Having been a beauty editor since the ‘80s, I’ve known Linda Wells for nearly as long.
As I was answering phones and alphabetizing perfume bottles in the beauty closet at Glamour headquarters, Linda was already a well-established beauty and food writer at The New York Times. When word got around that she was launching Condé Nast’s first beauty magazine, we all hoped to be considered for the team. And when its subsequent debut had beauty zealots the world over raising their arms with glee, Linda became the queen bee of beauty editors.
Before Allure, beauty had always been the stepsister of fashion magazine families. Sure, these publications were loaded with beauty advertisements, but the amount of beauty editorial was rarely equally represented, much less respected. I remember learning that an editor-in-chief snarkily referred to a beauty director as the “keeper of the lipsticks,” and that bothered me. It also kind of embarrassed me.
Allure gave us beauty writers a new platform that couldn’t be ignored. Linda and her team dove deep into every beauty topic, from hair color and the latest skincare ingredient to the newest plastic surgery procedure. She pulled back the curtains and introduced us to the professionals behind the looks and breakthroughs, giving the artists and the product creators the credit they deserved. Linda also kicked open the backstage doors at fashion shows — and waved us all in with her. (And for that, as someone who hates the craziness of backstage, I don’t know whether to thank her or stick my foot out when she passes by).
That brings up the memory that always has popped in my head whenever Linda’s name comes up: Sometime in the early 2000s, I am standing outside the backstage door at Dolce and Gabbana®’s Spring runway show in Milan. The security guy is refusing to let me inside, despite me pointing out my name on his clipboard. I merely want to do my job — rush in, grab a quick sound bite from the hairstylist and makeup artist (probably Pat McGrath) — and then leave, but no.
Then a car pulls up, and out steps Linda Wells. Dressed in a winter-white Gucci® coat with a thin black leather belt and black Manolo heels, she is protectively guided inside by the security guard. She does not see me among the throngs, and I am too proud to ask for help. Almost as fast as she appeared, she is gone.
Since then, Linda, 59, has only continued her trajectory, fully cementing her iconic status. She has taken her expertise in the beauty realm — including all those moments backstage talking to makeup experts — and turned it into Flesh®. This huge and inclusive makeup line that she has created recently debuted in a whirlwind launch at Ulta BeautySM. Despite her packed schedule, I managed to track her down to discuss her career, skincare regimen, and the line itself, including Fleshpot®, the eye and cheek gloss that has become a staple of mine.
Spotlyte: Did you always want to be a journalist?
Linda Wells: Not really. I always wanted to write and paint. I loved the activity of writing, or actually the activity of finishing writing, more than I did any fantasy of being a journalist. Once I started working at a magazine and then a newspaper, I discovered that I could ask people questions — even awkward, personal questions I’d never ask a stranger — and they’d actually answer.
Spotlyte: Were you always interested in beauty, even before you started working?
LW:Yes, I was always fascinated with masks and scrubs and good-smelling things. My mother’s dressing room felt like it held hidden treasures. And whenever she was away, I’d root around, trying forbidden, mysterious things. I spent my allowance on face brushes and lemony astringents and spritzes. Makeup came later.
Spotlyte: How did Allure come to be?
LW: I was working as the beauty and food editor of The New York Times Magazine when Alexander Liberman, the editorial director of Condé Nast, asked me to lunch at La Grenouille. Condé Nast had offered me other jobs, so I figured the meeting with Alex was a continuation of those conversations — the full charm offensive, as only Alex could do it.
But La Grenouille seemed a little too public to me — I loved the Times and had no intention of leaving there — so I asked if we could meet in his office instead. When I got there, Si Newhouse strolled in and asked me if I’d like to start a new magazine about beauty. It had no name, no market research, no budget, no staff, no business plan. It was just an idea tossed out in a room.
Spotlyte: What was your favorite Allure cover?
LW: June 1991: Linda Evangelista with short blond hair, a long neck, arched eyebrows, shot by Steven Meisel; hair by Garren, makeup by Kevyn Aucoin, styled by Paul Cavaco. You can’t get any better than that! To make that even sweeter, it was one of the four issues that was oversize.
Spotlyte: Have you tried injectables, such as filler?
LW: I was so lucky to meet Fredric Brandt, the most brilliant dermatologist, in the late ‘90s and became his patient and friend. I never directed him after our first meeting; he always did the work, never overdone, never strange. Now that Fred is no longer with us, I go to his associate, the dear, funny, artful Rob Anolik, though I don’t go often enough.
[Editor’s note: injectable filler is a temporary treatment designed to add volume to certain areas of the face. Like any medical procedure, filler has possible side effects and risks, so talk to your doctor to decide if they’re right for you. Have more questions about filler? Chat with a trained aesthetic specialist now.]
Spotlyte: Could you speak about your first injectable wrinkle reducers experience?
LW: [I went with a friend to a see a doctor.] After my friend was finished with her injections, she told me I should have a go. I thought to myself, No, no, no. Do not succumb to peer pressure! [Editor’s note: always talk to your provider to see if you’re a candidate for these treatment.] Before I knew it, I was in the chair, getting those very injections.
[Editor’s note: injectable wrinkle reducers are temporary treatments used to smooth the look of moderate to severe wrinkles in certain areas of the face. Like any medical treatment, these include risks and possible side effects, so consult with your doctor to see what’s best for you.]
Spotlyte: And now you’ve launched Flesh. How did it come to be?
LW: Revlon hired me to be the chief creative officer of the company in February 2017. In late June, the CEO and another executive discussed the idea of creating a prestige line of makeup. I offered to do it, based on an idea I’d been kicking around for years. I worked with outside formulation experts, suppliers, packaging, an independent editorial makeup artist and creative director, and in a little over a month, we had the name, logo, product assortment and packaging.
Spotlyte: If you had to pick one product to have with you on a desert island, bearing in mind that you've got ample sunscreen AND it's for a reality show, so you're being filmed, which Flesh product would it be?
LW:Oh, that old desert island. Does one wear makeup on a desert island? Are there mirrors? If yes, then it would be the Flesh Thickstick Foundation ($18), which I love. It looks and feels like real skin, and goes on so easily. It feels like nothing on the face — I have a thing about makeup being comfortable — and the finish is gorgeous and flattering. And if you’re in a shipwreck, it’s easy to grab before you jump into the lifeboat (it also goes through TSA).
Spotlyte: Now that the line is out, what have been the best/favorite compliments you've received?
LW: Busy Phillips recently wore our Proud Flesh Matte lip color to Disneyland while her friend wore another brand, and they agreed that Flesh was better. So that thrilled me! And my Allure family, who are now scattered all over, have been unbelievably generous. Liz Siegel at Allure compared Flesh to the way I edited, and it was sweet on both counts.
Spotlyte: What's next with Flesh? Any hints you can share?
LW: Total world domination? Until then, we just dropped some very cool things. The double-end concealer, Hide the Evidence ($28), is a perfect little weapon with two shades and two textures on each end. The Flipbook ($22) is 100 sheets of what looks like blotting papers but is actually makeup — specifically blush, bronzer and highlighter — that you tear out and skim over your skin. And we have some groovy, glitzy new things for the holidays that feel like perfect little presents.
Spotlyte: Can you share how Fleshpot came to be? Was it your idea? Did the labs show you this curious gel and were you like, "yesssss!"?
LW: Fleshpot ($20) was a perfect moment of inspiration and reality colliding in the labs. I’d always watched makeup artists backstage at the fashion shows, and they loved putting petroleum jelly on the eyelids and cheeks — either on its own or over makeup — to create the glistening, wet, sexy effect. I saw something in the labs and thought, that’s it! It also looked like the embodiment of Flesh — it’s sensuous, touchable, original, unexpected.
Unlike petroleum jelly, Fleshpot doesn’t mess up your mascara or slide all over your face. In different lights and at different angles, it can look gold, peach or pink. It’s our bestseller, which is great because it came a bit out of left field.
Spotlyte: On to your own regimens! What is your daily routine?
LW: I experiment a lot and my skin is sensitive. But I love trying new skincare products. I have learned a few things over the years: if you’re going to open an anti-aging product, you need to use it quickly, because the ingredients tend to be unstable and lose their potency when they’re exposed to oxygen and light. So, I try to finish one product before I crack open a new one, and it takes a ridiculous amount of discipline.
Right now, I’m using Prevage Anti-Aging Serum ($162) in the morning, then Augustinus Bader Rich Cream ($265) over that. At night, I’m into these products given to me by a friend who has a spa in Bangkok. They’re called Pure Altitude. They come from the Alps and are made with edelweiss, like The Sound of Music. The Von Trapp family had beautiful skin.
Spotlyte: Any bad habits you have with your skin?
LW: As a teenager, I spent far too many summers sitting out by a pool wearing SPF zero, smoking cigarettes and drinking Diet Coke. Now I don’t do any of those things, but the damage has been done. These days, I err more on the side of neglect than egregiously bad behavior. I rarely get facials, I don’t double or triple cleanse, I don’t use masks. I’m not a tretinoin devotee, even though doctors swear by it. I just don’t have the patience to get through the peeling-red phase to enjoy the benefits. And I don’t go to the dermatologist often enough.
Spotlyte: Is there a miracle skin care product you wish someone would create?
LW: I’d love a pill or a cream that really eliminated lines without irritation, and I’m convinced it’s just around the corner.
Spotlyte: How often do you get in-office procedures?
LW: I don’t get them often enough. Maybe every five months or so, I go to Rob Anolik and he does whatever’s necessary: wrinkle reducer, of course, filler in [the moderate to severe] facial lines [and wrinkles], Clear + Brilliant® laser. I’ve gotten Fraxel® twice and need another session. The challenge is the downtime, as in: I don’t have any.
Spotlyte: Let’s talk about wellness. Are you a mindful practitioner? Any exercise? And are you a healthy eater?
LW: I don’t like yoga — and I’ve really tried. I find it boring, and I’m sure that’s my fault and not yoga’s. I really like meditation but don’t do it often. When I do, I use the 10% Happier® app. I want to get real meditation training and have my eye on the New York Meditation Center, which friends have swooned over, but I haven’t carved out the time.
I’ve gone to SoulCycle™ since they opened their first tiny, smelly studio about 13 years ago. I absolutely love everything about it. I know I should add something like pilates or weight training to my repertoire, but I don’t.
I’m a generally healthy eater who likes to cheat. Ever since I went to the Ranch® at Live Oak Malibu about five years ago, I don’t eat meat (just fish) and avoid dairy and artificial sweeteners. Breakfast is usually an omelet or a Starbucks Sous Vide Egg White Bites and a soy latte. Lunch is a salad I bring from home, which sounds so lame but gives me enormous pleasure to make and eat. It’s usually romaine and arugula, cherry tomatoes, corn, red pepper, a little basil and mint, avocado, a bit of feta, and lemon juice, Dijon mustard, and salt. Dinner is shrimp and vegetables, maybe a grain like farro, a glass or two of white wine. If I go out, I usually have a few of someone else’s French fries and bites of someone else’s dessert.
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Robert Anolik is a paid Allergan consultant.