Office hours with Michelle Lee, editor-in-chief of Allure

December 27, 2017

This story first appeared in the summer issue of Digiday magazine, available exclusively to Digiday Plus members.  Join the community and receive the full magazine here.

In Michelle Lee’s office, all-white furniture and floor-to-ceiling views of lower Manhattan are punctuated by orchids and roses in varying shades, bowls of brightly colored nail polish bottles and tinted glass bottles of perfume. It’s exactly where you’d envision the editor-in-chief of Allure spending her days.

michelle lee images6“I splurged on these Gucci heels when I first got here.” 

“People really knew Allure for their product savvy, but I wanted to build off that and make sure that we were a buzzy brand, too,” says Lee. Under Lee, the magazine has increased its coverage of women of color and the LGBTQ community, while tackling unexpected or provocative subjects like albinism and pubic hair.

Even the language the magazine uses has changed.

michelle lee images3“Any fragrance I really like ends up staying on this tray table.”

“We’re constantly exploring how the words we use might be affecting people in ways that we don’t understand,” says Lee, citing “anti-aging” as an example. Allure has discarded that once-loved term and worked to embrace women of every age: Actress Helen Mirren, for example, was on its September cover.

michelle lee images5“This is my under-desk elliptical machine from Cubii, which I rarely use.”

Lee wants her environment to feel welcoming, another difference between her and the old guard. “I have an open-door policy to the point that if my door is closed, people wonder if something is wrong,” she says. It’s not uncommon to find her listening to music — lately, Marina and the Diamonds or Lorde — while she works.

michelle lee images2“Getting a nice pen changed my work life.”

She describes her leadership style as collaborative, hoping to avoid the micromanagement she’s experienced in her own career at all costs. “I focus instead on hiring people that I really trust so that I can then let them fly,” she says. “I see myself as the director of a movie, with all of these talented people under me, and I want to make sure that I’m fostering their careers and hearing their input whenever possible.”

michelle lee images (1)“My daughter’s Instagram handle is @minimichellelee.”

That accessibility extends to her personal style, which she describes as “pretty/tough.” She favors flowy dresses that are fitted at the waist; Zara is a common go-to. It’s the accessories — edgy boots or a leather jacket — that she’ll splurge on.

michelle lee images4“These are special roses that last over a year — I’m not sure how they do it.”

Skin care and makeup are complex for a woman whose job is to focus on beauty. A portion of her desk is dedicated to the endless boxes she receives from makeup companies. Products she loves go home with her or sit on a glass tray on her desk; the rest are placed in various bowls throughout her office or given to other employees. Although the freebie excitement has waned by now, certain products still cause her to “fangirl,” she says. Most recently, it was a bag of makeup from Chanel and a full collection of products from Anastasia Beverly Hills.

(Photo Credits: Catalina Kulczar)