Maven Meetup Speaker Spotlight: Abby Gardner

The Indy Maven executive editor gets real about her glam career as an NYC beauty editor, how the industry has changed in the past 20 years, and trends she hopes to see make a comeback.
Abby Gardner at Tilly's Tea Room

Exciting news, Mavens! Until now, our monthly meetups have been for members only. To provide you with an even bigger, better, more inclusive badass Indy Maven experience, we’re opening meetups to our entire audience.

Tickets are $20 for non-members but as always, members can attend free (that’s a $240/year savings)! We hope you’ll join us. Not a member yet? Click here to learn more!

Before she was executive editor at Indy Maven, Abby Gardner spent time as the beauty editor at Jane, Allure, and YM; digital editorial director at Marie Claire and Cosmo; and contributed to publications like Glamour, Self, and Refinery29. In addition to being the driving force behind Indy Maven’s editorial content, she also began her own podcast, “We Have Notes,” this year. 

When we decided to focus on beauty in the month of September, we couldn’t think of anyone more perfect than Abby to be our special guest at our Monthly Meetup. We got to turn the tables and put Abby in the interviewee seat for this article. Below are all the juicy deets on what it was like working in an office for an NYC magazine, shifts the beauty editorial world has undergone in the past two decades, and a sneak peek on what Abby will share with us at the September 29 event at Saks’ Tilly’s Tea Room. Click here to get your ticket

As an Indy native, what made you discover your love for the beauty industry—and more specifically, beauty publications?

I was basically a magazine junkie from birth. Sassy was my most beloved tome as a teen, but I would also make my mom take me to the store to buy Elle and Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar and anything else I could get my hands on. I just devoured them, well before I realized I might actually be able to work at one. They were like a portal into a world I was very obsessed with.

When did you decide you were going to take the leap, move to NYC, and do the dang thing? How did you do it?

I don’t know that there was one particular moment, and there was certainly a lot of that fearless boldness of youth involved. But by the time I was in college, I very much knew that I was going to try to move to NYC. I got an internship during the summer between my junior and senior years at Interview magazine, which was amazing. Literal Basquiats and Warhols and Schnabels just casually hanging around the office! 

While many of my friends at Duke got recruited into investment banking and consulting (the late ‘90s, y’all!!) I held tight to my dream even though it would be harder to break into the industry and pay WAY less. I convinced my (very supportive) parents that I needed to be in NY to get a job—which was true. When I couldn’t find a magazine job at first, I found an entry-level role at a very small PR shop (via the New York Times classifieds, no less!) I figured that would help open some doors into editorial positions and it did. We had a few random beauty clients and before too long I had an interview for a beauty/photo assistant role at Jane, which was basically the new version of Sassy but for 20-somethings. I got the job which was a DREAM and that kick-started my career.

As a beauty editor, you’ve been tracking trends for decades. Did you actually buy/wear the items you covered? Did you ever test the products? Get free samples?

For sure!! So one of the glorious things about being a beauty editor is that brands send you basically everything to try. The beauty closet is indeed a magical sight to behold for anyone who loves products. But we really did try things out and have other people on staff do so, as well as our friends. (Yes, I oft gave away goodie bags.) I still get some samples, but nothing like I did back in the day when I was a full-time beauty person. We also got to go see the best hairstylists and makeup artists and derms, as well as interviewing them for stories, etc. I also always enjoyed the science side of things. Beauty was great for both my left and right brain.

Let’s talk about something that’s now a blast from the past: going into a real-life office to work every day. Is everyone who works in beauty as fashion-forward as the fads they promote? Did everyone’s work attire look like it came from right off the runway?

I mean, I’m not going to lie and say the offices of magazines and websites that have a fashion and beauty spin aren’t filled with cool people. They are. But there’s a variety of personal styles, and probably even more so now. Not everything is always designer but people really do know how to style themselves.

Trends have changed drastically in the past decade—previous trends like diet culture, photoshopped images, and a single beauty standard have been replaced with body positivity, authenticity, diversity, and a rejection of “beauty according to the male gaze.” How have you seen this pivot affect both traditional beauty publications and your personal role in the beauty industry?

There have definitely been so many pivots during the course of my career, both in terms of content and business model. Print was the end-all, be-all when I started and that is obviously not the case anymore. Social media didn’t exist for a long time and that has, of course, changed the game in many ways—some good, some less so…which is really social media in a nutshell, isn’t it? 

I love that content has become more inclusive and evolved. There’s certainly still a long way to go, but I’m glad that more people can see themselves reflected in coverage and in the actual editors and influencers who help make the trends and report the news. Back when I was the beauty director at YM we had a “no diet” policy and that felt like a great move back in the early aughts. It may seem trite now, but diets were still ALL over teen magazines at the time. I was proud that we did that though of course when you look back you wish you had done even more!

Many individuals—including those in social work, medicine, and entrepreneurs—see their outlook on life and sense of self-worth affected by their career. With a lifelong career in beauty, did you ever find the environment or industry affecting your body image or confidence? Did you ever feel pressure to look or behave a certain way?

I would be lying if I said no. I think I’ve always had a pretty strong sense of self, but I’m a Gen X woman who has certainly been influenced by the societal pressures and images that shaped the culture. And working in an industry that has so much focus on appearance as a concept can weigh on you. But I also have to recognize that as a straight, white woman who generally “looked the part”, for whatever that means, I certainly was not confronted with the same pressures that others may have been. 

For the most part, though, I worked for and with a lot of very smart, cool women. I personally don’t have any nightmarish “Devil Wears Prada” type stories—but I certainly have friends who do.

What’s one beauty trend you wish you could bring back?

I have been living for this return to the ‘90s (minus a super thin brow…don’t do it! It’s not worth it!) And as a lifelong middle-parter, I’m glad to know I’m Gen Z-approved. Would I be mad if banana clips came back? I would not. See also: those zig-zag comb-like headbands. Also, super-duper long, sort of messy brushed out curls are back—so thank you to the beauty gods for making that wish come true for me.

Was there ever a trend that you never “got the hype” for—or made you cringe—but you had to write about it anyway?

Oh goodness, I’m sure there are more than I can count! But I’m usually pretty good about finding an angle that makes sense. There are also a lot of trends that aren’t “me” personally but that I appreciate for what they are. I’m a very natural hair and makeup kind of girl. I don’t wear a ton of foundation or face makeup and usually just a light eye and a bold lip. But that doesn’t mean I can’t find beauty in a more heavily made-up or contoured face. Plus, there’s a ton of skill involved when it’s done right and I have so much respect for people who can do that well. 

Who is someone you look up to in the beauty world, and why?

There are so many! I’ve been able to watch so many artists and entrepreneurs blossom over the course of my career—and some of us started out together doing tiny little shoots…and now they’re so major. 

My longtime NYC hair colorist, Rita Hazan, started as an assistant and now has her own massive salon, clients like Beyoncé and Jessica Simpson, and an incredible product line. She’s still the blunt, straight-talking New York girl she’s always been. I love the empire Jen Atkin has built with Ouai. My old buddies Nick Barose and Daniel Martin are out here creating amazing looks for people like Lupita Nyong’o and Meghan Markle. Or my friend Francesco Clark who took a devastating injury in his 20s where he became almost completely paralyzed from the neck down and turned it into an incredible skin care brand, Clark’s Botanicals

I could go on and on…it’s really awesome to see people build their brands with authenticity and artistry and intelligence in equal measure. 

What was a highlight of your career?

That’s such a hard question! I do know that one of my proudest moments was becoming a Beauty Director at 26. That felt really effing cool, if I do say so myself. I also love the simple pleasure of hearing that something you wrote or recommended really changed someone’s life. Beauty can do that and it’s pretty awesome. 

What’s one thing you have yet to, but hope to accomplish in the beauty world in the future?

Listen, if I ever get a really really great idea, it would be very cool to create a product. 

We are so excited for the member meetup on September 29 at Saks’ Tilly’s Tea Room! What will you be discussing?

We’ll be talking a bit about what it’s really like to work in beauty and editorial, some trends, some product recommendations, maybe some red carpet glam…I’m such an open book so if you all have things you want to discuss, let me know!!!! I’m so excited to chat with our amazing Mavens.

The Maven Meetup series gives Mavens the opportunity to connect, laugh, learn, and vent each month. Members. Non-members are invited to attend for $20 but members attend for FREE!

Not yet a member? Become one today! 

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