American Beauty: The World According to Emily Weiss

Editor and entrepreneur Emily Weiss has taken ‘Into the Gloss’ from a simple beauty blog into an industry phenomenon. i-D gets the lowdown on the beauty zeitgeist from the budding Lady of the Internet.

by Sarah Nicole Prickett and Adam Fletcher
22 August 2014, 7:00pm

Photography Adrian Mesko

Of the girls and women I know in New York City, a higher percentage regularly read Into the Gloss, the NYC-based beauty website, than: a) regularly read any other non-news website; b) regularly put on makeup, or even shower. It's hard to explain. The writing on ITG is personal and chattily instructive, without the slick expertise of traditional beauty writing. Staffers are as likely to pose questions to commenters—What's the most moisturizing lip balm? Are black nails over?—as they are to answer them in posts, and a popular recurring feature is 'The Top Shelf,' in which an Instagram-famous face or industry insider tells us how and why she uses each cosmetic item in her bathroom (where she is also photographed, smiling). If all this sounds almost too gentle, you're right. Reading about faces on ITG is like getting a facial at the day spa: it takes a long time in a clean, white environment with lots of soft small talk and routine, repetitive steps, some of which are only necessary so that you can relax.

Relaaaaaxx, I tell myself in the tiny elevator taking me, the photographer, and the photographer's assistant up to ITG's Chinatown headquarters. You're prepared. It's fine. She's probably less symmetrical in person. Emily Weiss, 29, is the founder and creative director of ITG, which she launched in 2010 with a bit of money and a good digital camera; she has also become its everybabe avatar. If you don't know the site but find she looks familiar, a hint: Weiss was the "super intern" on MTV's The Hills, playing a keen East Coast foil to the spoiled, lassitudinous SoCal stars; eight years later, she may be less outwardly Type A, but she is also a bona fide "super boss."

"I have no idea how people perceive me, but certain cosmetic things change how—not who—I am," says Weiss, who looks younger in person, but not even slightly less symmetrical. "When I had short hair, I dressed more like a boy. I even walked more like a boy. With longer hair, I feel more like a girl, and I'm even more obsessive about my skin."

Like an avant-garde couturier who only wears overalls and Nikes, Weiss is a beauty-product savant who goes barefaced every day of the week. Today, after months as an ice-chill platinum blonde, she has just gone back to brunette, and is ready for her portrait in a no-nonsense ponytail and maaaaybe a trace of mascara. "When I started the site," she says, "everyone was doing a bold, bright, or classic red lip, maybe with fine black eyeliner. Now we all want stronger, fuller eyebrows. We've gone from powders—the matte look—to a dewier finish, with either lighter foundation or none at all. More and more, the women around me wear less and less makeup."

But unlike the #nomakeup braggarts we know and loathe, Weiss and her genetically lucked-out cohorts at ITG are eager to reveal, in candid and meticulous detail, the face-saving routines it takes to attain such confidence. "Beauty right now is all about really good skincare, good habits," says Weiss. "It's about doing more for your skin at night, less on your skin in the morning. No one wants to look visibly made-up in the daytime."

Which brings us to the boys. "Skincare is where guys can get into beauty on the down-low," says Weiss, who is starting to feature more men at ITG. According to Mintel, the Chicago research firm, mens' cosmetics will be a $3.2 billion industry by 2016—but whether it's Jack Black moisturizer or Tom Ford concealer, you'll never hear a salesguy calling it "makeup." The word instead is "grooming." Or "urban camouflage." And according to Weiss, the key word this time is urban. "I don't think the average American male is shopping the beauty department or experimenting with his look," says Weiss. "Even in New York or LA, the moment is more relaxed. It's not metrosexual. At the same time, I know guys are going into their girlfriends' bathroom cabinets or gym bags and thinking, this dry shampoo smells good, or this moisturizer seems harmless enough, I'll try it this once—and then getting hooked."

A nation hooked on basics, I have to say, sounds neither very glamorous nor fun. An old line of Kurt Cobain's flashes into my mind—

INTERVIEWER: How about men wearing make-up?

KURT COBAIN: Sure. If it's applied in a real gaudy fashion and makes you look like a TV evangelist's wife.

—and I feel wistful. "It's about looking like yourself," Weiss tells me, then laughs because she sounds like a tagline. But before I can ask what if you find yourself boring or what about the grand American art of self-recreation, I think "TV" again and it clicks: the return to colourless cosmetics is a camera thing, not just a class thing. Our SLRs and iPhones are designed to capture every last pore, rendering "trashy" or "too much" the same makeup that on film was so magically transformative. Suddenly I feel very Norma Desmond, like: I'm not cheap. It's the cameras that got expensive!

Weiss nods, either sympathetic or polite. "Digital cameras do call for a natural look, especially under natural lighting," she says. "And we all do have to live in natural lighting sometimes! The good news is that a perfectly finished 9-to-5 face is no longer the standard, so when you do makeup at night, it feels special. For daytime, the new beauty is a bit unisex, but that doesn't mean it's uniform. Good skin and good eyebrows and a simple routine with one signature thing, like unnatural hair or long nails or tattoos or an intense perfume—that's what everyone wants now." Then she corrects herself. "I mean, everyone in my little world."



Text Sarah Nicole Prickett
Photography Adrian Mesko

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