Linda Wells on Flesh, ‘Allure,’ and Redefining the Beauty Industry

By Elizabeth Donohue

Published by Blush

March 2019

Linda Wells is one of the most interesting women in beauty, today. She is the founding editor in chief of Allure,and now, founder of the new cosmetics brand, Flesh. The name, Flesh, undoubtedly sparks controversy and unease due to its highly prolific connotations. Yet, that is exactly what Wells wants: to create an inclusive brand that redefines the way women see and treat their skin. Launching at Ulta, with an impressive amount of 40 different skin foundations (rivaling Rihanna’s Fenty), as well as various highlighters, glosses, liquid lips, and blushes, Flesh is as dynamic as the women who wear it. It is sophisticated and minimalist, yet emboldened and daring- much like Wells, herself. Read Blush’s interview with Wells below, where she talks about literature’s relation to beauty, Cardi B, and how uncomfort can sometimes lead to the greatest spark of inspiration.

You are a woman of all trades, and have conquered so many areas of publication, as well as beauty and fashion. Would you say that that your true passion has always been, first and foremost, beauty?

I really love beauty, but it wasn’t what hooked me right off the bat. I started my career at Vogue as an assistant in the beauty department, which was the only place they had an opening. And while I was there trying new face scrubs and fragrances, I also started learning about the psychological aspects of beauty. The whole idea of human beauty is so fraught with conflict and emotion. Beauty has started wars (see Helen of Troy in Greek mythology) and inspired sonnets (see Shakespeare). It drives people to madness and adulation. It also has fascinating ways of expressing a culture’s values. When you really probe the subject, you realize beauty is so much more than skin deep. That’s what really what fires my passion.

“Beauty is comfort in your own skin.”

How do you personally define, “beauty”?

Beauty is comfort in your own skin. And that sense of comfort propels you to be more beautiful in deeper, more meaningful ways, ways that emanate as kindness, a generosity of spirit, a warmth toward yourself and others.

How do you believe that makeup and beauty products impact someone’s ability for self-expression, self-love, and personal identity?

Makeup is such a powerful creative tool to define and express yourself to the world. I love that something so potent can fit in your pocket.

“I’m feminine and I’m strong; don’t underestimate me because I’m dressed like a girl.”

You often use the term, “I’m a boss, in a skirt.” Did you come up with this phrase? “ (And if so, can you put it on a T-Shirt, please!)

Cardi B is my muse on this one. The line is from her song “She Bad”—and, just to be clear, 99.9% of the lyrics don’t apply to me. The social media director of Flesh, Christina Grasso (@thepouf) made a card for my desk that says, “I’m a boss in a skirt,” because I almost always wear dresses or skirts. I love way the line sounds like a boast and a taunt: I’m feminine and I’m strong; don’t underestimate me because I’m dressed like a girl. At Allure, Paul Cavaco, the brilliant creative director, called me “the big boss with the hot sauce.” I might need to put that on a T-shirt, too—as long as Cardi B and Paul promise not to sue me.

You are obviously a very busy woman and a hard worker. For you, what does self-care look like, and what do you do regenerate when you’re feeling overwhelmed?

I am going to sound like a walking talking cliché, but I am devoted to Soul Cycle and to meditation. I recently took a course at the New York Meditation Center, and that twice daily meditation has given me so much peace and balance. I’ve been going to Soul Cycle since the first, hot, smelly studio opened 13 years ago, and I love the sweat and the joy of it. I don’t need massage or facials or pampering if I have Soul Cycle and meditation. I also really love to cook, and I find it calming and creatively satisfying, even if it’s just making dinner at 9pm or lunch in the morning to bring to work. I rarely order takeout, because it just doesn’t make me happy.

You told InStyle that you listen to the New York Times Book Review everyday before breakfast. Is there a particular book or article that has made a huge impact on your life?

I actually listen to all sorts of podcasts in the morning while I’m getting ready. “The Book Review” only has one episode a week, so that gives me time for everything else— “The Daily,” “Glossy,” “Fat Mascara,” “Recode Decode,” and my new obsession, “Audm,” an app that reads aloud articles from The New YorkerNew York MagazineThe Atlantic, and others. I feel like every day, these immersions expand my mind.

So many books have had an influence on me; it’s hard to name just one. I was an English literature major in college, so I gravitate to literary fiction and almost never read self-help or instructional business books. The most transformative books for me are Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, Dubliners by James Joyce, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, The Palm at the End of the Mind, by the poet, Wallace Stevens, Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. I recently read—along with the rest of the world—Educated by Tara Westover, and found it hugely inspiring in the way that her hunger for knowledge was a drive that propelled her to risk everything in its pursuit. Education saved her life.

What women have inspired you throughout your life?

Carrie Donovan was the immensely stylish style editor and my boss at the New York Times Magazine. She loved work and fashion, but she always was most dedicated to the reader. She could turn a deadly dull meeting into effervescence. And she was an extraordinarily generous boss and friend who changed my life. She introduced me to Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Karl Lagerfeld at the beginning of my career. Before she died, she left instructions for her “children” as she called three of her former employees who adored her—to sprinkle her ashes over the rooftops of Paris. And I’ll never forget doing that with Harriet Mays Powell, a fashion editor. It sounds macabre but it was so emotional and beautiful. Stella Bugbee is another inspiration. She’s the president and editor in chief of New York Magazine’s, The Cut, and she gave me a writing gig right after I left Allure, which was enormously fun. I have so much respect for her vision and broad talent—she designs and writes, she has a sense of social purpose and practices what she preaches, supporting and nurturing women. She also seems to have such a graceful, warm home life. She gets it.

Nora Ephron is a great work inspiration. I love her writing and her attitude—she was a romantic with a sense of humor and self-deprecating streak. I met her but was too awed to do much more than gape. Whenever I’m writing and feel stuck, I read Nora.

Ruba Abu-Nimah is the creative director of Flesh, and the freshness of her eye inspires me every day. When in doubt, I turn to Ruba. She’s allergic to the status quo, and she challenges me in ways that sometimes feel uncomfortable but always lead me somewhere new.

Print publications are often seen as a dying industry. How do you see journalism evolving to meet the needs of the industry and its readers? Do you see online publications as being the future of journalism?

Print may be dying right now, but journalism is thriving. It’s just finding new forms. When you look at the reporting in The New Yorker and The New York Times that helped create the #MeToo movement, that’s brilliant journalism. But journalism is also moving beyond print into forms that may be more digestible, like podcasts, audible and voice technology, and documentaries. Look at “Leaving Neverland” and “Surviving R. Kelly”—big important pieces of journalistic rigor expressed in documentaries that are changing lives. I have enormous optimism for the future of journalism beyond the limitations of print.

What advice would you give your younger self entering the beauty industry?

Trust your instincts, learn everything you can from everyone you meet, and stop worrying about losing five pounds.

You can shop Flesh at Ulta online or in stores. Check out their website and Instagram, as well.