Allure Editor-in-Chief Michelle Lee publicly acknowledged the importance of the magazine’s recent Hair Issue, which features models Fernanda Ly, Soo Joo Park and Fei Fei Sun on its covers: 


“In 327 issues, over 28 years, there had only been two Asian women on the cover,” Lee wrote, referring to earlier Allure covers with actresses Lucy Liu (“Elementary”) and Olivia Munn (“Six”), in a letter accompanying the cover story.

“My preteen self couldn’t even fathom seeing an Asian face on the cover of a mainstream magazine, or leading a TV show or headlining a movie,” the Asian-American journalist continued. “So being able to feature three game-changing Asian models, especially after a pretty sad track record, has significant meaning to me… and I hope to you, too.”

Lee elaborated on this process in an interview with the Columbia Journalism Review yesterday (May 21). She admitted that she only realized the historical significance of the issue after the magazine selected the models: 

We were kind of tossing around certain names of celebrities, models, and then our bookings director had this idea—why don’t we get [Sun, Ly and Park]? He said, “Then we have platinum blonde, black and pink hair.” I loved it instantly because I thought visually it’s going to be really stunning. I love all those models. Soon after that I was like, “I wonder when the last time was that we had an Asian woman on the cover?  

[…]

When I look at how people of color are treated in typical magazines—if you look at either ads or editorial—I feel like there’s always the token person. To me, having three Asian women on the cover just seemed so much fresher and so much more modern. In hindsight, after it had closed, I really do see it as sticking our stake in the ground and being like, “Tokenism is a thing of the past.” The more modern way for us to feature diversity is that you can’t just have like the one token person of color thrown into the mix.

Lee also described the cover as a risk, similar to others Allure previously took that bucked dominant beauty narratives:

Someone has to be the trailblazer. You have to just go ahead and do it. And sometimes there is no proof for something, but you just know in your editorial gut that it’s the right thing, and it’s something really great for us to do. I look back and remember our September cover of last year, when we had Helen Mirren on our cover, who at the time was 72, and we made the statement that we were banning the term “anti-aging” from our vernacular forever. At that point, I talked to a lot of people about, “What made you think that you know that this would work? Like how did you know that this would succeed?” We didn’t know. But I knew that it was something that felt right for the brand. I think that in certain cases, the biggest, boldest moves have no prior proof that they’re actually going to work.

Visit CJR.org for the full Q&A