Amy Astley, Editor in Chief, Teen VOGUE


“Long before Teen VOGUE, I fell into being a beauty editor at VOGUE. It wasn’t intentional and I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a job called 'beauty editor'. I worked at House & Garden—that was my first job, HG, as it was called then—and I started there straight out of college, just after Anna [Wintour] had left. A lot of people think I worked under Anna but I didn’t, I started as the Editor in Chief’s assistant, Nancy Novograd. I worked there for four-and-a-half years until they closed it for the first time, which was around 1993. I loved HG but it’s had a rough road! The shelter category is so tough. I actually thought I was going to be a decorating editor, and I think people who come into my world, my office, my home, can see that I really love decorating. I love architecture, gardens, tabletop, food, textiles, all of that stuff. The day the magazine closed, Anna asked Charles Gandee—who had been the Creative Director of HG and by that time was the Features Editor at VOGUE—‘Is there anyone young I might like from HG?’ And he said, ‘Oh you might like Amy, she works for Wendy Goodman.’ Charles wasn’t my boss, he was just someone I respected at HG and I always admired him and went out of my way to give him help if he needed it; it was a small staff there, and I’d be like, ‘I’ll Xerox that for you!’ So that’s how I ended up at VOGUE, because of him. Otherwise, HR wouldn’t have thought of me—a decorating kid—to take a beauty associate position. I learned really young that it’s a tiny world; it’s all interconnected. We all have great opportunities to network in a positive way, I don’t mean in an ugly pushy way. A lot of young people aren’t aware that they’re building their network and you need to maintain a good reputation and really think about what you’re doing and what you’re saying—all these people, they’re all still in my life in one way or another. I went to VOGUE and there was Wendy’s sister Tonne. It’s a small small world.

So I get the call the day HG closed, would I go and see Anna, and I said sure, of course…and they were like, ‘Today, right now.’ And that’s how I learned how VOGUE operates—I was like, ‘Can I do it tomorrow? I have to get my outfit together!’ And HR was like, ‘No, she’s ready for you now, right now.’ So I toddled up there in my little Agnes B. t-shirt and my brand new Chanel ballet slippers that cost, like, a week’s salary. The day started by being called into a conference room with all my colleagues, with Mr. Newhouse, telling us they’re closing the magazine. And I’m wearing my new Chanel ballet slippers straight out of the box, and I’m thinking, ‘I need to return these, I don’t have a paycheck!’ And then I met with Anna. And to me, beauty was, you brush your hair, you take a shower… what is beauty, you know? I didn’t get that. But in the end, the idea to me that I could go and write a lot of copy, and work at VOGUE, and work there for a year or two, really appealed to me. And I remember being interviewed by Laurie Jones [VOGUE’s Managing Editor] who is a very tough interview. She said, ‘Why do you think you can do this job?’ [Laughs] And I said, ‘Well, it’s a style job—that’s what I’ve been doing at HG.’ I’d been doing little stories on young people at home…I was fascinated by people’s style: how they lived, how they dressed, how they entertained. So to me, even though I hadn’t thought deeply about beauty, it’s a style job—and I can write about style. And that was the right answer for them. That is really what sets VOGUE apart from other fashion books—it’s not pedestrian, it shouldn’t be banal—it should be maybe more elevated, and more about how style fits into your whole life. And that’s still how I see it. I’m really fascinated by people’s personal style, now more than ever. You almost become slightly less fascinated by trends and what’s ‘in’.

So I went to VOGUE as a beauty associate. I wrote a ton of copy, I was out in the market…I was thrown into an industry that I totally didn’t know anything about. And I discovered that it was a huge industry and it was really nice going from decorating, which was sort of perpetually financially challenged—I mean, HG was closed twice—to VOGUE, where I knew I had solid footing. And then my boss, Shirley Lord Rosenthal—she was an institution—left when I had been there not even for a whole year. And Anna put me in the job. I was beauty director at 26 years old. It was really difficult; it was a different era. Carlyne Cerf [de Dudzeele] was there, obviously Candy [Pratts Price], even Jenny Capitain. And I was really young and it was a lot of work to have people sort of embrace beauty at VOGUE. I worked with Phyllis Posnick who was very generous and very smart. She’s old-school—she really trains people well, and she trained me even though I wasn’t her assistant. One of my jobs was to look at trends and products in the market and talk them over with Phyllis to see if there might be a picture idea there for Mr. Penn. Phyllis would bring these ideas to him, and to Anna. For example, one famous picture is of milk pouring on the face, and that was a story on ‘dream creams’ like Crème de la Mer. It was a lot of that kind of thing—trying to turn news in the beauty industry into a picture and make that interesting for the reader and the photographer. VOGUE was like journalism university to me. I definitely did not need a Masters from Columbia or NYU; still to this day young people say, ‘Should I get my masters?’ And I say, ‘Eh…if you want to.’ But get in there and work and learn from people who know what they’re doing.

I always liked the whole picture, and I always liked the business of a magazine too. And when you’re a beauty editor you’re much more involved in business than any of the other editors, other than the Editor in Chief. Because you interface with the advertisers all the time—that’s a big part of being a beauty editor. You sit with people like Leonard Lauder; I can’t tell you how many lunches I had with these incredible people who ran businesses—all kinds of businesses—because it’s a very social industry with lots of lunches and dinners and you’re expected to go. It’s very different from fashion. They want to talk about business—their business, your business—oh, I learned a lot. A lot. And a lot of people would hate that. I mean, I think a lot of people in fashion would say, ‘I don’t want to do that.’ But I was always really fascinated. And it’s helped me tremendously because my job now is not just a creative job, or a visual job, it’s a business job. Managing budgets, and looking for new opportunities. Internet, iPad...TV shows obviously, and we did a NY Times best selling book about careers in fashion. And now licensing: we’re doing bedding with J.C. Penney that’s super cute. I am always looking for organic ways to expand the Teen VOGUE brand.

I stayed at VOGUE for nine years—I did four test issues of Teen VOGUE, I edited Index—and I didn’t think Condé Nast was going to launch Teen VOGUE, so I got pregnant for the second time, and Anna and Mr. Newhouse called me in. I was nine days away from giving birth—I was so fat. I had gained, like, forty pounds…I was huge! And they said, ‘We’re going to launch Teen VOGUE, and we want you to edit it.’ I literally gave birth to my second child Ingrid as the magazine was being launched, so she and it are the same age—eight. I was 35 at the time. And a short way into Teen VOGUE I realized that teens see it as a guide for their lives and their careers, more than a place to teach them how to get boys. And they don’t ask us fashion advice questions; they’re too sophisticated. They’re inspired by what they see and they think, ‘These people at this magazine represent what I want to be, beyond shoes and makeup.’ So there’s the book, the scholarship. Eva Chen is an amazing beauty editor, I love her, I adore her—she’s amazing with the kids, she’s really in touch with them—all the hair and makeup artists adore her; she’s the perfect package, for me. Great style, great taste. I’m less interested in trends like, ‘It’s all about a blue eyelid.’ That’s fine, but anyone can look at a fashion show and see that; that kind of information is more available than ever before. What they need from us is a curated experience where we sort through all of that and deliver the best ideas to them in an edited way. But also I try to look at the bigger picture in beauty. For example, finally we see a lot more diversity on the runway, is that a story for Teen VOGUE? A lot of different girls read Teen VOGUE, and I want them to be able to open the magazine and see themselves.

I think probably teenagers are the originators of trends—I love seeing them with crazy colors on their eyes or their nails, it’s so fun. Most of the girls I talk to and see—I mean now my eleven-year-old daughter is in a K-12 school—most kids don’t wear much makeup to school. And I have to say, when you have to catch a bus at 7 AM and be in class by 8 AM, it would be bizarre to see a girl with a lot of makeup on. You know, it’s different in different parts of the country. You definitely have your girls who wear a full face to high school. At Teen VOGUE, we don’t promote that look in general. I think it’s more, is the girl a natural girl and she just wants a little mascara, or, maybe she wants a little blush because she’s pale, or, maybe she’s just crazy and just wants a swoop of yellow eyeliner on her lid—that’s cool too. When I was in high school we really spent a lot of time on the hair; those were the Farrah Fawcett days so we were trying to get that ‘flip’. Now, I feel like there’s more acceptance…there’s less of a feeling of, ‘You have to look this one way.’ Maybe that’s partly because I live in New York and I perceive that, but if the hair’s frizzy, if the hair’s an Afro, go with it. Look, if the girl has really bad skin, she probably does want to cover it up a little bit. And what’s wrong with that, you know? But it’s depressing to me when they go at it like a 30-year-old, when they’re getting ready for a dance and go to the makeup counter at Saks for a full face, that I don’t love. But they see that in pop culture—Taylor Swift, Kim Kardashian, they have very different looks but they both have a lot of makeup on. The other things—when to pluck your eyebrows, or shave your legs, or get a wax—I think these are things that are really personal and need to be negotiated between the mom and the daughter. I’ve met people who have said, ‘My daughter had a unibrow at 11, and I helped her out with that.’ And who am I to say what’s right for your kid? Beauty is about feeling confident and about feeling good. That’s why I wear makeup. I think if a kid’s 12 and wants to shave her legs and the mom’s cool with it, why not? Why suffer.

Farrah Fawcett was probably my beauty icon…I grew up with those girls, Cheryl Tiegs, Christie Brinkley, Farrah—all-American, yes, but also really healthy and happy—so different from the 90’s waif-y, grungy skinny sad, sad looking thing that happened when I joined VOGUE. Which was also a really interesting fashion moment and model moment because obviously it was about Kate Moss. It’s really interesting how different looks happen at different times and sort of crystallize around one or two people. I remember feeling that was a hard time in the fashion and beauty industry—no makeup, don’t bother with the gym, don’t exercise, don’t tan, and just…look sad, and get a droopy skirt. [Laughs] Which is what we used to wear at VOGUE in those days; we’d all wear Helmut Lang and a big [Martin] Margiela skirt dragging on the ground, with sneakers, and I think everyone was like, ‘Oh God…when will this be over!’ And then it was over with Gisele maybe? The Brazilians, the tan girls with the great bodies. I was a very serious ballet dancer—I was professionally trained from about age 11 until 18, and I wasn’t quite good enough to make it as a dancer. So my real icons were ballerinas—Natalia Makarova, Gelsey Kirkland, Patricia McBride, I could go on and on. I was fascinated with their stage makeup, and of course they have those bodies. That ballerina body is very thin, it’s flat-chested; it’s a specific aesthetic—slim, muscular, flat, I loved that. They were probably the ultimate beauty influence for me as a teen when I was training. I didn’t want to have a big chest, or be sexy, like other girls. It was all about being as little as you could be. I was a bunhead—Black Swan minus the drama.

For teens to aspire to now…I think Alexa Chung gets its right. Partly because she’s an ex-model, she’s got that going for her—that lanky body that photographs really beautifully…but I just like her tossed off hair. It’s chopped, she lets her natural texture come out, she doesn’t look tortured with blow dryers or straightening irons or anything. She is sexy, obviously very sexy, but in a fresh and kind of tomboy-ish way. There’s nothing worse for me than seeing young girls trying to be sexy; it’s just so painful. I think girls are really interested in her beauty. Girls always talk about her on our forums, and Agyness Deyn. But these are hardcore Teen VOGUE girls—then you have the more mass girls, and they’re part of our audience too, who may not even know who Alexa Chung and Agyness Deyn are. So as a magazine, with a big circulation of a million, you need to balance that out, which is what we do. I think a lot of people might look at Alexa and Agyness and think, ‘Yeah, it works on them—they’re models. They’re so gorgeous that they can shave their heads, but I can’t do that.’ And the truth is that anyone can shave their head if they really want to and kind of rock it as a strong look. But girls also love Taylor Swift—she’s got that whole princess thing going on. A lot of girls can relate to her and want to look like her, especially younger girls. So anyway, I think there are a lot of great role models out there…it’s not all ‘stripper beauty’—breast implants, fake tans, hair extensions—all that stuff is so mainstream now and just the worst.

The biggest beauty mistake I’ve made, that I’ve been really open about, is I regret smoking. It was the dumbest move for your health, and for your looks. Aging: bad, lungs: horrible…everything about it is horrible. I didn’t smoke in high school—I was too good of a girl for that—but I did in college and when I was young and working in fashion I smoked socially. The awareness on things like smoking and tanning now is incredible. And now we’re in food, you know, people have a fetish about what they eat, almost to the point where it can be a bit ridiculous. But it’s good that people have learned, ‘I want organic, I want to move away from processed foods and foods covered in pesticides and chemicals.’ I think that is definitely the next frontier in terms of health awareness, and hopefully it will become more affordable.

Five products you can’t live without? Oh my God, I have, like, 25. The face oil I use every night is called Olio Lusso, by Rodin. It’s so good. I started using it because Pat McGrath likes it—there are certain people who I pay attention to in the beauty industry, and Pat’s one of them. Things that she talks about, I will buy, or acquire one way or another. Another person who I love in beauty is an old friend of mine, Jean Godfrey-June [at Lucky]. Her writing is so evocative; I want to buy everything. And I say, ‘Jean, you’re the best writer, because I was a beauty editor and it’s pretty hard to get me to buy products.’ There’s a bit of smoke and mirrors going on there. But if she writes about a lipstick, I gotta have it. A candle, I go buy it. She’s a great example of someone who can move the needle. I give her props. Anyway, I love Olio Lusso, and Dr. Dennis Gross does little at-home peel pads; it’s so easy and quick. To me, I’m all about skin. I learned that at VOGUE—I worked with the late, great Kevyn Aucoin and he said to me, ‘You’ve got to perfect the skin—the actual skin, and then the makeup.’ He was obsessed with covering the red areas around the nostrils. He’d say to me, ‘Amy, you’d look so much better if you’d take time around your nostrils with concealer—they’re so red!’ I learned a lot of tricks from him. I love concealers from Bobbi Brown; I started using those twenty years ago. I like Maybelline Great Lash for day because it’s not chunky, but I use a lot of Lancôme mascaras too. And my go-to lipstick is this perfect red gloss from Aveda. I also use all the NARS multiples, they’re fabulous—eyes, lips, done. And Diorissimo perfume—it’s my favorite, I keep it on my desk. It’s Lily of the Valley, which was Dior’s favorite flower and mine as well. It’s totally granny. So I’ll do the peel, I’ll do the oil, I don’t really care what I wash my face with as long as it’s mild. Christine Chin’s an amazing facialist downtown, so if I have time I see her. For hair color I see Gina at Serge Normant; she’s great. I like clean toes and nails, buffed. Nail polish is way too fussy for me. But probably my number one beauty priority for me is exercise. I go to Physique 57, and I used to do Lotte Berk in the ‘90’s. I do it probably five times a week. Products are great and I love products, but I really think it’s about the food you eat, it’s the things you don’t do—like smoking—and whatever you can do for your body.”

—as told to ITG