BEHIND THE BEAUTY EDITOR: MICHELLE VILLETT

Image courtesy of beautyeditor.ca
Michelle Villett has the kind of career most can only dream of. Her resume includes being beauty editor at The Look, writing for publications such as Canadian Living, FLARE, FASHION and Best Health (to name but a few) and appearing as a guest on CosmoTV, Canada AM and Breakfast Television. Perhaps most notably Villett was beauty and health editor of ELLE Canada, a role she left to start the enormously successful website Beauty Editor. Here Michelle talks us through founding an award-winning website, the difference between blogging and publishing and how she’ll always be a magazine person at heart.

Michelle Villett is a force to be reckoned with. Voluntarily leaving a full-time career in the illustrious magazine industry takes considerable intrepidity, (especially when you’re the Beauty and Health Editor of ELLE Canada) but that’s exactly what she did. “I left my magazine job to become a freelancer simply for a change of pace – I craved a new challenge! I started the website around that time on a lark to experiment with the medium of beauty blogging, which practically nobody was doing in Canada at the time.”

Many would consider such as move as madness – after all, the magazine industry’s notorious reputation has been well documented in recent years. The September Issue and the bestselling book-turned-movie The Devil Wears Prada, (based on the author’s time working for Vogue editor Anna Wintour) offered people previously unimaginable insight into the elusive world of fashion magazines. They also served to show us how coveted a job in fashion publishing really is; getting your foot in the door seems like a daunting prospect, to say the least. “I always loved magazines, but I didn’t have a clue about how you could actually end up working at one, or even that the job of beauty editor existed. After university (and a very short stint working in marketing), I decided I wouldn’t be happy unless I tried to get into what I saw as the glamorous world of publishing. I started as an intern at a now-defunct fashion magazine called The Look, and that’s also where I landed my very first paying magazine job, which happened to be in beauty. Magazine positions are so hard to come by that I was elated just to be there at all – I would have happily written about any subject. But beauty ended up being the perfect fit for me, and I later went on to work at ELLE Canada as beauty and health editor before going freelance and starting my beauty website.”
On February 19th 2009 Villett uploaded her first post, ‘Beautyeditor: Not your average beauty blog’ and beautyeditor.ca was born. Fast-track to 2014 and Beauty Editor has won P&G’s Beauty & Grooming Award for Best Fashion or Beauty Blog and been featured in publications such as ELLE Canada, The Huffington PostBest Health and Glow. “I never dreamed the blog would grow so much, or that it would become a near-full-time job. The blog was born out of a desire to share all of the awesome knowledge I had gathered as a beauty editor, but which I never had the space to share within the constraints of a magazine. And I wanted to give people a peek behind the scenes at what it’s actually like to be a beauty editor, because it really is a weird and wonderful job.”

This success story wasn’t just serendipitous though. In an age where a blog can go viral and attract thousands of views overnight, Beauty Editor was a slow-burning labour of love. Through Villett’s witty, conversational approach to writing, the site has attracted millions of visitors and a dedicated fan-base who regularly weigh in on the comments section. This interaction is key to its success, and Michelle’s clever understanding of the recent social media boom has served Beauty Editor well. “I get the most referrals from Pinterest, which makes sense because I use so many large-sized photos of either celebrities or models on my site. Red carpet and backstage beauty close-ups translate very well to Pinterest, much more so than product images, as looking at a person is very inspirational. I also use Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Tumblr to share my daily links. Instagram is great for a “sneak peek” at events I’m attending or an early look at products that haven’t come out yet (I call it #beautymail).”

Michelle’s professional integrity is also essential to her success. PR companies jump at the chance to win over influential voices, but an undisclosed paid endorsement swept under the rug can ruin a blogger’s reputation. After all, they are the trusted advisee’s we look to for honest recommendations and learning they’ve been less than truthful can feel like a betrayal, which is why Villett clearly addresses this on her website. “I think giving honest advice, and my honest opinions is the key. I will tell you which products really “wow” me, but I’ll also be up front when I know it’s not really going to solve your problem or it’s not worth the money. With red carpet coverage, I’m not shy about saying what certain celebs need to do differently, or what they are getting right and why. So I think the key is having a trusted, knowledgable point of view instead of just liking every single thing out there. There are so many beauty blogs these days that there has to be a reason to read above and beyond straight product reviews. In general, the celebrity close-ups and my skincare tip articles have been the most popular features, and are content you don’t really see anywhere else. I’m especially opinionated about skin and its relation to health/diet, so when I talk about that, it can get quite controversial, which is generally a good thing on the internet.”

Every accolade is a testament to Villett’s talent. Despite her successes she remains refreshingly humble but, having conquered the worlds of magazine publishing AND blogging, which does she prefer? “At this point in my career, I prefer blogging, because it’s the bigger challenge. It’s not just about writing an article – I’m also editing other writers, managing the social media, implementing design and navigation improvements, strategising with advertisers, and so on. That said, I wouldn’t have come this far in blogging without having my magazine background first. That was really the foundation of the website, and why I called it “Beauty Editor”. In order to write authoritatively on trends or to share so many beauty tips, I needed the years of background where I interviewed dozens of makeup artists, dermatologists and hairstylists, and tried countless products and services. So I absolutely think magazines are the best training ground for learning to write, edit, interview and shape a story. Even just the ability to write catchy headlines that make you click is something I learned first from magazines. At the end of the day, I will always be a magazine person at heart – I just try to bring that perspective to my little corner of the internet.”
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