NEW YORK, United States — “Everyone has that one friend who knows everyone and knows the coolest places to go or the best eyebrow waxer. I want that to be Lucky,” Eva Chen, the recently installed editor-in-chief, says of her vision for the publication. “I want it to be the approachable, cool fashion magazine.”
Chen’s appointment, announced in mid-June, marks the quick ascension of a newcomer to the editor-in-chief ranks. Indeed, Chen, 33, is the youngest editor-in-chief at a major American fashion magazine by more than a decade and the first digital native to rise to the position. Chen has upwards of 50,000 Twitter followers, 59,000 Instagram followers, and Tumblr posts that regularly receive hundreds of notes. She is also the first Asian-American to top the masthead of a Condé Nast magazine.
Her work at Lucky is cut out for her, however. Circulation at the beleaguered shopping title, originally introduced in 2000, has plateaued around 1.1 million for the past three years. Advertising pages for 2012 totaled 894 — by contrast, Vogue’s September 2013 issue, alone, has 665 ad pages — and numbers continued to slide through the second quarter of this year.
Tapped by Vogue editor-in-chief and Condé Nast’s overall artistic director Anna Wintour, who initially brought her in as a consultant to the magazine in April, Chen aims to usher in a new era for the magazine — a glossier, more polished and aspirational era. Coincidentally, her first Lucky cover features two-time Vogue cover star Blake Lively wearing a $3,900 Gucci coat, photographed by Vogue perennial Patrick Demarchelier and styled by Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele, who also styled Wintour’s first Vogue cover and whom Chen previously assisted.
Chen grew up in New York, but “never really thought of fashion as a career. My mom subscribed to Vogue and I would look at the pictures, but it all felt very removed and almost like a fairy tale to me, even though I lived in Greenwich Village, or in the East Village, and the Garment District was 20 blocks away.” Instead, she found inspiration on the nearby streets. “I grew up surrounded by street style,” Chen says. “Fashion was never about going to the mall; fashion was walking around Washington Square Park where I would see the skateboarders, on St. Marks Place with the whole punk scene, going to school on the Upper East Side, and just seeing all the different demographics of style around New York City.”
A first-generation American, born to a Taiwanese mother and a Shanghainese father, Chen studied pre-med at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. “Oftentimes, the immigrant experience is that kids are pushed towards certain career paths such as medicine, law, engineering, finance,” she says. Feeling a little burnt out as she prepared for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and her last year of college, Chen applied to “20 different internships around New York City, from advertising and MTV to publishing... basically anything I had heard of.”
She landed at Harper’s Bazaar for the summer, split between the beauty and features departments. “Going to work on my first day and seeing all these people bustling around and rolling racks through the hallways and doing run-throughs, that I think was the first moment that really crystallised in my mind, this isn’t just a flight of fancy,” Chen says. By graduation in 2001, she was ready to switch gears and plunge head first into the magazine industry. “Of course, there was the matter of telling my parents, ‘Hey, guess what? I’m moving away from this very established career path that is very easy to understand and more linear to do something that is completely nonlinear and completely unpredictable.’”
But Chen initially had difficulty finding a magazine job and instead, ended up working at a law firm for nine months. “It was a very tumultuous time in the U.S. for many reasons,” she says, “9/11, the first dot-com bust. It was also a time when these magazine greats like Mademoiselle were beginning to disappear. But then, someone from Lucky magazine emailed me — they needed a freelance closet credits assistant,” Chen recalls. “So I worked with an editor who’s still here today — Joane Amay, she’s our credits editor here — for six weeks before I got a job at Elle.”
Chen spent three years in Elle’s beauty and fashion departments, followed by almost eight years at Teen Vogue, where Chen served as beauty and health director. “What I was really interested in with pre-med was the opportunity to help people, and I was always interested in wellness and nutrition, so the beauty department was a good fit for me,” she explains.
She later expanded her role at Teen Vogue, also becoming special projects director. “Amy Astley, the editor-in-chief, was always very encouraging of people who wanted to try new things,” Chen says. “It’s not at every magazine that the beauty editor could learn about licensing, brand development, digital development, and also work in social media. I was able to do a lot of different things at once, which I definitely think is important to the job I have now.”
Chen left Teen Vogue last October to move to Los Angeles and go freelance — “my husband who is a producer needed to be in LA for a project. I only actually lived there for three months, and then I came back [to New York] and was consulting at Lucky.” During that time, she also contributed to Vogue, Elle, WSJ and Vogue China, and continued to amass a loyal digital audience across Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr, where she became known for her “accessories of the day” close-ups, beauty product shots and dedication to responding to her many followers.
Just two months after she joined Lucky as a consulting editor, introduced by Wintour, it was announced that Chen would succeed the magazine’s then editor-in-chief Brandon Holley. Of her meteoric rise, Chen says, “I don’t know how quickly it’s actually been, because I’ve been over a decade in the industry,” adding, “I understand the Lucky audience so innately, because I feel like I am that audience. Someone who’s obsessed with shopping 18,000 different ways is probably the right person to run a shopping magazine.”
If I love something, I want a steady IV drip of it into my brain. I want to consume it from all different angles — I want to follow it on Twitter and read the magazine and also get my daily style dose on Luckymag.com.
The new Lucky, Chen says, is “for that girl who loves to shop, but also likes to shop smartly — she’s not just going to Bergdorfs or Barneys, as amazing as those stores are, and buying the latest thing just to have it. I think people these days are inspired by so many different things in so many different channels, from magazines to friends, in-store, advertisements, Instagram. Lucky is the magazine that’s going to pull it all together. That’s what I’m working on — making it a resource for people who shop in every which way, and putting it all together in one place.”
So is Lucky expanding into e-commerce, as has been suggested by the magazine's general manager Gillian Gorman Round and Condé Nast president Bob Sauerberg who have indicated their desire to strategically transform the magazine's business model?
“This question is hard to comment on at the moment, to be honest,” Chen says, “because my first challenge was refreshing the print model and design and now we're working on the new look of the website. E-commerce is certainly on my mind, but establishing the tone and cadence of print and the new site is foremost.”
As Chen developed Lucky’s new tone, it was “an incredible resource to have [Anna Wintour] as a sounding board,” she says. “One of the things she’s great at is really being able to cut to the heart of what makes a magazine tick. She’s helped me understand and helped me learn how to hone in on exactly what Lucky is.” Chen confirms that she is “elevating the look” of Lucky, but points out that “there are ways to make the magazine look cleaner and more aspirational and elegant and cool, but at the same time not raise the price point [of the items the publication features]. It’s finding the best of the designer brands and also mixing in those pieces that you can get for $200 and under — like Blake Lively is wearing Joe Fresh and an H&M dress [in the September 2013 cover story]. I do think that’s how people shop these days. It’s how I shop and it’s how I think everyone on staff shops.”
A carefully curated mix is what will keep the magazine from feeling “too catalog-y,” Chen says. “I think there are different ways to approach shopping,” she continues. “It doesn’t just have to be pages of products, even though Lucky certainly will have a lot of that. I just want to have different angles on shopping and fashion and make it fun.” As an example, she cites “the articles that we’re doing — deep, longer-length fashion essays. My background, more than styling, more than fashion, is writing. To me, it made perfect sense to do shopping essays in Lucky — I love reading the shopping adventures of different people.”
Approachability is also key to Chen’s vision. “Two days ago, someone tweeted at me, ‘Eva, the Chloé Susanna boot, is it a worthy investment?’” she recalls. “I can’t imagine being 20 years old and tweeting at an editor, but that’s the day and age we live in now. I’m the kind of person that if you write me an email, you’re going to get a response from me. If you tweet at me, I’m going to try my best to get back to you. [I want Lucky to be] a magazine where the walls are down, our editors are approachable. If you’re in an elevator with a Lucky editor and you think, ‘Oh my God, I really like her bag,’ you can be like, ‘Excuse me, where’s your bag from?’ And then the Lucky editor will be like, ‘Let me tell you where I bought it, this is who you should see at the Phillip Lim boutique, she’s the best salesperson, and you know what, I heard that this place might be having a sale.’”
Although it’s been suggested that her appointment might herald a transition towards a digital-only Lucky, Chen underscores the importance of the physical magazine. “To me, [print] is still a really premium experience and there’s just something delicious [about it],” she says. “Cracking something open is so satisfying. It’s like opening a box of shoes.”
She is, however, taking ideas from online and translating them for print. “I look at a lot of personal style blogs,” Chen says. “There’s one named Gary Pepper Vintage in Australia, her taste is sublime. Rumi from Fashion Toast in California. I look at people’s personal style blogs, and it’s like, I want to buy their whole outfit. [So we’re] taking inspiration from that and putting it in the magazine and doing a shoppable editor’s letter every month.”
Indeed, she thinks of Lucky’s digital and print experiences as “companion products. I know if I love something, I want a steady IV drip of it into my brain. I basically want to consume it from all different angles — I want to follow it on Twitter and read the magazine and wait for the next one and also get my daily style dose on Luckymag.com, as well. So I think it’s a symbiotic relationship and they all go hand-in-hand.”
“I am encouraging all the editors here to think globally in terms of content,” Chen notes. “As we were working on a print story, we think, ‘How will this translate online? What bonus features can we do? For instance, the day of the Blake [Lively] shoot, I stopped by and I took a picture of her manicure, I took a picture of the nail polishes on set. Could I print it then and there? No, that would be spoilers. But it’s about staggering things and having a strategy about how you release content and how to scatter it, so it has the longest possible impression time for people.”
Although there “are already a lot of changes” in her first issue, Chen is carefully evolving the magazine. “I don’t think readers want a shock to the system. I’m not going to do a redesign every month, I don’t think that’s a fair experience for the reader. I think the DNA of Lucky — which is about smart shopping, it’s about street style, personal style, beauty, tips, tricks, and how to wear it — will always be the thread throughout the magazine. But I think, in the next few issues, people can look for new contributors, new stylists, new photographers, new original voices in the magazine.”
“Working with Patrick [Demarchelier] and working with Carlyne [Cerf de Dudzeele], that’s a style dream team,” she continues. “There’s a whole wishlist of young photographers and young talent I want to promote as well — Sebastian Kim, Kathryn Neale, Lawren Howell. There’s a stylist named Marina Muñoz, who I’m obsessed with on a personal style level — whenever she comes to the office, I’m like, taking a visual snapshot. If my eyes could make a shutter sound, they’d be like, ‘Click. Click. Want all of that.’ Also, bloggers — working with the Hannelis, the Bryanboys, the Leandras. I think the Lucky reader cares about them as well.”
“My goal is really just to continue to evolve the magazine and make Lucky the resource for a new type of shopper,” she continues, “someone who I know is out there, because it’s me, it’s you, it’s everyone in this office. We want to really celebrate the fun and joy of shopping.”