Over familiarity – it’s one of those unavoidable things that anyone with an unhealthy appetite for blogs and all things social media (yes, I’m looking at you) will be able to relate to. What person X had for breakfast this morning? No problem, I could tell you that. Where they buy their jeans from? Yep, probably that too. The perfect example is my relationship with former Brides beauty director, Alyssa Hertzig. I say ‘relationship’ but in actual fact, I could pretty much tell you anything from the foundation she swears by (Dolce & Gabbana Perfect Luminous Liquid if you were wondering) to where she gets her hair done (only Will at Sally Hershberger touches her hair) long before we finally met up in New York late last year.
Scary, perhaps, but not completely unintentional on her part. You see, Alyssa was part of a small group of editors who understood the power of building their own brand and profile beyond that of the magazine they’re attached to long before everyone else jumped on the bandwagon. At a time where a whole host of dissenters were criticising a fashion and beauty world driven by digital influencers, she was long carving a niche for herself thanks, in part, to her blog, The Sparkly Life.
Thanks to her editor’s eye she was quickly able to cut though the rambling, first talking about beauty – the subject closest to heart – and now fashion, parenting, home décor, and everything in between. For all of the insightful tips and advice she offers, the main draw is her unyielding, and often hilarious, honesty. Take a post she did recently in response to a New York Times piece about women getting their hair done after giving birth. Right next to a photo of her posing with her daughter read the caption: “In hospital, one day after giving birth to my first child. Baby is adorable; hair is cringe worthy.”
Blogging aside, she’s also one of the beauty world’s top editors with 15 years in the business, working for everyone from Harper’s Bazaar, Lucky and Allure, to Shape, Good Housekeeping and most recently Brides magazine.
The past year has been a big one in the beauty world. We’ve strobed our faces, embraced the sheet mask craze, and finally swotted up on the Korean 10-step skincare routine. Naturally, Alyssa has tried them all. Every evening is an experiment in some new long-lasting mascara, cure-all-evils serum or another, all in a bid to inform you on what’s actually worth shelling your hard earned cash on. It goes without saying, then, that we had to quiz her on life, work and all the products she swears by. Next time your cabinet needs stocking, consider this your guide.
Even though I was always obsessed with magazines growing up, I didn’t really think seriously about working for one. I actually went to college as a theatre major, but switched to magazine journalism after taking a j-school class my first year. After school, I briefly worked as a buyer at a retail company, but then switched to entertainment journalism at a website in Los Angeles at the start of the dotcom boom. Then, about two years later, I ended up going back to grad school to get my masters in magazine publishing.
I was hugely into the supermodel era when I was in junior high and high school. I loved Linda, Christy, Naomi and especially Cindy Crawford. My best friend and I used to tear their pictures out of Vogue, Elle, Bazaar, and Allure and store them in binders (this was pre-Pinterest, obviously). I had them plastered all over my room, too. That’s when I really started becoming interested in beauty. I loved seeing the models transform with their different looks and I loved reading about the hair and makeup pros, like Kevyn Aucoin, Oribe, Garren, and Sonia Kashuk, who were making it all happen.
After graduating from grad school at Northwestern I tried sending my resume to prospective employers from Chicago, but it wasn’t getting me anywhere so I picked up and moved to NYC without a job. I ended up getting a retail gig at Anthropologie while I was job-hunting on the side. After a few months I scored an unpaid internship at Harper’s Bazaar, working in the editor in chief’s office. I worked there two days a week and then the other five days a week at my retail job. Everything I was doing was total stereotypical-intern/Devil-Wears-Prada-esque grunt work, but I loved every second of it.
I just loved being in the atmosphere of magazine making. A few weeks after I started, an editorial assistant at the magazine got promoted so they interviewed interns for the position and I ended up getting it. I was not in the beauty department at that point though—I was more of a general editorial assistant – I was basically a glorified receptionist. I started noticing what was happening in beauty department though. They would get package after package every day and their desks were always covered with lipsticks and fragrances and candles. I knew almost immediately that that was what I wanted to do. I started helping them open packages when I had downtime. I asked them to tell me how they got started in beauty and I would email story ideas to the beauty director. Finally, a few months after I started at Bazaar, the senior beauty editor left the magazine, the associate editor got promoted, and a job opened up. I practically begged them to let me move into it, and luckily, they did. And I’ve never looked back. Whether you’re an intern or a senior level editor, a good attitude is key. No one likes a complainer. No one likes someone who is hard to deal with—no matter how great your writing is. So I really try to be someone that people want to be around. It’s basic, but absolutely essential.
Before recently going full-time with my blog, I oversaw the beauty and diet/fitness pages of the Brides magazine, which means coming up with story ideas, writing and editing the copy, choosing which products to feature on the pages, and then checking the pages once they’re in layout to make sure they’re all set to go into the magazine. I also wrote and edited for the beauty section of Brides.com. Another big part of my job was attending launch events for new products, meeting with companies to preview their new offerings, and checking out salons and beauty services in the city. Every day was definitely a little bit different depending on where we were in the life cycle of the magazine—and whether I was running around to a million different appointments.
I haven’t been particularly strategic with my career other than the fact that a few years ago, I knew that I wanted to eventually move my way up to being a beauty director of a magazine. Aside from that, I haven’t really had a master plan of how to get there. My career moves have always happened because something has opened up that has intrigued me for one reason or another. Sometimes it’s been a big jump up the masthead, other times it’s been more of a lateral move, which I’m absolutely a proponent of. I’ve actually never once made a move purely because of money.
I set up by blog, The Sparkly Life, because I loved reading blogs and at the time I felt like there was a real hole in the market. I loved reading blogs and I felt like, at the time, there was a real hole in the market. You had bloggers and you had magazine editors but you didn’t really have magazine editors who also had a blog. I wanted to bring my editor’s eye to the digital world. It was also an outlet for me to write about non-beauty things—because I do have plenty of non-beauty interests as well. It started out as mostly a beauty and fashion blog, but over the years it’s transitioned. It’s now a lifestyle blog, which focuses on parenting, beauty, shopping, home, entertaining, and more.
When I started in magazines, the websites were always the bastard children. You’d have maybe one editorial assistant overseeing them and the “content” was basically crappy stories that weren’t good enough to make the print edition. There was a real effort not to “waste” content from the magazine by putting it online. Of course, that has evolved over time, and now we think about both digital and print with every story we do. We do tons of original content for the website, and then with our magazine stories, everything is pitched from the get-go with digital in mind. We always think about how we can amplify the magazine story and add to it and provide a richer reader experience through digital and social.
My first boss in beauty was Kerry Diamond (she was the beauty director of Harper’s Bazaar at the time) and she was an amazing mentor to me. I learned so much from her about interviewing, writing, and about how to treat people. She was always so lovely to everyone she worked with whether it was her boss or an intern so I’ve always tried to emulate that. Later on, I spent several years at Allure and picked up several mentors there. The people at Allure are some of the smartest, and hardest working you will ever meet. I learned so much about editing from working for Amy Keller Laird (the former beauty director of Allure and now the editor-in-chief of Women’s Health), and of course, working for Linda Wells was life changing. She made me an infinitely better, more sceptical, and careful reporter and editor. Even to this day, I constantly ask myself “WWLD” (What Would Linda Do?) before I do anything. Now, I really try to be a mentor to people I work with. I tend to be someone that people will turn to for career advice (I get lots of “I’ve been called to interview for so-and-so job—should I go for it? What do you think?”) and I love giving them my thoughts and then watching great, talented people move up. One of my former interns became a beauty director last year, which was really exciting. I felt so proud!
I’m the laziest person, beauty-wise. In the morning I wash with water only and then follow up with an antioxidant serum and SPF 50 moisturizer. I’ve used Olay Regenerist SPF 50 Regenerating Moisturizer for years—it’s awesome. For my serum, I love Skinceuticals C E Ferulic—practically every dermatologist I know swears by it! I don’t put anything on body once I get out of the shower (see – I told you I was lazy) but I’m not the only one. I actually did an informal survey of a few fellow beauty editors at an event one time and it turned out basically none of use used body lotion (turns out we’re all super lazy). If I’m extra dry though, I will use it—but I’ll spray instead of slather. I love Vaseline Spray & Go Moisturizer, because—yep—it’s easy. And it works.
I almost always use facial wipes to remove my makeup — I especially love the ones by Yes to Cucumbers, Yes to Grapefruit, or Sephora. Afterwards, I’ll usually use a separate eye makeup remover to take off my mascara and liner. I like Almay Oil-Free Gentle Eye Makeup Remover Pads, Lancôme Bi-Facil or Maybelline Expert Eyes 100% Oil-Free Eye Makeup Remover. The key for me is that my remover has to be oil-free. I cannot stand that greasy residue that’s left behind from oily removers. They’re so gross. I’ll then apply a brightening treatment like Elure or an overnight mask like Peter Thomas Roth Rose Stem Cell Gel Mask or Fresh Black Tea Mask.
I learned so much about editing from working for Amy Keller Laird (the former beauty director of Allure, now the editor-in-chief of Women’s Health), and of course, working for [Allure editor] Linda Wells was life changing. She made me an infinitely better, more sceptical, careful reporter and editor. Even to this day, I constantly ask myself “WWLD” (What Would Linda Do?) before I do anything.
Ok, so here’s a big confession: I rarely wash my own hair. I get a professional blowout (sometimes two!) every week, so they wash my hair there at the salon. I’ll usually wash it at home once on the weekend. That’s when I try new shampoos for work, so I’m actually not loyal to anything as far as my hair is concerned. If I’m washing it myself, I’ll usually put a styling cream like Fekkai Glossing Cream on when my hair is damp. This helps keep it soft, smooth, and frizz-free. I do have a long-time soft spot for Kerastase deep conditioning masks too. They are so, so good. Night or day, I love a good, bouncy blowout.
I usually ask for smooth hair with loose curls at the end and zero volume on top. If I’m not wearing my hair down, it’s usually pulled back in a tight low ponytail or a low, braided bun. In New York I get my hair coloured by Will at Sally Hershberger Downtown. For cuts, I’ll see either Matt Fugate or Hansen Liu there. For blowouts, my go-tos are DryBar and DreamDry in NYC and Up & Out in Hoboken.
I don’t have a knack when it comes to applying make-up. A lot of people think beauty editors have some magical makeup artist abilities, but most of us don’t. I consider myself a journalist—I write about makeup, but I’m certainly not a makeup artist myself. Over the years I’ve honed my skills and can do the basics pretty well on myself. But if I try something new—or particularly complicated—I have the same challenges as anyone else. I’m definitely not a trend follower when it comes to makeup. I think people should wear what looks good on them, what’s flattering. And that’s not necessarily the ‘It’ colour of the season. If I’m going to do something super trendy, it’s probably going to be on my nails.
I wear a similar look every day: Dolce & Gabbana Perfect Luminous Liquid Foundation, Crème de La Mer concealer, Nars Gaiety or Bobbi Brown Pale Pink blush, slightly shimmery champagne or rose-gold shadow (right now I’m really into the colours in the Urban Decay Naked 3 palette), Lancôme Artliner, black mascara (this is a category where I am always trying something new), Chanel’s Sculpting Eyebrow Pencil and a rosy lipgloss like Chanel’s Giggle and Tarte’s Blushing Bride. I basically do the exact same thing at night, except I’ll do something a little more statement on my eyes by blending a smoky, darker colour at the outer corners. I also do my mascara a little heavier and add highlighter to my cheekbones, nose, and cupid’s bow. I love Too Faced Candlelight Glow, RMS Living Luminizer and Josie Maran Argan Enlightenment Illuminizing Veil.
I get pedicures very regularly—I honestly don’t remember the last time I saw my toes without polish on them—and I usually just go to one of the local places in Hoboken or to Tenoverten in Tribeca, which is near my office so easy to get to after work. Funnily, I almost never get manicures. I am constantly using my hands—whether it’s typing or opening Play Doh containers for my kids—so manicures last about an hour for me. If I really want to treat myself though, I’ll go to Paintbox, which is owned by a friend of mine, Eleanor Langston. They specialize in the coolest, most sophisticated nail art, and the space is just so glamorous. I’ll try any nail polish brand but the three polish colours I tend to come back to again and again happen to be Essie. I love Wicked, Mint Candy Apple and Merino Cool.
Alyssa was shot by Naomi Mdudu in New York in September 2015