Nails of New York: Michelle Lee
March 4, 2018
Our newest Nails of New York profiles Michelle Lee, editor in chief of Allure magazine and recent recipient of Adweek's Editor of the Year award. In her more than two years at the publication, Michelle has transformed the brand into a media powerhouse that's focusing on the role of beauty in diversity and inclusion and redefining antiquated beauty standards. We couldn't be more proud to present her story, as well as show you a sneak peek of our spring/summer collection, launching Monday. Find out why she needs a touch of nail art to feel complete, what inspires her incredible drive, and how she's truly influencing how women think about beauty.
When do you notice your nails the most?
I notice my nails the most at work because I type and Instagram a lot. So, if say, I'm holding a product to photograph, I always notice my nails. A lot of people know me as a nail art fanatic now, too, so I feel obligated to have something interesting on my nails...always!
Any funny nail nostalgia moments?
I didn't fully get into nail art until I was a bit older. But Miss Pop is a friend of mine, and we've done some great looks in the past few years. When the first Star Wars reboot was coming out in theaters, she wrote STAR WARS on eight of my fingers and then painted Chewbacca on both thumbs. It was pretty phenomenal. I was pretty new on the job here at Allure at the time and, let's just say, those nails made quite a statement.
How do you use your nails as a form of self-expression?
It's something that you can change pretty frequently, and you can be as conservative or as wild as you want to be. About half the time, I try to do my own DIY nail art at home, and that's been a whole other experience: coming up with my own designs and color pairings, and teaching myself how to do certain techniques and hacks. I lean toward geometric designs and with two to three colors and/or with negative space. But I like that you can be even more expressive sometimes. Around the time of the Women's March, I had WOMAN POWER on my nails. There's just so much fun stuff that you can do.
Why are you so passionate about the nail space?
I've never been a huge accessories person (until recently) but I view my nails as my main accessory. There's also a community of nail lovers online and especially on social. I love that I can inspire other people with something I'm doing, and that I'm constantly inspired by what others are doing.
In one word, how does a manicure make you feel?
Creative! I honestly feel like something is missing if I have naked nails or just one polish color. I need at least a little touch of nail art to feel complete.
How do you pick your design and color combos?
I often look on Instagram for inspo. And sometimes, my designs are based on what I think I can accomplish myself. For example, my non-dominant hand wouldn't be able to paint something very detailed, so I lean toward lines and basic shapes. That, in itself, is a challenge, but a fun challenge, because it makes me think of new hacks and tricks to make something look more polished and professional than it is! My main goal with nail art is that I want to try something I've never done before.
What are your go-to nail brands?
I love JinSoon, Deborah Lippmann, Essie. I'm using OPI Pro Spa cuticle oil right now. And for hand cream, I use Ever Lavish Body Butter and Grown Alchemist Intensive Body Cream. Also, I do a lot of face treatments because of my job. So if I'm doing a sheet mask, I'll rub the excess serum on my hands for some nice extra hydration.
Best nail tip you've ever heard at Allure?
Roll, don't shake your bottle.
Would love to hear about your journey to Allure.
I've worked in media for the past two decades, primarily in women's publishing. I was an editor at Glamour and have written for pretty much every major women's outlet including Elle, Marie Claire, Cosmo, Women's Health, and more. The back half of my career has been focused on digital and branded content. I started a branded content agency with several partners and, right before coming to Allure, I was editor in chief and chief marketing officer at Nylon. I've been at Allure now for more than two years, and it's been amazing. We were named Adweek's Magazine of the Year, and I was named Editor of the Year.
What are you most excited about at Allure? Anything we should highlight?
Our Allure Beauty Box is growing by leaps and bounds. It's our monthly subscription box and, I'm obviously biased, but it's the BEST. There was a full-size Sunday Riley serum in one of the recent boxes. It's seriously awesome. It's been so successful - we actually had a waiting list for it. We had an exciting collab with Jaclyn Hill in December and we're working on some other fun collabs for 2018. We've also been doing some incredible stuff in digital and social. I'm excited that there are so many ways for our audience to engage with Allure now.
Which covers are you most proud of?
I'm really proud of our July 2017 cover featuring model Halima Aden. We were the first mainstream women's magazine in the U.S. to feature a woman in a hijab on the cover. I also love our September 2017 cover with Helen Mirren in which we declared we are banning the term "anti-aging" from Allure's vernacular.
How have you changed and modernized Allure? Where does your inspiration come from?
When I started, I was incredibly fortunate. My predecessor Linda Wells, who's an absolute icon, had built an amazing brand over the past 25 years that had so much trust with consumers. Our Allure Best of Beauty seal is so trusted in the marketplace. We've built upon that in the past two years, diversifying and expanding our audience to digital, social, video, and other ancillary businesses (like the Allure Beauty Box). I really wanted to foster a culture of creativity and innovation here. Allure was very well known as a magazine, but I knew that we had the flexibility and the authority to be a world-renowned brand beyond that. On top of being trusted for the best beauty reporting and product info, we've built upon our mission statement. Now, we're not just the beauty authority: we now aim to redefine beauty, to challenge antiquated beauty standards, and celebrate the beauty in all people. We've had a strong focus on diversity and inclusion...and not just racial and ethnic diversity. We've explored age, body, gender. Beauty is such a deep, wonderful space to play in that goes far beyond just makeup and hair products.
What's your favorite part of your job?
I love that things we do can influence how people think of beauty. I really don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that we can help change the world. And I gotta say, I do love playing with all of the products. I'm a skin care junkie so that's fun. And I loooove playing with makeup, and of course, nail polish.
When do you get your best ideas?
I get my best ideas in small-group brainstorm meetings and...in the car. Long drives (especially if I'm not driving) are a great time to think. I just need to remember to take notes, so I don't forget things!