: @warukatta @soojmooj @feifeisun. Here’s a bit of what I told @bustle: “To me, these three covers are a symbol: it's an important time for Asians, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders. We CAN headline movies. We CAN have a huge Netflix comedy special (hello, @aliwong). We CAN have three Asian models on the cover of a major American magazine.” So proud of the entire @allure team for always broadening the conversation about beauty in new, wonderful ways. Thank you, everyone! 💕 Side note: I got the comment from several people (including Chrissy Teigen) that they assumed this was a foreign edition at first since we’re not used to seeing this level of representation here. Interesting, right?

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What were some of the challenges you’ve encountered along the way? How did you overcome them?
I think the biggest challenge I’ve faced in my career has been the evolution of the media industry. When I started out in the biz, there was a much clearer path and set of duties for an editor. Today, media is in a state of transformation, with various platforms and business models playing major roles. The key there has been to never stop learning! Technology and social media platforms moves so quickly that you have to have a growth mindset and understand that you should always keep learning.
Are there any particular moments that stand out as a defining moment for you personally/professionally? 
My first year at Allure was about setting a strong foundation. I didn’t want to shock people by changing everything overnight, so we gradually evolved. By year two, we had really hit our stride and had some amazing cultural moments, including putting Halima Aden on the cover of our American Beauty issue and Helen Mirren on our End of Anti-Aging issue. We won Adweek’s “Magazine of the Year” that year (2017) and I was named “Editor of the Year” that year, which is still such a proud moment.

Why do you think it’s important for companies to hire women and also executives from diverse cultural backgrounds for leadership positions?
First and foremost, it’s a good business decision. Having a diverse range of voices absolutely creates a better product. Having a more diverse team of people working behind the scenes tends to lead to different ideas. From the get-go, it was important to me that the new Allure redefine what is beautiful and that meant featuring people who were often underrepresented in mainstream media.

What do you do to unwind? 
Big glass of red wine, a Netflix food docu-series, and cuddles with my kids!

What’s your biggest (or favorite!) beauty secret? 
It’s really not a secret but I love layering highlighter. I’ll start with a cream or liquid then layer a powder highlighter over it for extra glow. I love going full dewy now. Another one is that skin care products will only help so much if you’re living an unhealthy lifestyle. I was having a lot of skin issues this summer and they were completely fixed by me cleaning up my diet and getting more sleep!

What are your goals for 2019, both for yourself and your business?
One personal goal is to take a trip to Korea, the skin care mecca! Business-wise, I want Allure to create more big cultural moments that show that beauty is deeper than just products–although we certainly love those, too!

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