An Analysis of 'Allure' Under Newly Minted Editor-in-Chief Michelle Lee

March marks the storied beauty mag's 25th anniversary issue and some changes are afoot.
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March marks the storied beauty mag's 25th anniversary issue and some changes are afoot.
The old guard and the new, on Allure's March 2016 covers. (Photos: Allure/Patrick Demarchelier)

The old guard and the new, on Allure's March 2016 covers. (Photos: Allure/Patrick Demarchelier)

I'm going to date myself here, but I've been reading (and loving) Allure pretty much since its inception 25 years ago. When news broke in November that founding editor Linda Wells was let go from the "beauty bible," it came with a certain amount of shock, sadness and nostalgia — not unlike what I feel when I watch "Friends" reruns. Michelle Lee, the former editor of Nylon, was named editor-in-chief of Allure, and in a surprise twist this month, Wells landed a columnist gig at New York Magazine's The Cut. Media's definitely a new topsy-turvy world where anything can happen. 

The March 2016 issue, which is also the brand's 25th anniversary issue, hit newsstands last week with little fanfare from Condé Nast. The covers feature two different models — Naomi Campbell and Bella Hadid, both shot by Patrick Demarchelier — who obviously represent the past and the future, a theme that's carried throughout the entire issue, including the masthead. January's issue still listed Wells as EIC, and while February's issue had Lee at the top of the masthead, she didn't write an editor's letter that month. The March issue still seems transitional, especially since former Creative Director Paul Cavaco (who reportedly was let go) and the original senior staffers are still on the masthead. (Lee hired a new managing editor, design director and fashion director in January, the latter being another Nylon alum, Rachael Wang.) Nevertheless, Lee's stamp on the magazine seems more evident now, so let's analyze this new Allure, shall we?

Lee's first editor's letter is a formal and restrained affair, and in her defense, I can only imagine it was the definition of #awkward to write. It's titled, appropriately, "Changes," and inside she discusses David Bowie's death, how beauty is all about change and the changes that are coming to Allure, including a "fully revamped website." (More thoughts on this later.)  A few brief sentences acknowledge the 25th anniversary. She writes: "It's been truly amazing to look back at the past quarter century. I'm honored to take over a brand that I've loved for so long and guide it into the next 25 years." Surely if Wells had retired on her own volition, there would be a more stirring tribute to her, but again, this isn't Lee's fault. In fact, someone called this fact out on Twitter, and Lee's response was classy and respectful:

Screengrab: Twitter

Screengrab: Twitter

Anyway, I'm done feeling sad for Linda Wells, because she jumped right into the world of online writing with apparent glee, at least if this amazing story giving Donald Trump self-tanning tips is any indication. I have no doubt that she's going to have an incredible second act. 

Back to the March 2016 issue of  Allure. The front-of-book Beauty Reporter pages don't look much different. There are lots of engaging product shots, as well as blurbs about Gwen Stefani's Urban Decay collaboration, a quickie new mascara review, a full page featuring new color correcting products and a mini-interview with 18-year-old actress Elena Kampouris, who stars in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2." The fashion section is still several pages long and features collections of jackets, shoes and bags. The "Lust or Must" page, which used to show two similar pieces at two different price points, is gone. The "Insiders' Guide," one of my favorite sections that features in-depth advice (how to order the perfect drink, for example) is still there. 

There are multiple pages devoted to the 25th anniversary, and it's a fun walk through the past. Linda Evangelista! Baby Gisele! Doutzen Kroes naked holding a perfume bottle by her crotch! But it's a bit perfunctory, and clearly Allure wants to get on with its life.

The differences in this issue are subtle, honestly. Street style is featured more prominently, which isn't at all surprising: it's what younger readers are interested in, and Allure obviously wants to engage them. The rest of the features — a survey of how we all judge each other, blurbs about the future of beauty and an interview with Naomi Campbell — would not have been out of place at Wells' Allure. Of note, there are no meaty deep-dives into new aesthetic procedures or ingredients in this issue, and I hope these aren't gone completely. Allure was always known for analyzing these things skeptically and breaking down the science, and I'd hate to see everything just be presented as digestible nibbles. Also gone from the past several issues are the directory pages, where Allure recommended various beauty experts in different cities. I'm cool with this, because frankly it doesn't make sense to publish that in a print publication when it can be updated in real-time online. 

Lee noted in a recent interview with Adweek that she hopes to increase diversity in the magazine, and I'd say this was a good start. Under the heading of "Fresh Faces," Allure interviewed and photographed Bella Hadid, Karly Loyce, Pyper America Smith and Pooja Mor, a veritable melting pot of models. Obviously we'll have to see how this develops in future issues. 

Where we haven't seen Lee's influence yet is on Allure's website, and this is obviously where she can (and must) turn the brand around. With all of the brand's resources and knowledge, Allure should be dominating beauty content online, but sites like Byrdie, Popsugar, Into the Gloss and Refinery29 have taken readers that Allure should have. I'm excited to see where Lee goes with the website, because while there's some good content on there now, it's almost impossible to find on the cluttered, confusing homepage. It's going to be an uphill battle, but I think there's enough interest in beauty online that it can be done. 

For the time being at least, it looks like Allure is giving itself a series of small, subtle treatments rather than a full-on face-lift.