Jean Godfrey-June, Beauty Director, Lucky

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“My life with beauty… let’s see. I mean, the thing I would say is that I just always wanted to be a writer. I wasn’t particularly interested in beauty. What I discovered as I became a writer is that everyone relates to beauty. You know, even the person who’s like, ‘I never wear makeup, I am totally natural,’ they have lots of Neutrogena, lots of Clinique, you know. And it’s something where people will talk about themselves at a much more personal level. When I was at Elle, I would interview celebs and if you just ask them a question like, ‘So, who have you slept with?’ they’re not going to answer you. But if you’re like, ‘When is the first time you tried eyeliner?’ they’ll be like ‘Well…’ and they’ll tell you something pretty intimate about themselves. It's a way that people connect. Like if you’re in the gym and some girl is putting on mascara, some other girl is like, ‘What is that mascara? Oh my God, it’s so good!’ People are very generous with each other about beauty. It’s a way people recognize humanity in each other, in a weird way. I mean, people can look at beauty and they’ll be like ‘Ah, beauty is the reason everyone is tortured and miserable in our society,’ but at the same time it’s a way people connect in every culture. It’s an easy thing to write about for that reason. You know? It’s always relevant. Everybody always cares! They want to look prettier—everybody does!

I wrote for my school newspaper. I’m from Northern California. My whole family are biologists and I was so not going anywhere near any kind of science. But it’s funny because when I sit through presentations on the lengthy scientific benefits of a certain skin cream, I can feel my dad—my dad teaches at Stanford—and I think, ‘If my dad was listening to this, his head would explode.’ I always liked to write and I always loved magazines. I went to the University of Colorado at Boulder because when you open up any magazine, on the cards—you know, the subscription cards that fall out?—the return address is Boulder, Colorado. So I genuinely thought I was going to have an internship at like, Mademoiselle or Vogue when I got to Boulder where they ‘made all those magazines.’ It took me a couple of years to figure it out. I was like, ‘I know it’s around here somewhere… it’ll be here soon.’ So that was kind of silly. I did college and then I got married right out of college, and we moved to Cincinnati for my husband’s job. I thought originally that I wanted to be in advertising, and I worked in advertising for a year, and then he got promoted and we came to New York. I had been working at this tiny ad agency, and so I was doing everything. I was doing commercials for the Ohio lottery, I wrote the copy and everything because there was nobody there. Then I came to New York, and they’re like, ‘Yeah, you’re going to have to start as an assistant,’ and I was like, ‘Do I love advertising that much? I do not.’ So I got a job at this magazine called Unique Homes and you had to write the ads and the articles. It was about luxury real estate and I learned a lot there. What was interesting was that in real estate, if there are no neighbors—you know, if it’s a home on an island or out in the middle of Montana, not next to anything—every month they’d list it at a different price. It’d be like, 45 million, 17 million, 65 million! The price that it sold at was not always the cheapest. That’s something about selling anything, beauty especially: there’s a price that people want to pay for something. It’s not always about a bargain at all. I think there are many women who I meet who will be like, ‘You’re a beauty editor? Have you ever tried Crème de la Mer?’ And the reason that they’re curious about it is not that they’ve read some huge article saying all the benefits of it, it’s that it costs so much that they’re like, ‘What’s in there?!’ And you know, I say, ‘I love Crème de la Mer!’ because I’ve tried it and it’s good. But the thing that would make somebody curious about it is its price. Like, that’s their point of entry. I’m sure there’s some people who are like, ‘Oh, I heard this is great for burns,’ or, ‘This is amazing for anti-aging,’ but most people are like, ‘Whoa. What’s in that stuff? It’s so expensive!’

So that was kind of an interesting thing to learn there, but I learned a lot about writing and I eventually wrote for a trade magazine for architects and interior designers. And my grandmother—I was really close to my grandmother—she was always like, ‘When are you going to write for a real magazine, one that I can pick up at the newsstand?’ So I started writing articles. All the journalism school advice tells you to write a proposal and send it to the magazine, and instead I was like, ‘I’ll just write the article.’ Like, how much more effort does it take to finish the article and write it in the voice of the magazine? Because the letter—the pitch—is kind of not in the voice of the magazine. So I wrote a piece for New York Magazine about an artist and that got in. And then I wrote a piece for Condé Nast Traveler. I always give people that advice. I don’t know anybody that followed it, but it’s definitely my number one get-ahead-in-magazines advice: write the article, don’t write a proposal. Then I had a friend who worked at Vogue and she called me and was like, ‘A beauty story just fell out at the last minute. Will you come up with something over the weekend? You know, maybe they’d look at it. Who knows?’ I was like, ‘Alright,’ and the story I wrote was about this makeup artist that was just starting her new line and it was Bobbi Brown. That was my first beauty article. I started writing for Vogue a lot, and then other magazines just called me up and I wrote—I don’t know for who, maybe it was for Glamour—I wrote an article about alpha hydroxy acids, and I just became, like, ‘the alpha hydroxy acid girl.’ I felt like Cinderella, in a bad way. All of a sudden every magazine said, ‘I need an article about these things.’ I didn’t want to keep writing about them, but I spent every weekend, all night long writing about alpha hydroxy acids. But I got my name out there, whish! Everywhere. I started writing a lot for Elle. A senior editor position came up and they knew they liked my writing, so they hired me. That was sort of how I ended up in beauty, but it just was an easy place for me. For the reasons I said—people relate to it. But also, at the time there were not a lot of decent writers writing about beauty. The beauty section was very just sort of like, ‘Here’s a list of names of products,’ and usually, it wouldn’t have the voice of the rest of the magazine. You’d get to the beauty section and become like, ‘Oh, and here’s the list of products.’ I feel like that was in like, 1994. That was when I got the Elle job, and then a year later I got the beauty director job.

I was at Elle for about six years, until the internet—until the year 2000 when every beauty editor left to go to some gnarly website. I did it also, and it taught me that I am not a retailer. I’m not interested. I went to a now-defunct—very quickly defunct—site called beautyscene.com. It was a very harsh experience in the realities of working for some small company where you don’t know the principles, and I was used to trusting that people would pay their bills—that kind of thing. It was a very different, very rough experience. So when Kim France called me and was like, ‘Oh, you’d never leave. Would you? You’d never come back to magazines,’ I was like, ‘Oh my God! Of course I would!’ I knew her from Elle—she had been a features editor. That was when Lucky was starting and she was the editor-in-chief. So I’ve been here since the beginning. And with beauty in a magazine, I’ve always felt that just saying, ‘This is new,’ is very boring. You know, with fashion it’s totally enough—‘This is new? Everybody is wearing it? Good!’ But with beauty, I feel like if there’s a product you’ve used for ten years, that’s a pretty ringing endorsement. Like, I want to try it. [Laughs] The oldest product is kind of compelling, as well as the new one. You want to see the new colors and the incredible packaging, or whatever it is. But you also want to know what mascara that girl is wearing, who always looks fabulous, you know? Or, there’s some perfume that someone has worn for twenty years—I want to know what that perfume is. So I wanted the feeling, the voice, to be the voice of your friend—all of Lucky is the voice of your friend. You’d see these real girls, real girls that you want to be—some cool shop girl or some something, you know? Some fabulous blogger [Laughs] Somebody who you’re like, ‘Wow, that’s a cool job.’ And, ‘Isn’t she interesting?’ but she’s not just a model, she’s not just like, ‘Oh yeah, I just drink water, and use a lot of moisturizer.’ Where they’re a real person, and they just discovered these things and they rely on them, and their friend told them. Like, that feeling of community, kind of. I always want that in the section as well as the stuff from the runway. I’m seeing stuff from the store, I’m seeing stuff from my friend’s medicine chest, you know? I feel like it has to be a mix. So that was something, because I feel like a lot of beauty sections are very just like—this is new, this is new. And I would say even to people who write for me, that can’t be all if it. It has to be like, ‘This is new, and it happens to be incredibly flattering.’ You know? It can’t just be, ‘It exists’. Beauty’s even more personal because it sticks around. Some things that you have stick around in your closet, but not as much as beauty. I have things I still can’t get rid of.

Brandon (Holley, Lucky’s editor in chief) and I have been working on taking the idea of community in the magazine even further, with a monthly Q&A section where I’ll be answering reader questions. At the office, my assistant puts out everything that comes in, and she separates any promotional items—press releases, anything that comes with it. I have the products by themselves, because you shouldn’t need a whole explanation to understand what this particular soap is about. I never take notes at events either, because I feel like, if I don’t remember it, how interesting could it be? If I need to take notes on it, it’s probably not going to blow my reader over. So then it’s sort of like shopping, on my desk. If you were walking along in a store, something would catch your eye because it was pretty, or because it had a whole bunch of color, a million choices, you know? The same things that a person who’s shopping is drawn to, is what makes me look at something. You can tell someone visually, like, ‘Oh, this thing is just so pretty!’ or, ‘Wow, this is deodorant it looks so pretty—it looks like perfume.’ Or it could be the promise of something—it could be, you know, this ‘eye illuminator.’ If you created the secret of youth in a jar, you could claim it—but you have to tell someone that somehow. So it’s very much like I said, it’s like shopping. Once a week, I clear everything out and I edit what I think could make it in the magazine that I think is cool. We put that on a table in the beauty closet, and then once a month we all go through that. And there’s stuff from my editors that they’ve loved too. And then we’ll sort of narrow it down to what we really think should go in Lucky. I will start picking out a few things beforehand—as you can tell, I have a lip problem. I just always want lip stuff. I have to have it nearby, I love it so much. So things that I like are by my computer.

I wrote my book, 'Gift With Purchase: My Improbable Career in Magazines and Makeup,' because I just kind of wanted to get all my memoir-y stuff out of the way. And I had a lot that didn’t go anywhere else that people always asked me about. You know, people would say all the time, ‘Oh, can you write a beauty book? We’ll have a writer for you,’ and I’m like, ‘What I like to do is the writing part.’ I was happy I did it, and it was fun and I had this incredible moment that resulted from it, which was when the paperback was out, Procter and Gamble called me up and they were like, ‘We’re having this huge convention of all of our PR people from all over the world. Would you be a speaker and read from your book?’ Because I talk about events and what it’s like to be a beauty editor, you know, the whole thing. So I was like, ‘Of course I’ll come! That’s fantastic,’ and they gave everyone my book. Procter and Gamble is in Cincinnati, and you may remember I started out in Cincinnati. So they fly me into Cincinnati and I’m literally descending down on the plane and I’m like, ‘Oh my God. This is where I started my career.’ If you had told me that I would be flying into Cincinnati to visit Procter and Gamble— the most important thing in that town, that the gnarly ad agency I’d started at couldn’t even get as a client—my just-out-of-college self would have thought, ‘OH MY GOD, I’VE WON THE LOTTERY!’ And that I would be flying in, from my magazine job where I was an editor at a magazine writing a column, and that I had written a book, and that’s why I was coming…it made me realize that I have done what I wanted to do. I’m doing what I want to do, and how many people can say that? I’m not necessarily happy to see piles of products, I’m happy when I see the one thing that gets me excited. You know? I’m like, ‘Ugh, I see that, that, and that. Oh! What’s that? That’s fun!’ And I like that I get to write. I really like to write, I like to edit, I like the visual side of it…I just love magazines.”

—as told to ITG

 

Let’s Talk About It! JOIN IN
  • http://www.365fashionandlifestyle.com/ Mioara Roncea

    That is a beautiful statement: "People are very generous with each other about beauty. It’s a way people recognize humanity in each other". And it is true.
    And also, life has a funny way of getting you to where your rightful place is.

    Beautiful and inspiring article.

    Thank you. :)

    Mioara Roncea

  • http://littlelg.com Lauren

    Great story! I've been a fan of Jean's since I read her book a few years ago.

  • http://heyitsalexp.com HeyitsAlexp

    Very cool to hear about her career path. It's inspiring that she found her niche in a roundabout way, and cool to hear her insights about covering beauty.

  • janet

    Fabulous piece! Godfrey-June is so forthcoming and generous. I've always liked her writing, now I really want to know about her beauty routines and what's in her cabinet--besides lots of lip products!

  • http://Calu.typepad.com Marcela

    The entire interview was eye opening. I love how open she is and how she talks about every thing.
    I found her advice valuable and it makes sense so I will take it and see where it leads me.
    What more can I say, I really loved this interview.
    Once more congratulations, I think that you are really doing a fabulous service to everyone who has an interest in beauty and in the beauty industry.

  • http://www.copperetiquette.com Copper Etiquette
  • MS

    Great story! What are the tubes in between the Jack Black balms and Chanel on the bottom?

    • Capitalist Pancake

      I think those are Clark's Botanicals plain lip balms. They do some great tinted ones as well.

    • Capitalist Pancake

      Sorry, those are the tinted Clark's, not the plain. Plain are in a green tube.

  • http://littlemissmoda.blogspot.com Efsun Tumer

    It is really great to read a career path that has evolved in satisfied way.

    I still don't know what i want from my career life!

    check my blog at http://littlemissmoda.blogspot.com/

    xx

  • http://www.mylifeinbeauty.com anita

    I love Jean!
    xoxoxoxo
    p.s I wish there were more pictures!

  • sara

    annoying to read, every two words she says 'like'
    I stopped reading because it got on my nerves, have never read any of her articles but I hope she doesn't use the word 'like' in it as much when she is talking.

    • http://larkjoanna.blogspot.com Joanna

      I noticed the incessant use of "like" as well (kind of annoying). But overall it was a very interesting overview of someone's career path.

    • Ashley

      I finished reading part way through. Too much use of "like" and "you know". She doesn't sound very intelligible.

  • PhotoGirl

    This is terrific! I've always been curious about her.
    I used to love Lucky magazine. It's changed a lot recently, I think (or perhaps I'm no longer their target reader) but Ms. Godfrey-June's column is the one thing I read consistently. I always learn something new.

    • http://larkjoanna.blogspot.com Joanna

      Lucky has a new Editor-in-Chief, hence the change (Kim France doesn't work there anymore).

      • PhotoGirl

        Ah! That explains a lot. I didn't know.

  • Jay

    I hope she gets the Top Shelf treatment soon!

  • http://Lolawashername.com Her name was Lola

    Thank you for featuring the supremely fabulous JGJ! Her memoir is an absolute must-read. It's an über-relatable, can't-put-it-down, one-sitting kind of read. In fact, I'll be bringing it to the beach this summer to read it again! xo Lola

  • http://roselake.etsy.com Katy

    Great post, thank you!

    And I agree, I used to love Lucky. I don't think I like it as much with Brandon Holley at the helm. But I always read Jean's column and always LOVE it.

  • http://www.despitecolor.blogspot.com iben

    I love the way she speaks and the things she says, what a nice lady.

    xoxo Despite color

  • Ola

    Fantastic story. I would love more of this feature on ITG - some of my favourite articles are these ones! Thanks for that.

  • Judit

    I agree, it is a very inspiring piece indeed! I love that she is so candid about her career and experience... and i couldn't agree more wit her on how beauty connects people.

  • http://TheReviewCollection.blogspot.com L.A. Dubois

    That was amazing. I love how she talks about beauty as a way to connect.

  • hanna

    hollaaa cincinnati! and one of my favorite blog entries. erin, as a budding journalist i would love to know the kind of questions that you ask that get such open responses!

  • http://theformergirlatbar.blogspot.com/ Alexis

    She is the reason why I wanted to be a Beauty Editor. I whole heartedly agree that cosmetics/beauty products have the ability to people together. Whether you feel it's pure, evil vanity or it's a lipstick shade or eye cream you must know where to find, you are talking to strangers about it. I love sharing tips on makeup or asking others what moisturizers work well for them - it's why I got the courage to start my own blog. Jean Godfrey-June is the only thing the new Lucky has going for them. I love her honesty and tales of hard work to get her where she is today. Reading her beauty features feels like you are talking to a good friend or sister.

    Also, coming from a fellow NorCal girl, I could also be biased =)

  • http://www.mariankihogo.com Marian

    Wonderful piece. Truly a delight to read.
    Thank you for this. It is really all about connecting as people.
    Glam Kisses,
    Marian.

  • Alex

    GREAT post. Thanks Emily and JGJ! Super jeals of her lippie stash... what's that in the white box?

  • http://amberfairweather.blogspot.com/ amber – the line sheet

    This post is such a gift! She really took the time to write a meaningful and useful piece! I have read her work since I was 16 so this is such an inspiration to me! As an aspiring writer, I will take her advice!

  • Laura

    Wow! How inspiring.....

  • Slo

    I was really excited to read her story because of her job and then I read it. It was really interesting to read her perspective. But she definitely comes across as a reluctant beauty editor - not exactly her passion. Writing about beauty allowed her to do what she really wanted to do which was to write. Kind of a bummer. I guess maybe that's why I never particularly enjoyed her sections, I always felt like it could have been more rather than just a trip down memory lane. But I read it because I ALWAYS read the beauty editor pieces. I guess that just makes me a hardcore beauty addict.

  • http://todayandtomorrowphoto.blogspot.com Emma

    I love this woman!

    I've always loved Lucky, and her article is the highlight! I can't wait to read her book.

  • http://pfsmakeup.blogspot.com/ Priscilla Francine Makeup

    I love her YSL lipstick collection, I need to get her book asap!! what an inspiring story!

  • Capitalist Pancake

    This is a fantastic little interview - it's so nice to read about someone at this level actually talking like a real person talking about beauty and skincare rather than someone mechanically spewing out stuff you get the feeling they're saying because they're pushing product or telling you what they think a demographic reader wants to hear.

  • http://professorfashuncatz.tumblr.com lepetitsmudge

    JGJ, be my mentor? please? I love her completely shameless candid love of hermes things in her articles, it was through her I found out about l'orange verte. And it makes a lot of sense that she's from Northhern California, with her tawny minimal look she has going on. Love her. Thank you very much! Like other readers, I would love to see more!

  • sarah

    I absolutely LOVED reading this...to call this a blog does it an injustice because its just so incomparable to anything else out there....its perfection.

  • Susie

    I used to read each issue of Lucky cover-to-cover until Kim France left. Now I just read the beauty section when I'm at the drugstore. I'm still hanging in there with you, Jean!

    I was disappointed to see Alexis Bryan Morgan join the staff. She's the one that had that obnoxious conversation with Olivia Palermo on The City about their vintage Cartier watches: http://gawker.com/5542825/the-city-heres-to-the-ladies-who-lunch

    • http://theformergirlatbar.blogspot.com/ Alexis

      Agreed - it pains me that Kim and Andrea left my once favorite monthly read! I will now only read JGJ's section and be done with it!

      • PhotoGirl

        This. I think I've bought my last copy of Lucky. But I will always be a JGJ fan.

  • katelinlee

    Love JGJ!

  • Maggie

    Love this. It was interesting to read about her career path. and would love to see her do a Top Shelf too.

  • Caroline

    ITG is stunning, Emily. Thank you for sharing this inspiring interview!

  • http://lovesongformylipgloss.blogspot.com luvsong4mygloss

    this is really a fabulous article. so well written!

  • samantha turner

    i love me some jgj

  • Thich

    great work ITG! everyone loves the Top Shelves but my favorites are these The Professional pieces. So inspiring and touching.
    I love your interview style, it seems like she said all this at once but i know it's really thoughtful editing.

  • Lottie

    I recently started a job at a magazine in the beauty department and this really has me thinking about a lot of the product placement and my own writing. I too really appreciate hearing about tried and true beauty products. Such an interesting article. Thank you!!!

  • http://annagleeson.com/index.php?/work/recovering-tomboy/ Anna

    A really lovely interview. Jean has some really lovely things to say here.

  • Eileen

    I really love this post, it feels sort of like the TopShelf but with an alternative side talking about her career. Emily, please do more posts like these! It is truly inspiring, especially since I am interested in what it's like to work for a magazine.

  • http://www.lisamariefernandez.com lisa marie

    i am so pleased you interviewed the BEST beauty editor ever. i have known jean godfrey june since we worked together at elle. i would pop in her office and obsess over all the beauty products. once in a great while, we still connect about some beauty product that we have discovered. we actually need to have a proper catch up and discuss self tanners. chanel had the best one for the face and when they discontinued it , i never found a favorite replacement. i know jean will have the best answer to that. into the gloss is getting better and better each day. well done, emily. xx

  • http://www.thefashioninformer.com Lauren David Peden

    What a great interview! I just love Jean Godfrey-June - have been a fan since her Elle days and thought her book was brilliant. This was my favorite profile you've ever published, Emily. Well done!

  • Lindsey

    Hate to be redundant but yes this really was an inspiration to read! Thank you so much for actually including a longer piece that wasn't just beauty oriented, but also covered her career, which is what I found particularly interesting. As an about-t0-be-freshman in college and an avid writer myself it was nice to see something that pertains to a career in beauty. The whole proposal vs. article aspect was legit haha. Great inspiration for the very young like me! Got to love ITG!

  • Avery

    I actually drooled upon seeing all of her lip products. I absolutely adore the Rouge Cocos and Rouge Coco Shines. This was a really great piece, I always read her column in Lucky. I particularly enjoyed her story because its good to know that other people are as obsessed with beauty and fashion as I am. Being a woman really is beautiful thing and it is great to hear people celebrating it openly.

  • http://blogs.fashionclub.com FIDM Fashion Club

    What a wonderful and inspiring article! There are so many people who want to work for a fashion or beauty magazine and don't know where to start and this article gives some great insight for those aspiring beauty and fashion students! Bravo!

  • Nata

    I cannot tell you how happy this article made me. I cannot believe how late I stumbled upon it. But as a current columnist and beauty director hopeful, I find Jean's story inspiring and motivating. Especially when she points out how the products are not what she finds the beat part of her job but the writing aspect. I just got this huge surge of energy and cannot stop scribbling away happily in my moleskine. Thank you so much, both of you, for this splendid piece!

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