The beauty maven shares how she scored her coveted role as Cosmo and Seventeen‘s Executive Beauty Director. PLUS, tune in on 4/26 when Leah takes over Ed’s Instagram (@_ed2010) for the day!
How did you get interested in beauty?
I wasn’t… at first. I was hired at Health magazine my senior year of college serendipitously. I had been accepted to George Washington University’s Master’s program in behavioral psychology, so wasn’t looking for a job. One day, randomly in the career center of my school, Susquehanna University, I saw a post for the Health position. My gut screamed, “apply!” so I did… and was called in for an interview. Turns out the woman who hired me, Colleen Sullivan, was also an SU grad, so we had a bond, plus she was looking for a true assistant, not a writer/editor. It sounded like an opportunity I couldn’t pass up, so I deferred my GW acceptance for a year. I ended up falling in love with the magazine and beauty industries and never got that Masters!
What is your career backstory?
I started at Health as the assistant beauty and fashion editor in 2000. (I lived for Ed2010 — was determined to have my dream job as a beauty director by 2010!) Colleen taught me everything about the business —she’s an ideas guru, particularly with the sales and marketing side of our world, so I was lucky enough to learn all of that early (because these days, editors play such a big role in brand content creation). In 2004, I went to Self as the beauty news editor. My editor was Lauren Purcell, now the editor in chief of Rachael Ray magazine — and she taught me how to be an editor. That job was like editor bootcamp: so tough, but so rewarding. In 2008, I went to Fitness as beauty director. I loved that job, but a year later, I heard Cosmopolitan was looking for a beauty director. Kate White hired me in 2009, and I’ve been here ever since. My job seems to reinvent itself every few years — first when Joanna Coles became editor-in-chief in 2012, then again when I started to oversee Seventeen’s beauty department in 2014 — there’s never a dull moment here.
In your Twitter bio, you say you’re “a small-town-girl turned Executive Beauty Director.” What made you want to move to New York and live the magazine life?
First let’s define small-town-girl: I come from Davidsville, Pennsylvania, which has ONE STOP LIGHT! I was lucky enough to have parents who were fearless and adventurous — we traveled a lot and I always knew there was a huge world outside the small one I was being raised in. My big revelation came when I studied abroad in college. London gave me the bug… I knew I’d never be satisfied outside of a fast, crazy city. New York just happened to be the place I got a job.
What takes up most of your day as a beauty director?
Sometimes it’s editing (I top edit every beauty page in both Cosmo and Seventeen). Sometimes it’s planning. Sometimes it’s a shoot. Sometimes it’s market appointments. Sometimes it’s sales and marketing meetings. That’s why this job is so exciting — every single day is different.
Cosmopolitan and Seventeen are geared toward different age groups. How do you adjust content for varying readers?
I have amazing teams on both sides who live and breath their audiences. I give them the floor during brainstorms. They are the masters… I’m there to help direct and shape. The Cosmo team has a slight advantage because they are the reader… they’re living her life and can really take inspiration from their daily lives. The Seventeen team: They’re teens at heart! The ideas they come up with blow me away — I think they have a secret time-traveling wormhole that takes them back to high school for inspo!
What are some of the ways you find up-and-coming beauty products/trends?
Beauty editors are lucky because we have dozens of events each week where new products are presented. Fashion week is also a biggie: My teams cover 75+ shows each season to understand the trends, as well as get face time with the most important hair, makeup and nail experts in the world. Social media is huge, of course — as are the streets of NYC. Everything happens here first.
What’s the perfect beauty look for a job interview?
I want to focus on you — not your makeup — but I do want to see a little flair: fresh skin, clean eye makeup and a slightly poppy lip are a good mix. Clean or just-manicured nails please (I’m a fan of nail art). And hair that’s not going to distract either of us.
What is your favorite piece you’ve published or contributed to? Why?
Last summer we did an 6-page beauty feature with Ruby Rose — Orange is the New Black hadn’t aired yet, so she was still slightly under the radar. Celebrities can be tricky because they don’t always know how to “model.” But Ruby blew us away. She knew how to move, how to pose, how to look…our jaws dropped. The photographer, Tom Schirmacher, took the first shot, looked at the monitor, then looked at all of us and said, “…so we can move on, right?” She’s that good. So humble, so fierce, so professional, and drop dead gorgeous… I was thrilled to see her win the Stephen F. Kolzak Award at the GLAAD Media Awards this week!
What do you look for when hiring interns (or co-workers)?
A work-harder-than-anyone drive — followed by unique ideas. I can teach anyone how to write, but ideas are one of those innate skills: You either know how to capture them or not.
What can you not live/work without?
A bottle of Excedrin and a lacrosse ball… it’s a tension headache thing.
Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat?
Instagram all the way. (Follow her at @leahwyar.)