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What Fashion Week is Like For Elaine Welteroth, Beauty and Health Director of 'Teen Vogue'

We chatted with Welteroth about those early backstage call times, scouting models of color and how she covers NYFW.
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Elaine Welteroth at last New York Fashion Week. Photo: Imaxtree

Elaine Welteroth at last New York Fashion Week. Photo: Imaxtree

The runways might get the most media coverage during New York Fashion Week, but for Teen Vogue's Beauty and Health Director Elaine Welteroth, what happens backstage, just hours before the actual show, is of equal importance. "I think these moments to connect with [makeup artists and hairstylists], no matter how short or rushed, really have immeasurable value... It really helps guide some of our coverage for the next few months," she tells Fashionista. Backstage is not only only a great opportunity to learn more about the latest beauty trends, but also to scout out new talents, such as Imaan Hammam and Aya Jones. "At Teen Vogue, we're all about girls who own their confidence." On top of her NYFW schedule, which also includes post-show events and dinners, Welteroth is also expected to manage all of her regular editorial duties. 

We caught up with her pre-NYFW to chat about the early backstage call times, dressing for the week and translating runway looks into digestible Teen Vogue content.

When do you begin to prep for fashion week? Could you describe the process?

I would say at least two weeks before fashion week. We have a team meeting and talk about the types of things that we want to cover. We come up with one set of questions that we ask every model [and] every makeup artist. This time, we're looking for unexpected products and tools that makeup artists and hairstylists use backstage. We also meet with our social media director and work out a strategy.

How do you decide which shows to go to?

The beauty team gets lists from different brands that are sponsoring shows. As far as the shows that we're most excited to cover at Teen Vogue, Jeremy Scott is a really important show for us. He's had a lot of Teen Vogue celebrities sitting in the front row. And of course, the more directional shows like Alexander Wang and Marc Jacobs, or in the case of last season, Givenchy. Any show that Guido or Pat McGrath is at is a top priority. 

As a beauty editor, are you backstage most of the time?

I like to cover backstage and front-of-house for the same show, but I think every editor has their own approach.

What are your hours like during fashion week?

Crazy. Usually, the backstage call times are anywhere between two to three hours before the show. You might have a call time at 6:45 a.m. or 7:15 a.m. and it's really important for beauty editors to be there because it might be the only opportunity you have to get a soundbite from someone like Pat McGrath or Guido. And then [the shows] run all the way through until the last show [which] usually starts around 8 p.m. And then after that, there's lots of dinners that are important for us to attend and if there was something particularly noteworthy that day that requires an online story, it's your job to make sure that is filed before you go to bed.

Elaine Welteroth (left) with Bethann Hardison (right) at the NYFW HQ last season. Photo: Robin Marchant/Getty Images

Elaine Welteroth (left) with Bethann Hardison (right) at the NYFW HQ last season. Photo: Robin Marchant/Getty Images

I've noticed that you frequently post photos of models of color during NYFW. Do you keep an eye out for that?

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I definitely capitalize on the opportunity to interview them [and] I hand over my phone to them and let them take selfies and videos. When I'm backstage, I'm looking for that extra sort of "It" factor — someone who's really comfortable in her skin and who has something to say [or] offer even if it's a cool element of their look. They're not just clones of each other, which is sometimes how they appear on the runway.  And as of late, we've just had great fortune to work with some of the best new models who happen to be models of color.

Do you think that backstage beauty has gone beyond catering to white models?

I think that in general, there's this universal celebration of individuality. That's the beauty buzzword that we're hearing backstage.

What else are you doing during fashion month — office meetings, dinners, non-show events? 

I definitely have a presence in the office during fashion week. There are certain meetings that just can't be moved [and] I'm absolutely going to be there. While you're expected to be backstage, you're also responsible for your pages and, in the case of an online editor, daily stories. And I definitely take advantage of having dinner or a quick coffee in between shows with editors, makeup artists or agents. And like I said, there tends to be a lot of dinners that brands throw or after-parties. And I hate the word networking — it's the worst term, I think, in all of the professional lexicon — but I will say that you meet new people and sometimes friendships and really important professional relationships grow out of that. 

What happens post-fashion week?

We put together these epic trend books at the end of fashion week that sum up the best moments we want to cover in Teen Vogue, whether it's [for] a smaller FOB story or larger editorial stories. We toil over this [and] treat each page the way we would treat a page in the magazine and that book is distributed to everyone on the team.

What content works better in digital versus print?

Our readers are in high school and college [and] fashion week doesn't have a lot to do with their real lives. There has to be a real world connection for them [so] a lot of the [online] content will be inspired by a familiar face like Kendall Jenner or Gigi Hadid. Whereas in [print], you have the time to reflect and think about what could come together as a really special piece in book. We saw all these amazing Indian models [last season] and that inspired this beautiful piece about the reemergence of Indian models. And that's a story that takes a longer lead time; you want to follow the girls for a while and you want to set up a bigger shoot to really capture their beauty. 

You always look stylish — do you prepare your outfits ahead of time?

That's very kind of you to say because [I] oftentimes don't feel put together at all. I'm a very spontaneous person in terms of my style and what I put on reflects how I'm feeling that day. I have a job to do backstage so I'm a bit practical in how I approach what I wear, [but] I think we all have a couple pieces that we keep in mind for fashion week that feel a bit more special.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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