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Allure magazine's Linda Wells on the changing face of beauty (think Angelina Jolie) and more

March 1, 2011 |  7:20 am

Allure-victoria-beckham Allure, the glossy beauty magazine that's taught a generation or two how to get perfect eyebrows (it even plucked Brooke Shields' for the first time) and filled us in on the latest in everything from nail polish colors to anti-aging products, is celebrating its 20th anniversary with its March 2011 issue.

Linda Wells has been the magazine's editor-in-chief since Conde Nast bigwigs Si Newhouse and Alexander Liberman took her away from the New York Times Magazine and put her in an empty office so she could think of ideas for a journalistic look at beauty reporting. She took a break recently to chat by phone about the changing face of beauty, her magazine's place in the digital age, food and beauty bloggers, and -- of course -- which beauty products she's using right now.

You used to be a food editor. In Los Angeles especially we see an overlap of fashion/beauty blogging and food blogging (see sites such as Refinery 29, for example). This goes against an old stereotype that food makes you fat and fashion and beauty are for the thin. What do you think of this?

I've always thought that if you can read, you can cook -- as long as whatever has been written is really clear. I think the same is for beauty; if you can read, you can look better. Our job at Allure is to make you look better. That's the idea: to present beauty as easy to attain on whatever level.

I also think the way that cultures can be analyzed through their food; you can understand history through food. You can also examine beauty and understand the culture through what they value as beautiful, what they celebrate. There's much more to it than just buying products in a store.

There are also a lot of people who've gotten into the presentation of food. They see it in the same way as fashion is an expression of style. There's such a fashion factor in food right now. There's a lot more marriage between good food and food with integrity and fashion and the scene.

Do you think fashion and beauty are taken more seriously now than when the magazine started?

I think that's one of the things that's been the most gratifying and most satisfying. [Beauty and fashion are] both more understood as expressions of style and personality and culture. I think the issues of safety people are examining more carefully: what's good, what's credible. People are interested in questioning and doing research.

I think we're a much more visual culture now. There are just so many more opportunities. Right now, as you're researching something you're seeing images constantly. Even the way that you have your Facebook page and Tumblr -- there are so many opportunities to see and be seen.

I think also the subject of beauty has become less one of shame and emotional turmoil and something people are much more frank about. When I started the magazine, there were so many women I wanted to hire who said, "How could I work for a beauty magazine? I don't even wear lipstick." They were proud of that. They felt that not caring about the way they looked meant that they were serious. Caring about the way they looked was something to be ashamed of. I don't think many women today believe that. Today, I hear more women and men find that their appearance was just one more thing they can do to express themselves.

In honor of the magazine's anniversary, you re-did your beauty survey from 20 years ago and again asked Americans what they believe constitutes beauty. In the 1990s, Christie Brinkley's wholesome American pie blond hair and blue eyes were voted the ideal looks. Today, it's Angelina Jolie's femme fatale full lips, cat eyes and dark hair and, according to the study's accompanying article, 64% of the participants thought women of mixed-race represented "the epitome of beauty." Were you surprised by these findings?

When we went into the survey, we had a strong hunch that what Americans thought of as beautiful was different today than when we started the magazine. I think it's really fascinating that 64% of the respondents thought mixed race was the most attractive. I wasn't shocked by it. Our assumption was that was going to be a high number.

It was interesting that both women and men said that beauty was important and that the pressure to look young is greater than it ever has been.

How has Allure adapted for the Internet?

The Internet has affected how we produce a magazine. The voice has changed.

In terms of what we're doing, we're re-launching our website in March and it is going to have product reviews and a personal Allure beauty product finder. It will deliver content and product reviews that are appropriate [and have been stylized to your preferences] . We're going to start with about 2,000 reviews and increase the amount as we go. The products are also analyzed and vetted by independent experts and chemists.

We have to ask: What are your favorite beauty products right now?

It changes all the time. I really love right now Shiseido day and night moisturizer. I'm quite addicted to [them]. I love the Olay face brush and I love Pantene Flat to Volume shampoo and condition … L'Oreal mascara. I love Nars blush and Dior eye shadow palettes [in Nude Pink].

There are a lot of drug store names on that list ...

Well, then, of course,  I'm using Crème de la Mer body cream [in the jar]. Every time I use it I feel like I've been to the spa ...

-- Whitney Friedlander

Photo: Cover of Allure's 20th anniversary issue.  Credit: Allure