By Andrea Toochin
Most people purchase books based on the cover and if they get past the first page. To classify Lucky beauty editor Jean Godfrey-June’s debut as chick lit wouldn’t be right. This is no classic girl-meets-boy or girl-covets-job tale of struggle, more struggle, binge drinking, sweets eating, and shoe shopping until a happy conclusion appears in the last 20 pages. In fact, it’s not even a memoir in the traditional sense.
Free Gift With Purchase is a journey through the experiences that led June to her coveted post at Lucky, complete with a healthy serving of shaded boxes, the book equivalent of pull quotes and sidebars. These boxes contain brain drizzles featuring everything from party speak to beauty truths, like reasoning for cheek implants, the secret to the “˜natural’ look and strange PR strategies. Her brief bio reveals two things: she is the mother of two and is successful enough that she’s comfortable living outside The City.
The child of left wing intellects, June grew up in Palo Alto before the dot-com boom, outrageous real estate and the current trend, upscale nouveau Indian restaurants. As a child, she was the least likely to enter a field where testing lip glosses and analyzing new technological advances is an art form because she was a tomboy. Early on, she confesses she knew she wanted to write, which makes me wonder, why would a career in magazines be “improbable”? One of many revealing anecdotes explains that indeed she knew early on a career at one of glossies would be plum; it also explains that few of us writers know much more than that when we decide one day we’ll make a career out of offering our opinions to the world.
“I chose my college””University of Colorado””not, as I told everyone, because I liked Colorado, but because those annoying subscription cards that fall out of magazines, the return address is always, “Boulder, CO 80203″. I naturally concluded that all my favorite magazines were produced there and that I’d quickly land a glamorous internship.” It’s anecdotes like this make this influential editor appear as normal as we commoners. Even as she gets into the tale models and actresses usual tell about their childhood as “˜lanky ugly ducklings’ she somehow averts creating the usual pang of envy because her tone is so self-deprecating.
From her descriptions, I imagine the few magazines her family would’ve encouraged her involvement in would be titles Salon, Clamor, or The New Yorker. Post college, she worked in advertising and lived with her husband in New Mexico and Ohio before his career led them to NYC. Commuting from New Jersey in the beginning, she started out at a real estate magazine but eventually started writing about fashion. She credits her entry to the big time with a few freelance articles, explaining that instead of sending pitches and queries, she submitted the entire article, a strategy that worked with both New York magazine and Conde Nast Traveler.
This is where the pang of envy arrives, somewhere between seeing these two names and reading that the same thing worked with Vogue. As we all know, Vogue doesn’t print just anything. Her story was an article about a newcomer to the cosmetic world, Bobbi Brown. Now, in today’s competitive world of publishing, you might wonder, would the same thing happen? Well, if you found a way to get an article to an editor’s desk before anyone else covered the topic, the answer might be yes. Any good writer that offers a beauty exclusive and gets it to the editor at the right time could score an article if she were willing to jump as high as they made her. What she fails to admit, and can’t in keeping with her low-profile attitude, is that behind all this talk of an ugly duckling with the usual naiveties of youth is an attractive willowy grounded woman, intelligent and simple, following a path chosen years prior.
Such was her entry into the world of lunches, freebies, attitudes, and politics. One of many nuggets, she explains the truth behind freelancing; most people think freelancers sleep in, write a few stories, and get paid decent money to avert the usual office hours. What they don’t know is it’s nearly impossible to turn down a good assignment and each story usually requires research, interviews, the actual writing, and at least one round of edits, minimum. “Once the Vogue piece was out, I had a new career. Never underestimate the power of Vogue. Suddenly doors opened, phone calls were returned. Every magazine called me and wanted articles; I freelanced and I barely slept I had so much work. People always ask me””especially now that I’ve got kids””why don’t I just freelance. The reality for me is that I couldn’t say no to anyone, ever. Why would they call you for the next article when you said no the first time?”
All this freelancing eventually led her to Elle, a place that inspired many pages, most stemming from the power struggle between French and American leaders. These pages affirm the rumors of horribly rude fashion editors””one in particular that she coins Fashionista””and temperamental photographers that make life hell for most of the staff. However, few stop to think how they’d act if they were around models and fashion designers all day, on an empty stomach, reminded of the life they dreamt of but would never have.
June, however, and most beauty and features editors, don’t harbor any lost hopes of becoming a model or a designer. They are not settling, as many in creative fields do. Throughout the 271 pages, which flew by in three days, she divulges all the juicy secrets from starvation spa weekends to beauty trade details, personal preferences, and her pet peeves. Her ability to write a tell-all about a billion-dollar industry says one thing””she’s arrived. If you can publish pages of secrets about the inside happenings at magazines, social events, and large cosmetics companies you are surely at the point in your career where your judgment and voice overpower the egos of high-powered executives.
One of the insider tales tells of Lucky‘s rocky beginning. I for one wasn’t surprised by this. I remember the day I received my issue of Allure and first saw the ad for Lucky. For $12 I decided I’d check it out and I’ve been a reader every since. At the time, I was living in the suburbs with an ex-boyfriend, just bordering on marriage, working in Boston. I’d always been a beauty junkie and looking back at my pre-journalism days, I recognize the power magazines have over consumers. I actually remember the first product I bought after seeing it in Lucky””Deluxe Beauty lip gloss in Gus, a hot red hue purchased online from Sephora, along with a few other items, just to get the free gift. A year later while taking classes at Harvard night school, I was sitting in class and people started complaining. One girl started on in a condescending activist voice, “there’s this new magazine and it’s all about shopping and they have these stickers you use to mark the items you want,” she said with disgust. Naturally, I wasn’t about to profess my love for the magazine to a crowd devoted to the Utne and The New Yorker, but I’ve always loved the publication.
Make no mistake; it is a magazine entirely about shopping with a great design and wonderful regular columns. My favorite is when they show a powerful workingwoman with her wardrobe staples and how she pairs them for a week. Lucky has always been an honest endeavor””they never claimed to expose criminals or bring world peace, but they do bring a little joy to women’s lives and they’ve fostered countless small businesses. This magazine reached incredible heights after initial struggles””I believe they reached a circulation of one million in five short years. Their success could be credited to their ability to continue to offer new advice; to use models that look like real women; and to adhere to the voice of the editor Kim France, a former music journalist who initially turned down the offer to run the magazine.
For any aspiring creative soul, this book is an inspiration because it shows that anything is possible. For beauty junkies, this is a like having a one-on-one with a beauty editor because it’s got every detail about the world of glossies. Editors, as June does, try to say that the idea of working in magazines is not as glamorous as your think, but their ability to write casually about perfume launches at Kimora and Russell’s mansion shows it’s just that. However, there is some truth to their point. Until they reach the top, most editors are jam packed into cubicles with little space, many to a room talking on the phone, bustling about to meet deadlines while anticipating new ones.
Some may wonder, how hard is it to pick a few creams? But, with an endless array of options and the responsibility of offering sound advice to millions of hard-working Americans it’s not so easy. A certain moral dilemma comes with the job; occasionally, you realize that you are telling thousands upon thousands of men and women that they need to buy this new eye cream or try this new facial, or that you are encouraging the companies that mine rainforests for the latest natural cure-alls. But a quick evaluation of the audience relieves the momentary guilt because as June says beauty intrigues us all. “Everybody loves beauty products. Even if you think you know nothing about them, or even if you think you hate them, you actually know plenty about them and, in fact, have several of them that you love. Women who modestly/moralistically claim to “˜never use all the beauty stuff’ are big Clinique ladies, usually with a healthy helping of Neutrogena.”
June’s honest account of the industry is almost like magical realism because she manages to convince us that despite being a mother of two, a wife, and an influential editor, she’s really just an average American woman. Despite the many black-tie events attended in borrowed designer dresses and vintage items (read the book for this bit of advice), she almost convinces us that fearing authority figures, being unphotogenic and not passing for a model makes her “˜average’. This, however, is also a result of working in a creative field in a place like LA or NYC.
What isn’t blatantly mentioned here is in my opinion the best justification for any beauty junkie, editor or conglomerate promoting the latest product. America is all about instant gratification and living beyond our means. Where else but America could someone make enough money to put three kids through college by starting a makeup company, creating an unnecessary kitchen appliance, or selling TurboJam, the latest workout video claiming to deliver rock-hard-abs in weeks, a DVD I nearly bought one May evening at 2 a.m.
Most of my respect for Lucky is tied to its role as a stimulant for the economy. Not only did it survive, it thrived during a recession and it encouraged Americans to spend, thereby supporting our economy. How did they achieve such success? By combining two successful models. Consumers buy things for two reasons: a celebrity uses it or a normal woman uses it; buying this product will either transform you the way it did with the normal woman or it’ll make you a little bit more like the celebrity, the American version of royalty. Lucky realized that reality television and the media have expanded the notion of celebrity. Not only do they feature tips from unknown women, which resonates extremely well with consumers, but they offer tips from actresses, makeup artists, designers, entrepreneurs, you name it, the list goes on.
For me this revealed bits about those I admire and hope to work for one day; after all, editors are my celebrities. Whether you’re looking for an entry into the beauty world, a vacation from reality, or just more gossip this is a must-read. From Lucky details to tips from celebrity cosmetic gurus, this book will educate you on everything that is beauty, from gift ideas and health tips to self-love theories.
Her observation about self-image reveals the grounded persona that’s kept her sane and successful after years in a cut-throat industry. “The most important thing about all of it is that even if your anti-aging strategy actually succeeds in making you look younger, you will still look like you, just younger, and if you’re dissatisfied with that to begin with, you’re not going to be any happier.”
Free Gift With Purchase My Improbable Career in Magazines by Jean Godfrey-June is available at Amazon.com. Click this link to read a Q & A session with June and to learn about her favorite products, all of which are available at the Amazon beauty store.