As one of beauty’s most powerful editors, SunHee Grinnell dictates what makes it onto Vanity Fair magazine’s monthly pages and what gets covered in the online daily blog. A single mention can make a niche brand. And despite wielding that kind of power, she remains humble, thoughtful and incredibly nice. For all the beauty bloggers around the world looking for a mentor, SunHee would be my recommendation. Follow her Vanity Fair beauty blog, her twitter account and her pages in the magazine for inspiration and guidance on how to write about launches. She offers a master class in beauty writing. Here, the Beauty Director gives us an exclusive peek into the rarified world of one of America’s most esteemed magazines.
SunHee Grinnell, Beauty Director, Vanity Fair: The Interview
Dave Lackie: Vanity Fair is such an iconic magazine. What has been the best discovery in the Vanity Fair archives you’ve made regarding beauty or fragrance?
SunHee Grinnell: For me, it’s all about history, glamour and style. One in particular old Hollywood glamour; finding out that Grace Kelly wore Chateau Krigler 12 fragrance when she won an Oscar for her role in Country Girl, 1954, which was featured on our beauty page.
D.L.: Who is your favourite photographer?
S.H.: My hero was Helmut Newton. He was often criticized for exploiting women, but in fact, he empowered them in his portraits of them; they were in control, ALWAYS. Helmut loved and admired women in all female forms. I was lucky enough to be one his subjects.
D.L.: What has been the most memorable press event you’ve attended?
S.H.: VF staffers cannot accept any press trips so that we do not lose our editorial integrity, however, I attended an event with Ali Hewson of Nude Skincare (which I love!), and her husband was there to show support of his wife, which was very impressive because her husband just happens to be a rock star, Bono!
D.L.: Describe a typical day in your life.
S.H.: Thank God, I have the ability to multi-task! A typical day would include, many beauty appointments throughout the day (i.e. desk-side meetings on brands, product launch events during the day + evenings), and answering emails between appointments, remembering to tweet, reading and editing text copies and writing whenever I can, and top it off with a black-tie work event quite often!
D.L.: Who has been the most charismatic person in the beauty industry you’ve met?
S.H.: Mrs. Evelyn Lauder, what a lady! One of the most endearing, the loveliest and the most elegant women I have ever had the honor to meet. Very early on, she recognized a need, took action and gathered all her resources to benefit all women in need to bring Breast Cancer Awareness to light. Mrs. Lauder was a true “do-er”, with the softest touch.
D.L.: How many products arrive on your desk each year?
S.H.: Probably around 10,000-12,000.
“I would say 12,000 beauty products arrive on my desk each year.” – SunHee Grinnell, Beauty Director, Vanity Fair
D.L.: How do you choose what products make it onto a Vanity Fair page?
S.H.: With great honesty! My approach to beauty is very organic because most of our readers are like me – HIGHLY discriminating. I see myself as a personal shopper for the most discriminating readers in the world. A product needs to look right, and feel right but most importantly, it needs to PERFORM. Our readers are willing to spend money, but they are not frivolous spenders because they are educated. My job is to find and feature products with the MOST integrity, whether it’s mass or prestige for in book or for online.
D.L.: What makes a good beauty story?
S.H.: A bit of history, a sense of luxury with great style, whether it’s about a person or a place.
BTG: What interview have you done that has been the biggest surprise?
S.H.: I don’t think I’ve ever been surprised by anyone, but delighted is the word! Mr. Oscar de la Renta, what a dream he is! His candor is enough to make you melt in every turn. When he launching his very first fragrance under his own name again (not thru LLC), he launched “To Live In Love”. As he was speaking of how that name came to be, “There’s a day when you are born into this world, and there’s a day when you will die. So you must realize that everything in between should be celebrated—you must ‘Live in Love,’ whether that love is in your work, or your children, or your gardens—whatever that may be, one should live in love,” explained, Mr. de la Renta. “In general, I hate celebrations, because every day is really a celebration, no?”
D.L.: Best beauty tip you’ve ever learned from a makeup artist?
S.H.: Always try to do your makeup in natural daylight so that your face matches your neck; using eye-shadow primers to make your eye shadows last longer throughout the day; using bronzer to contour a bit instead of using it all over.
D.L.: And finally, how would you describe American beauty?
S.H.: One part Vanity Fair; one part People magazine; one part Nike and one part confidence.
SunHee’s beauty standards:
- Chanel Rouge Coco Shine in Romance
- Dior Addict Lip Glow
- YSL Volupté Sheer Candy #3
- Amorepacific Moisture Bound Skin Energy Spray
- Clarins Serum Phyto-tenseur
- Caudalie Vinoperfect Radiance Serum
- Nars Eyeshadow in Cairo
- Estee Lauder Bronze GoddessCle de Peau Eyebrow pencil
- Liz Earle Superbalm Concentrate roller (calms any pimple or rash!)
SunHee’s It List
Favourite book: History of My Life, by Giacomo Cassanova. It’s one of the sexiest books I have ever read. Forget Fifty Shades of Grey, this book is the original seducer, written with much more romance and elegance.
Favourite New York restaurants:
- Bilboquet (Upper Eastside)
- En Japanese Brasserie (Tribeca)
- Lincoln (Upper Westside)
- Aureole (Midtown)
My iPod playlists: I have three separate iPods! One is all Classic Rock, which I listen to when I go running. Second, all Jazz, blues and classical music whenever I am at home cooking, and the third is all French music, which j’adore!
My ideal getaway: Le Sereno at St. Barth’s, it’s one of the heavenliest places on earth! Getting a spa treatment at Le Sereno and eating their restaurant’s catch of the day is enough to make any New Yorker to relax. Also, Grace Bay Club in Turks & Caicos has the friendliest and the most accommodating staff. Going fishing for conch, and having a picnic on the beach is guaranteed fun, plus Jet Blue’s direct flight make it so easy!