Interview: Eva Chen

Eva Chen, Teen Vogue beauty and health director, enjoys a confluence of her pre-med knowledge of science and health with a passion for beauty. She chats about beauty trends seeing effects from the economy, the kinds of pitches she likes to receive, and the magazine's place in an increasingly Web-based teen sector.

Interview: Eva Chen

Eva Chen, Teen Vogue beauty and health director, enjoys a confluence of her pre-med knowledge of science and health with a passion for beauty. She chats about beauty trends seeing effects from the economy, the kinds of pitches she likes to receive, and the magazine's place in an increasingly Web-based teen sector.

PRWeek: Tell me a little about your background. What brought you to Teen Vogue?

Eva Chen: My background is really eclectic. I never expected to start out working in editorial. When I went to college I was pre-med at Johns Hopkins University. I always had an interest in health, but I always loved beauty. I grew up in New York City and would spend hours in Duane Reade, Sephora, just going through everything, so I took a summer between junior and senior year of college off, and I spent [it] interning at Harpers Bazaar because I wanted to try something wild and crazy and completely different. After Johns Hopkins, I got a job at Lucky magazine…[and] after that at ELLE magazine. After three years at ELLE, I got a position at Teen Vogue…I loved that there was a magazine with…a fashion aesthetic that's very specific and universal to a lot of young women out there where they're dressing in a mix of high and low and mixing Marc by Marc Jacobs with vintage... [I've] been here for three and a half years.

PRWeek: What are your current responsibilities?

Chen: Basically, what it boils down to, my job is to find products I think our readers will be excited about, and they'll want to run out and buy and love forever.

PRWeek: How do you sort through the clutter? You must get so many samples.

Chen: I get roughly 100 products a day. It's such a great job for a beauty addict such as me, but it is hard to sort through the clutter some of the time. I'm looking for the story behind the product, what makes the product stand out. What makes it interesting? Is there a back story for a Mac collection? Who is the collaborator on the collection? And our girls are interested in celebrity, as well, of course. I grew up idolizing super models, but I guess [young women are] growing up idolizing Blake Lively on Gossip Girl. So if there is a celebrity hook, that's definitely of interest to me too.

Earlier this week, I think I got three mascara mailings in one day. At the end of the day, it's mascara, so it has to have an interesting story, whether it's a technology story, an ingredient story, makeup artist tips, something that makes it stand out.

PRWeek: How do you prefer to get pitched?

Chen: I really don't like getting phone calls. I'm never at my desk so…it's just fruitless for [publicists] because they're just getting my assistant or voicemail. I think it's important for a publicist to develop relationships with editors so they can e-mail and... reach out to me directly. A lot of people forget [that] and sometimes over-step their bounds. They'll call and pitch me something if they obviously don't know the magazine or do the research. I get Botox pitches all the time, and I really don't think 17-year-old girls are doing Botox yet. But there's nothing better than just getting the product, trying it, seeing it, feeling it. Beauty is very hands-on.

PRWeek: What's the most interesting story about a product you've gotten and wanted to feature?

Chen: Our Teen Vogue reader is so interested in fashion, so for me, a lot of the stories that are interesting are like - all of the readers are obsessed with fragrance too, so a lot of the readers, they like hearing about Christopher Bailey at Burberry, how he chose [model] Agyness [Deyn], why he chose [Deyn]. To get a rare opportunity to interview someone like [Deyn] and [Baily] at the same time, and to do a photo shoot, for me it's great to be able to have that kind of insider access. I think it's valuable when brands kind of limit the access and offer it to specific magazines once in a while, versus spreading it too thin.

PRWeek: What are some trends in beauty and health that may affect the content you publish, either on the Web or in print?

Chen: Right now, beauty, as it has been for the last few years, is very individual…I think women and girls want to feel like they're getting a product just for them, so I think customizing products will continue to be popular. I think finding new ways of using one product will also grow to be important, especially because of the economy. Readers are…constantly on sending me questions, sending me requests for information. I'm already getting questions online like, “My allowance has actually been cut so how do I make this one product work like six different ways?”

PRWeek: How has coverage in the teen category changed over the past few years?

Chen: Everyone knows the teen category has been affected by magazines folding, and I think the teen beauty category is still strong because the nature of a teenage girl is [that] she's learning how to feel comfortable in her own skin, learning about her body; she's learning about what looks good on her, so the teen beauty, I think, will be evergreen because there's always a new generation of girls discovering mascara for the first time or being able to wear lip gloss for the first time. What's great, there are so many wonderful mass brands at drug stores that allow girls to experiment. I think it's going to continue to be strong.

PRWeek: How do you compete with the blogs? There are so many teens online, and some people attribute that to CosmoGirl's folding.

Chen: What's great is that for, for the last two years, we've been expanding by leaps and bounds. At least in terms of beauty, and especially for fashion, we have so much original content on, and I think that makes such a big difference to our readers. We have a beauty blog that's updated at least three times a day. We have an intern blog that our girls are obsessed with because Teen Vogue readers are so focused on fashion and getting their foot in the door in fashion. Girls post pictures of themselves online. Creating as a destination unto itself is what's really the important thing for the brand, and I think our Web editors and [editor-in-chief] Amy Astley did an amazing job at that.

PRWeek: How do you balance online with print?

Chen: It's a lot. I'm not going to lie. I spend a lot of evenings and weekends at home blogging. It's hard during the day. I'm editing stories, writing stories, assigning stories, going to market events…I think it pays off. I have regular readers of the blog. It's gratifying to have more direct contact…feeling that she's talking to me directly versus getting a letter in the mail or an e-mail. It's great to be able to give live feedback and help these girls.

PRWeek: Biggest competitors?

Chen: Teen Vogue…is very unique in the marketplace in that it's a fashion magazine for a younger consumer. The fact of the matter is that Teen Vogue is the kind of magazine that is fashion-focused on a younger consumer. We don't have embarrassing stories. We don't talk about how to kiss a boy…it's a fashion magazine. I think the product stands very highly in the category because it has a strong focus.

PRWeek: What's the craziest pitch you've ever gotten?

Chen: I got a live goldfish [that] once I had no idea what to do with. It had to do with capturing moisture or something like that, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, PETA would be so unhappy if they found out about this.' I don't think theatrical is always necessary. If it's a great product, it will stand strong.

Name: Eva Chen

Title: Beauty and health director

Outlet: Teen Vogue

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