Eva Chen, Beauty Director, Teen Vogue
What were you doing before you got into beauty? Where do you work now?
"I went to college at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. While I was there, I was premed, and I never thought I would end up in magazines. I’m a first generation American. My parents are from Taiwan and China. But, I wanted a change of scene, I guess, so I spent the summer between my junior and senior year interning at Harper’s Bazaar. It was a really eye-opening experience for me. I had always been into health care and nutrition and all that good stuff. I guess I was just shocked that someone could be paid to do these things that I had always considered to be hobbies.
"When I graduated, I was really ready to work in magazines, but it was around 2001, post 9/11. The economy was in a tailspin—much like it is right now. When I couldn’t find a magazine job, I took a job at a law firm. My family really values stability, so I thought maybe I’ll go to law school, which is what a lot of people say when they aren’t sure what they want to do. Immediately, I knew it wasn’t for me. I had always kept in touch with every single person I had interned with. Eventually, one of them emailed me and said that she was hiring at Lucky magazine. So I went to work at Lucky in the fashion department as a freelance assistant. I did that for a few weeks, and then actually got a job at Elle. I worked at Elle for almost three years. It was an incredible time—climbing the ladder and learning so much. Then, I got a call from Amy Astley, who asked if I would be interested in coming to work at Teen Vogue. That was seven years ago, and now I’m the Beauty Director at Teen Vogue."
At what point did you realize that fashion was more than a hobby?
"Day one at Harper’s. It wasn’t a slow-dawning realization. It was as if someone had smashed me over the head. This is meant to be. This is what you’re meant to be doing. You can’t really know what you want to do until you try it. And so if you’re lucky enough to have the opportunity to try something—anything—I think you should absolutely take it."
How did your parents react?
"Parents all want the same thing for their children. Of course, they want financial security, but also happiness. I think my parents saw how unhappy I was working at the law firm, but they didn’t really understand the industry. I always tell kids who are interviewing: If your parents are unhappy, take the time to explain your plans to them. Sit them down and say, “This is what I want to do. Here’s how I’m going to do it. I’m going to be an assistant for this many years, and then an associate for this many. And this is what my salary is going to be.” If you kind of map it out for them, you can take away a bit of that fear. I think at first, my parents were a little traumatized! But now, having a daughter who is a beauty editor is a bragging point for my mom. When she meets up with her friends, she always takes a bunch of samples with her."
What sacrifices did you make to work in magazines?
"I think when you’re really happy and satisfied with what you’re doing, it doesn’t really feel like sacrifice. I didn’t think of it as a sacrifice. But sure, the magazine career is a slow burn. It’s not charted quite as logically as the legal profession or the medical field. Those are very linear paths. And to work in this field, you give up that predictability. Magazines are a little bit more of the wild, wild west."
What role, if any, does your previous experience play in how you do your job today?
"Your skills are applicable no matter what you do. When I was working at the law firm as a paralegal, my responsibilities were very administrative—making photocopies, assisting the partners. When I went to work at Elle, I was basically doing the exact same thing. At the assistant level, so many of the tasks that you’ll be asked to do are the same, it’s just that the jurisdiction is different."
Beauty is important because...
"It’s the lowest common denominator. Everyone is invested in looking and feeling their best."
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