Melissa: I'm Melissa Harris-Perry and this is The Takeaway. 30 years ago, in 1991, Condé Nast launched a monthly women's beauty magazine, Allure. Now, you might think Condé Nast is all Devil Wears Prada click-clack girls.
Emily: Andy, you look so chic.
Speaker 3: You look so thin.
Andy: Do I?
Emily: I’m just one stomach flu away from my goal weight.
Melissa: From the very start, Allure pushed the boundaries and broke the rules of women's magazines offering diverse, edgy, and impactful content that has kept Allure relevant for decades. Last month, Allure broke ground again naming Jessica Cruel as their first Black woman editor-in- chief. Now, Cruel is a longtime beauty editor and founder of Allure's Black beauty-centered, The Melanin Edit. Jessica Cruel joins me now. Jessica, I just have to ask, how did it feel when you were promoted to editor-in-chief?
Jessica: Well, it was a very interesting process because I've actually worked with Allure for the last two years and so I was definitely a Condé Nast loyalist. I've been there multiple times before. This isn't my first time at Condé. When Michelle who I worked with closely and really admired decided to move on, we had a lot of conversations about what the next iteration of the brand was going to look like, and either way, I was going to be there for it.
I think that I first was a little hesitant to take the top job, I'm not going to lie but I thought more and more about how much I have been able to do amazing work at the brand in my tenure there. That just convinced me when I started to come up with ideas to present to the hiring team. I just really felt that this was the right move for me. I was so glad that it all worked out and I'm so glad to be able to really bring those ideas to life as editor-in-chief.
Melissa: Talk to me about the hesitancy. Is that about leadership in general or is that about leadership during a time when legacy women's magazines are having a-- actually, all magazines are having a tough time based on what the old model was?
Jessica: I think the hesitancy definitely wasn't about leadership. I love to help people grow and grow as staff and really work with-- The team that I'm working with now is such an amazing team. That wasn't the real hesitancy. I think I grew up wanting to be editor-in-chief of a magazine. It was my childhood dream. I've been pursuing journalism since I was in high school. I even made for my high school senior project, a mini-magazine with myself on the cover.
Jessica: It was very vain of me. I've always dreamt of being in this role but as you said about legacy media, when I first started in this industry, the feedback was, learn digital, learn digital, learn digital and so that's what I did. It served me very well for my career but then I had the opportunity to come to print and to come to Allure, which is a multi-platform brand as all brands must be these days, and it was a dream come true. I think for me, it was like, “This is too good to be true. Can I really be getting my 17-year-old self's big dream?”
I was actually excited by the fact of being able to work in legacy media at this time when I think I have so much to offer to a brand that has been around for 30 years and has such an amazing history. To be able to bring it into this digital-first age and really think about all the ways that our brand can expand like our store that we have in SoHo, like our box that get delivered to people's house every day. I'm really excited, actually and I think jitters are jitters.
Melissa: What role do women's magazines play in the larger landscape of coverage these days?
Jessica: It's a big business. I think that's one of the reasons why I personally thought Allure was a good fit for me when I came back two years ago, is because we have many opportunities to reach our reader in many different ways. Being a leader across all those things, most days I’m taking a lot of notes and keeping everything in mind. I think my job is to really be the connector between all those things, between our subscription box team, and our editorial team, and our creative team, and the people who run our store.
I think being the person who's guiding the vision at the top is something that is very important because every place you meet Allure, you want it to have the same feel. That is what my role is and I am the first Black woman to lead this brand. I have been in touch with Linda Wells who's the founding editor-in-chief and I have obviously worked closely with Michelle Lee who was the editor-in-chief after that. I'm really excited to lead this brand and tack on to the history that they already really brought in.
Yes, I'm very proud of all the ways that we show up in this world and I think we're going to continue to do that. I think no brand can be one thing anymore. I think that's what we're learning as the media landscape changes so quickly. There are very few brands that just have digital and print products. You have to figure out other ways to reach your reader. Social media is one piece of that but we're a beauty brand. We are the experts when it comes to beauty so how can we offer our readers that expertise everywhere that they are, every way that they shop, every way that they encounter beauty?
Melissa: Speaking of all the ways we encounter beauty, can you tell me about The Melanin Edit?
Jessica: Yes, The Melanin Edit is one of those projects that I got to work on that I was like, “This is a dope brand that I got to create The Melanin Edit. I’m a stay here. I like this.”
Melissa: I like it too, I got to say. Although I don't know about that, I'm not laying my edges no more, I have a lot of feelings about it. We can talk about it but talk about The Melanin.
Jessica: That's what The Melanin Edit’s for, it's to have those real conversations. The Melanin Edit was birthed out of this belief from myself and some other members of our staff that those of melanated skin, Black women, brown women, Latinx women deserve a special place, want a special place to speak to each other. I think our brand has done such a great job of covering Black women and women of color, throughout our many different platforms but The Melanin Edit is really just a special place for us. It's a place where we can have those really deep and sometimes confusing and controversial conversations.
The fact of the matter is, our skin, our hair is different, and therefore deserves that special attention. That's what The Melanin Edit became. It became this space that we could, the Black editors that Allure and some amazing writers that we admire, could sit and speak about skin concerns, and hair issues, and just conversations around colorism that we really felt were important to have in an authentic way and a way that's true to the amazing joy that we have in our community.
Melissa: When you say in part that Allure is the beauty experts, tell me then, what is beauty? What constitutes beauty these days?
Jessica: Being the editor-in-chief of a beauty magazine, I think some would try to define beauty but I'm the exact opposite. I truly believe that we can't define beauty because beauty is in everyone, in everything that we see. I think our job is to be the mirror to the world around us to display all the beauty that the world has to offer.
Melissa: Stick with me here for a second because I actually want to surprise you a little bit. I have somebody here to join our conversation that I didn't tell you about but I thought it might really give us something fantastic in this conversation. Jessica Cruel, I'd like you to say hello to Ms. Susan L. Taylor.
Jessica: Oh my goodness.
Melissa: The, of course, legendary editor of Essence Magazine, who is now emerita iEssence Magazine editor-in-chief. Ms. Taylor, thank you for joining us.
Ms. Taylor: I'm so excited to be with both of you. You know how I adore you, Melissa and Jessica, I'm so proud of you. Listening to the conversation between the two of you just gladdened my heart because you really are looking at your role I think in the most soul-nourishing way, to be a mirror to the world around us. That each of us is a divine original and not to put ourselves in boxes and compare ourselves to one another.
Jessica: Oh my goodness, I feel so honored. I feel so honored.
Melissa: I want to give you an opportunity. I want to step back a little bit. If there is anything given that you are stepping into this new role with this vision of being a mirror, if there's anything you'd like to either say to or ask Ms. Taylor.
Jessica: Well, I just want to say thank you. I think I recognize that the only way that I'm able to be where I am today is because of the work of people like you, Ms. Taylor, who really created that space for us. I grew up obviously reading Essence and Jet and Ebony in my home. Having that platform for me to see myself made all the difference. For me, it's important that I make you all proud.
I've been so happy to see all the community outreach since I've been appointed, but I work every day to continue the legacy that you started. I think I would like to ask, what would your advice be for someone who is doing something in this digital age?
Ms. Taylor: I'm not the one to ask where it's going, but I can tell you imagery has never been more important. Because what you have are people who can retouch their own pictures and add parts and make them larger or smaller. Then you have the folk who are watching this and who compare themselves to these images that are either real or retouched and feel badly about themselves. Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder and people can be taught to realize what is beautiful.
In this digital world, I think it's so important that we remind women that each of us is what I call a divine original. To me, that's the miracle of life. That there are how many people, there are what, 7 billion of us on the face of the earth and no two of us look alike.
Melissa: Jessica Cruel is the new editor and chief of Allure Magazine. I want to thank you for joining us today.
Jessica: Thank you so much for having me.
Melissa: Susan L. Taylor, you're going to stick around because we have a little bit more conversation with you. We've got one other person to bring in on that as well. Jessica, again, thank you so much and thank you for the work that you're doing at Allure.
Ms. Taylor: Congratulations.
Jessica Cruel: Thank you. It's so lovely to speak to you both.
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.