What's it like being a beauty editor in NYC?
A lot more exciting than here in Toronto, I think!
Gorgeous Gwen Flamberg is the New York-based beauty director at top celebrity magazine, Us Weekly, and I had the absolute pleasure of catching up with her recently to talk about all things beauty and editing.
As I imagined, her world is one where calling up Gisele's hairstylist ain't no thang, and (as you might know from her Instagram) celebs just randomly drop into the office. NBD!
My Us Weekly fandom goes waaay back (I even had a subscription for a few years), so I was super-excited to ask Gwen about her career path, her favourite products, the trends she's most excited about right now and so much more. Here's what we talked about—it's a must-read!
What drew you to a career in the magazine industry?
I grew up in New York, and my mom was actually an art director at Vogue when I was growing up. I'm the youngest of three girls, and she had focused on raising children when I was born. She stopped working probably when my oldest sister was around 3 years old. Then she went back to work when I was 10 years old. I would go visit her at work; it was my first time visiting the offices of Vogue and I just fell down that rabbit hole. I saw the fashion closet, the racks of clothes by the elevator and Polly Mellen, who was the fashion editor at the time—and she was dressed so fabulously. The whole atmosphere was so creative and fabulous. I was 10 or 11, and I thought, "I'm going to be a fashion editor when I grow up." I was exposed to this wonderful world of magazines and editing.
How did you decide to become a beauty editor?
I was a communications major with a journalism minor at George Washington University. After I got out of university, I moved right back to New York. I barely spent any time at home before I got my own apartment with friends. Then I pounded the pavement, and took the first job that was available at Ladies' Home Journal. It was in the beauty and fashion department, and I was the editorial assistant. That was where I started to understand that beauty [editing] was an animal all to itself. For me, it was more interesting than fashion because it's of course trend-based, but there's also the science. And the business of beauty is so philanthropic. We're able to have an impact on women's lives, which is great.
So that was how I started, and I worked my way up. I've been at Us Weekly for six years.
What's a day in your life like at Us Weekly?
A day in the life of a beauty editor in New York is never the same. I'm either here in the office planning or assigning features to my writers, and when the pieces come in, editing them, or I'm out in the beauty market at launches a couple times a day. Today, I already had two product launches and I have another one tonight. So it's like a big mixed bag. There's lots of running around, meeting with the brilliant minds in beauty and being exposed to new products on the market.
What's your favourite part of your job?
For me, it's awards season. It's my special time of year. And Oscar night is my Super Bowl! We stay up; I have a team of six reporters here and we interview every hair and makeup artist, and every manicurist. Every iota of every celebrity's glam squad. We get the info first on what the celebs are wearing so we're able to report on that. We close our Oscar coverage issue at 10 am the morning after, so it's very fast and furious. I'm totally stoked that I know what lipstick a celebrity is wearing before everybody else. It's really fun to have that insider access, and all the Hollywood pros on speed dial.
Who are your red carpet beauty favourites?
This past season, I was in love with Lupita Nyong'o because she was just so unique-looking. I think her uniqueness inspired women of all colours, sizes and backgrounds. That's really powerful. From a beauty standpoint, she wasn't afraid to take chances—she wore colour and she owned it.
Do you have any tips for wearing those looks in real life?
I think every woman would be surprised at how adaptable makeup trends are for them. It's just makeup and it washes off—we aren't talking about cutting bangs or a pixie where you have to wait two years to grow it out. Experiment with colour and find things that make you feel comfortable. It's like when you go shopping for clothes. You know if you're like, "I don't know this is a cool trend, maybe I look ridiculous, maybe it doesn't look so good on me." And then you know when you put something on and it's like, "Everybody look at me!" It should be the same way with beauty. Find the colours that make you have that 'sure thing' factor.
What are the beauty products you can't live without?
It changes all the time! I'm very big on sunscreen and all year round I wear Chanel UV Essentiel SPF 50. It's a beautiful fluid.
In terms of makeup colours, I love a sheer red lip. That very natural but bright pop of colour. Fresh Sugar Lip Treatment in Cherry, Tulip or Ruby is so gorgeous, and you can swipe it on right from the tube. It instantly makes you look like you put some effort into how you look—but not too much effort, since that's the name of the game.
I'm obsessed with SK-II sheet masks. Tatcha has a wonderful mask, too; I used it last night and it was heaven. I love sheet masks because I'm big on major impact with minimal effort. They really create the look of "I just walked out of a celebrity facialist's skin salon." Your skin looks perfect after you've just worn a sheet mask. I keep mine in the refrigerator, as it's gotten really humid in New York.
In terms of foundation, it's confusing with BBs and CCs and everything else under the sun. I personally like a fluid foundation that has a little bit of coverage, but I don't want to look like I'm wearing makeup. Maybelline Dream Wonder is like Armani Maestro, but it's Maybelline. It's just so fantastic. I've been using that in the office, just the tiniest bit to go from office out.
I love Shiseido Refining Foundation. It's also very fluid, very sheer, with just enough coverage to make skin look perfect but not "done." I personally think everybody looks great with a little glow. So I like a dewy finish foundation. Women with oily skin may have other needs, though.
What do you think are the secrets to great hair?
Getting a great colour and cut are the foundation. You've got to have that before anything else.
I am a big proponent of not fighting your natural hair texture. So many women overdo the heat styling, since now there are so many products and tools available to get whatever look you want. If you have straight hair, it's so easy to get it curly or vice versa. Maybe it's because I live in New York and it's a very humid place, but I have strong feelings about this— if you spend a ton of time trying to manipulate your hair into a way it's not supposed to be, and then you step out the door, you can't have consistent results. How are you going to feel confident if you don't know what your hair's going to look like? If how it was when you left the house is not the way it looks when you get to a meeting? So I'm a really big believer in working with your natural texture.
I love those Isabel Marant ads. The girls have a bit of frizz. Look at beautiful French women, they have some frizz to their hair. It looks beautiful and sexy, not like they spent hours trying to attain perfection.
Who does your hair?
Harry Josh. He's a very big celebrity stylist, and the one behind Gisele—who is an icon because of her hair. He cut and coloured it when she first started to model. So Harry does my colour. I just bleach out the ends once or twice a year. He used to cut my hair, but since he's gotten so busy, I go to Blake Burkholder now. He was Harry's first assistant and he's fantastic. He does Sarah Jessica Parker's blowout and cuts Rose Byrne's hair.
I think it's really important to find a stylist who can work with the type of hair you have and want. For years, I lusted after Gisele's hair. At every single blowout, that's what I would get. I finally thought, why don't I just go to her guy? If you have short hair, then find best person in your town who does pixies. It's a lot of word of mouth.
I do the same thing if I'm working on a hair story, and we're focusing on certain looks. For long, fabulous waves, I call Harry. If it's about pixies, I get in touch with Chris McMillan, who cut Michelle Williams' pixie.
You're working with Arm & Hammer now; do you have any tips for a white smile?
Having white teeth is super-important. A bright, gleaming mega-watt grin is definitely something every celebrity rocks on the red carpet. It's really easy to get that at home with a whitening toothpaste like Arm & Hammer Truly Radiant.
The other thing they make is the Spinbrush, which I think is so cool. I use a Sonicare toothbrush at home, but now that it's the summertime, I go away every weekend to the cottage and I bring a Spinbrush with me.
The important thing with teeth is getting rid of surface stains as soon as you can. A whitening toothpaste is not going to lift away set-in stains, but it will lift those immediate stains from drinking red wine and coffee or eating blueberries. It's really just about maintenance. Once the stains have set in, then you're looking at in-office whitening treatments to get them off.
What's the very best beauty tip you've picked up on the job?
It's funny, with red carpet makeup, it's predominantly just for the red carpet—not so much for real life. A lot of what I've picked up is about being strong, confident and beautiful, and not to overdo it. You want to look like yourself, just a bit better.
You don't ever want to be caked-up with powder. So you should use blotting paper. And never underestimate the power of a bright lipstick, whether for the red carpet or just to reflect your mood. It can have that same impact.
What's the one thing you wish women would start or stop doing?
This time of year, I can't stress enough how important it is to wear sunscreen. It just shocks me how many questions I get about sunscreen and suncare. Somebody asked me if self-tanners give you a base tan. I was like, "You're an intelligent person. I can't believe you asked me that. Of course not!" But it's not just that women. I can't even believe there are suncare companies out there that sell an SPF 4. And that women actually use that and aren't taking better care of their skin.
I think we are seeing the pendulum swing back, and deep, dark tans are phasing out a bit. On some women, it just looks so artificial. But I do think it's important to capture a getaway glow. If you think back to the way you felt on holiday—when you felt really beautiful, relaxed and calm, maybe finally taking time for yourself—you exude a glow. I think a little bit of a glow is a good thing, but all-out deep, dark, Brazilian tans look unnatural on everyone. Remember Tanning Mom?
What are the beauty trends you're most excited about for summer leading into fall?
Well for summer, the most amazing trend that was on runways and all over the red carpet is an undone ponytail. They're these amazing ponytails with texture. And actually, for a big night out they are totally appropriate. Also when you're in humid weather and don't want to spend time doing your hair. Just pull it up into a fab ponytail with texture and height, and you will look perfectly on trend.
There is also the braid trend. I always think braids are going to wane. Oh no. That braid trend is here to stay. It's so easy for any woman to get a really great stylish look. I loved Emma Stone at the Met Ball. Her hairstylist told me it was a five-strand braid, not the usual three sections. So that's a really great tip. Do five sections to get that cool red-carpet texture and you're also able to weave in all those shorter bits you might have, to keep more of a style.
For makeup, I'm loving this big trend toward bright colours. Even in the fall, which is so unusual. We're used to earth tones and burgundy, but now we're seeing jewel tones—like for a smoky eye. Colour is so happy and optimistic. It's the kind of thing where you get this boost of confidence, from looking special. Maybe Lupita inspired this, because she wore so much bright colour. I think it's something women are ready to try.
When it comes to how to wear it—whether on the eyes or lips—there are no rules. I got a great tip from Lupita's makeup artist, Nick Barose; he said you can wear a bold lip and a bold eye if the colours are both in the same shade family. So let's say a bronzey peach lip with a bright orangey eyeshadow. That's really fun.
What's your favourite thing about being a beauty editor?
What I do is celebrity beauty, and there are red carpet events every single day. So I look at all those pictures, and try to go deeper into what was the impactful part of the look. It's fun! There's something about being able to capture a piece of a celebrity's lifestyle, whether it's via lipstick or a hairstyle.
What I love most is when it's a perfect storm. When there's a trend on runway, like the ponytail with texture, and then you see it on the red carpet and there are products in the market like Oribe Dry Texturizing Spray to get the look. It all comes together.
Or the Cara Delevingne bold brows. It was one of those things where in a matter of three to six months, it was on the runway and then there were products available. It's so rare for that to happen, but more and more brands are rising to the occasion.
Do you have any advice for aspiring beauty editors?
Interning is an amazing thing. I think it's the best way to get practical experience and see what is happening; it doesn't matter what you studied in school. Anybody can be a beauty editor. Intern jobs are few and far between, but it's now more possible than ever before for every young woman to refine her voice over social media or a blog. It's about having a point of view and honing your own voice. So it's the perfect time and there's so much opportunity to be able to do that right now.
Shop the Story
Have Your Say
What do you think about the life of an NYC beauty ed?
How do you feel about Gwen's approach to beauty?
Have you tried any of her favourite products?