“I’m from upstate New York—the Hudson Valley area. I was a theater kid…I marched to the beat of my own drum. I didn’t grow up reading fashion magazines; I didn’t care about fashion. I studied writing all through high school and college, and I knew I wanted to do something with writing. But I didn’t really understand that it could be a career, if you didn’t want to be a novelist or write books. It didn’t occur to me until I moved to New York and saw that there was this whole magazine industry. I don’t think I would have gone into fashion had I not come out of the closet when I did—it was between my junior and senior year of college, and that’s when I started embracing style and fashion. I was like, ‘I want to be a fashion designer, I’m all about style.’ [Laughs] I think when you come out, your style changes and you’re more willing to let certain impulses lead you in certain directions, and I just got really into styling myself and wearing things I wouldn’t have been able to wear before because it would have given me away, so to speak.
I spent my first year after college in New York, trying to figure out what I wanted to do in the industry. I worked at Ralph Lauren and I worked at a small ad agency, and then I got a job at Women’s Wear Daily as a fashion closet assistant. My boss was [executive editor and fashion critic] Bridget Foley, who I think sneakily knew that I was more of a writer, and started giving me assignments pretty quickly. No one was writing much about young, stylish musicians, so I started following that scene for WWD. I eventually moved into fashion features and then to Memo Pad, the daily media column there, which was very intense. I was 26 and I was thrown into one-on-one meetings with executives and editors-in-chief. But when you’re a reporter, it weirdly sort of levels the playing field, because as a journalist you have the power of the pen. It’s an interesting dynamic. I also got to interview the people I found the most fascinating in media, like André Leon Talley and Guy Trebay from the New York Times—people I wanted to hear talk. And then thinking about my next job, the only magazine I wanted to work at was Elle because I felt like it was the magazine that best reflected a person’s whole life: it has pop culture, it’s funny, it’s smart, and there is fashion. I spent two years there as Senior Fashion News Editor—I got to do a lot of fun stories and travel, learning from the best in the business.
I’m really interested in storytelling; I love This American Life, and creative nonfiction was the genre of writing I always gravitated to in school. That’s what made so much sense for me in thinking about Into The Gloss—to do what we do at ITG, you have to care about finding the story. And compared to fashion, there’s something much more approachable and universal about beauty. Everyone does something; I learned that from Aziz Ansari. [Laughs] Not everyone wears ‘fashion.’ Yes, you can argue that everyone makes style decisions every day, which is true, but we’ve seen that anyone can talk passionately about some beauty product or another because it affects them in such an intimate way. It’s fascinating.
You [Emily] and I met when we were assistants across the hall at W and Women’s Wear, and I was always really interested and excited and impressed by what you were doing with Into The Gloss. At a certain point, we were best friends and the conversations between us often led to who you should shoot [for ITG] and other stories and things you could do with the brand. Those talks intensified, and the site got more popular, and at a certain point I was like, ‘Why don’t I leave Elle and why don’t we do this together and make it even bigger?’ It didn’t feel like a risk; I knew what you were about and what you were trying to do. I think when I was younger, I would have never been able to do this, because you have to be really turned on by the opportunity…which is like, every single day, the opportunity is as big as we’re able to capitalize on. I would have been terrified by that, and completely overwhelmed by that, but at this age, it is incredibly exciting.
My hair has, and will probably always be, the thing that I harp on the most. It’s an ongoing issue for me. I love to be told that my hair is very complicated by a hairdresser. If a hairstylist wants to hook me, they should tell me that I have very difficult hair to cut. I'm in. And I know—I’ve been dealing with this for 29 years. I’m aware. If he says he has the key to solving this riddle, I’m in. My hair is very, very thick and curly but also really fine. It’s the same texture as my parents’—my whole family’s obsessed with their hair. My mom has gone through phases of coming to New York to get haircuts, and it’s a two-and-a-half hour drive. My dad still comes in to the city to do it, and it’s an ongoing saga of where he should go. When I was in college in Providence, I would drive to Boston every four weeks for haircuts—that’s like an hour-and-a-half! When I was really little, I was really into New Kids on the Block and I remember going to Astor Barbers and asking for ‘the Jordan Knight,’ and then, later, I would bring in pictures of George Clooney in E.R. when he had the Caesar, and I got the Caesar. But now I go to Leonardo at Ion Studio, and for maintenance, I shampoo my hair twice a week and condition it every day. I use Head & Shoulders, not because I have a dandruff problem, but because I live in fear of having a dandruff problem. I like Oribe Ultra Gentle Conditioner because it smells good and it isn’t oily. Any of the Oribe ones are good. For styling, I like Nivea Creme and Bumble Sumotech—it isn’t oil-based, so it washes out. It gives your hair definition.
I really like Harry’s Shave Cream. It’s like a shaving lotion. Before, I’d always use an aerosol cream, but I think you get a closer shave when you use a paste or lotion. It doesn’t feel like you should, but I think it’s better for your skin. I hate shaving, though—I feel like shaving is for men what periods are for girls, in that they’re recurring, unavoidable events that suck. You’re literally supposed to take a knife and scrape your face, every single day, for the rest of your life. [Laughs] You get bumps and it’s all red—it’s the worst. I like the Harry’s razor, too. Somewhere along the line in shaving, we all started to think that in order to get a good shave we had to use a robot that vibrates and has a flashlight or whatever, but I guess the Harry’s concept is taking things back to basics and I find I get a closer shave with their blades. For after-shave I was using nothing; I would just splash cold water. But my skin would feel kind of raw. Isabelle Bellis gave me this lotion—Joelle Ciocco Lotion Lactée—which is like a toner but it’s moisturizing. I just splash it on my face. And then I also use Avene Dermo-K for ingrown hairs. It’s good for any redness from shaving under your chin or on your neck. It has some sort of acid that helps break down the bumps; it works.
I didn’t wear moisturizer until I moved to New York. I always had baby skin, but I’ve noticed my skin has gotten so much worse in the past five years. Something happens after the age of 25 where you can’t just treat it like shit and not moisturize it and not clean it. All of a sudden, I’d wake up and the skin under my eyes would look dehydrated, like raisins. I had expression lines forming and I had literally never seen them before. There’s nothing you can really do about it, short of cosmetic procedures, and I think the only thing you can do is freeze time in its tracks by treating your skin well. It’s really all about moisturizer. You have to load on the moisturizer. Obviously when you work at a beauty website, you are surrounded by new products to try, but actually the best skin recommendation came from my friend Ali. Her mom, who has a beauty and fragrance line called Lisa Hoffman Beauty, had given her something called the Somme Institute, and Ali told me it would change my life. She showed me these anonymous bottles with dots on them and I tried the system, and after two weeks people in the office started commenting on my skin. I probably looked a little pale and sallow before, and this brightens your face. I think it’s from the exfoliating pads that have this patented vitamin complex, which the guy who created it swears counteracts the negative effects of exfoliating everyday. Before I started using Somme Institute, I used to be more concerned with the fact that I was pale, but it gave me a ‘glow,’ so I don’t really feel that pale anymore. I do still have Dr. Hauschka Translucent Bronze Concentrate—I don’t use it that often, but if it’s the middle of winter and I feel really pale, I’ll use it. You take a little bit of it and mix it with your moisturizer. It’s really natural-looking.
I use eye cream. But I’m a total slut when it comes to eye cream; I don’t have just one that I like. I am constantly looking for one that will saturate my under-eye skin and fill it with moisture. I don’t know what eye cream to use. All I know is that they come in tiny little tubs. I don’t need anti-aging or retinol, I just want a super-thick kind. I associate that part of my face with wanting something super thick and comforting. I also have a bunch of Lubriderm around because I’ve been getting a lot of tattoos lately and it's the best stuff for healing. I’ve gotten four tattoos in the past year; I like them. I get random things that I usually decide on 10 minutes beforehand. I have a lightening bolt on the back of my right arm; I got that in Stockholm when I was there for a trip. Ben Gorham was taking me around and we went to a tattoo shop in this cool part of town and he said, ‘Why don’t you get a lightning bolt?’ And I was like, ‘OK, done.’ I have a bird and a geometric design on my left arm that Dr. Woo at Shamrock in LA did for me. He’s such a nice guy, and he does the finest line work ever. I never believed that tattoo artists were artists, but then you go to someone like Dr. Woo, who is so considerate of what he’s doing, and can create insanely detailed, beautiful things. My mom does not know about the bird. There’s this whole thing about not being able to be buried in a Jewish cemetery if you have tattoos, but I also have my ears pierced so it’s kind of a lost cause. There are probably a bunch of other reasons that would prevent me from being buried in a Jewish cemetery other than the fact that I have tattoos. [Laughs]
I also really like C.O. Bigelow Coconut Body Lotion. I like the smell of it—it reminds me of vacation. I don’t really put it on that much because I’m obsessed with fragrance, and scented body lotion competes with cologne. Plus, unless you have a long time to sit and relax, body lotion feels oily and sweats off. I use Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Soap for body wash. It makes me feel very clean and wakes me up. I love feeling minty fresh and it makes my whole body feel that way. Speaking of which, I have a lot of tubes of Burt’s Bees chapstick, the original peppermint flavor. I never feel complete until I brush my teeth and put on Burt’s Bees. That’s the best feeling. People always ask me for a piece of gum, and I'm like, 'I don't have any—it's Burt's Bees.' It freshens your breath completely.
I’ve always been into fragrance. When I was at camp, I doused myself in Tommy Boy and at the end of camp, I remember all my friends tore apart one of my t-shirts and each kept a piece because it smelled like me. And to this day, the ones I keep in touch with will email me when they pass someone wearing Tommy Boy to say it brings back memories. I’ve always loved to douse myself in cologne. So it was Tommy Boy, and then it was Dior Homme all through college. I still wear that when I want to feel young. [Laughs] Now, I switch it up every day. I know you’re supposed to keep colognes in a cool, dry place and considering I don’t cook, my kitchen is the coolest, driest place in my apartment, so I keep them in here. Lately, I like to wear more feminine scents—I like the contrast of being a guy and wearing a girly fragrance. It’s kind of cool. I like Tom Ford Violet Blonde because I think a guy smelling like a grandmother is sort of awesome. [Laughs] Or a grandpa, which is Byredo Green. You have to be confident. I like rose-smelling things like Le Labo Rose 31 and Armani Rose D’Arabie. And I’m really into this Mad et Len Papiers fragrance I found at L’Eclaireur in Paris. It makes you smell like a baked good. I think it’s OK to alienate some people with your perfume. There’s nothing sexier to me than when a woman gets into an elevator and the elevator air becomes saturated with her scent. Even if it’s not your specific taste in fragrance, I still find it amazing. Even if it’s Bath & Body Works Strawberry Kiwi spray, at least it’s a smell. I guess I like heavily fragranced things... I like smelling good. No one has ever complained to me [about the way I smell]. Oh, and I love Arm & Hammer Essentials Deodorant. It’s aluminum-free and it keeps me feeling my best, all day long. [Laughs]”
—as told to ITG
Nick Axelrod photographed by Emily Weiss in New York on September 21, 2013.