Posted by Irene Ojo-Felix | September 17th, 2019

Industry, Now

MICHELLE LEE

MICHELLE LEE

Portrait by Ben Hassett for Models.com

#IndustryNow The cycles of social media impel us to embrace then move on from trends and discourses faster than ever before. The life span of a single work––an editorial, a campaign, a show, a stint––is shorter for it. Fashion’s only unconditional term is the future: operating a year ahead, after all. So, in an industry where change and relevancy are the full stops at the end of every sentence, Models.com wanted to highlight individuals who add permanence to the community–some at their start and some at their top. Photographer Ben Hassett gets up close and personal for Models.com with the creative forces often behind the scenes. They are the Industry, Now.

As editor-in-chief of beauty bible Allure Michelle Lee has taken up the daunting task of creating visually intriguing stories in a world demanding inclusivity rooted in reality. With readers wanting more than fluff, Lee has hosted on the cover a range of powerfully modern women like Ashley Graham, Serena Williams, Lizzo, Helen Mirren, Emilia Clarke, Rihanna, and Gemma Chan. That openness has also been applied to fixing the past gaps of diverse narratives like Halima Aden as the new ‘American Beauty’ for the July 2017 issue. Or who could forget her monumental ‘All About Hair’ June 2018 issue featuring models Fei Fei Sun, Fernanda Ly, and Soo Joo Park? Championing the historically underrepresented under Lee’s leadership, Allure has ushered in a new era of beauty expertise.

What has allowed you to stay true to a personal vision as the industry trials ways to adapt to modern challenges?
It’s having resilience and building up enough confidence in your vision that you won’t waver in the face of a random naysayer. It’s human nature, especially in these social-media-heavy days, to ignore 100 positive comments and stew over the 1 negative. But, as an editor, you have to rely largely on your gut. Yes, you can use data and opinions and comments to help guide you but you sometimes have to just trust in your own vision…and stick with it. Making big, bold moves can be scary because the risks are often higher. But that means that the rewards are, too.

Can commercial work be personal?
Absolutely. That’s one of the wonderful parts about working in a creative field. You can create a photograph or video or story that’s deeply personal and connects with people but that also tells a story for a brand or product. We did a shoot a few years ago about makeup for monolid eyes and hired an all-Asian crew to work on it. This was long before Crazy Rich Asians and the state of Asian-led projects and Asians in media and Hollywood were still woefully underrepresented. That shoot was incredibly personal for everyone who worked on it, from the models to the photographer to the makeup artist. And then it connected in a really wonderful way with the readers as well.

Is making beautiful things enough?
Every decision we make has a larger cultural impact, so I believe that a shoot is not just a shoot. When we share images with a larger audience, we’re telling a story about what we consider beautiful. Just look at the past few decades. For a long time, media and advertising portrayed a very narrow image of beauty. Creators probably thought they were just making beautiful things. But they were also participating in a system that was establishing and perpetuating a specific definition of beauty to the world. So, yes, making beautiful things can be enough. But that also comes with responsibility and a lot more meaning than people give it credit for.

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