Nellie Eden: Redefining beauty for a new era
Since launching in September 2018, Dazed Beauty has managed to carve out a niche for non-prescriptive beauty coverage. As Editor of the online publication, Nellie Eden is instrumental in this unique approach. From her first job at Boots Magazine to Director of Culture at Exposure PR – with stints as a curator, occasional music video producer and co-founder of her own creative agency along the way – Nellie hasn’t had a traditional career.
The London-based multi-hyphenate has a refreshing take on beauty journalism, led by a desire to make a genuine difference within the industry. Nellie pushes herself, her team and her readers to see beauty in everything – whether that’s through her recent Tallawah exhibition showcasing black hair, photo stories with real witches in NYC, or interviews with reality TV stars like Love Island’s Megan Barton-Hanson. We spoke to Nellie at Dazed HQ for the lowdown on traversing trades, keeping up with content trends and the new beauty.
As Editor at Dazed Beauty, what does your role entail?
My role at Dazed Beauty confuses even me. It is probably not a traditional editor role in lots of ways. I spend a lot of my day editing copy, signing off stories and features, suggesting contributors, managing the editorial team and schedule. I’m also budgeting and deciding week to week what we’re talking about. Ultimately, I’ll have the final say on our approach and tone of voice and all of those things.
My career has been very patchwork. And a large part of that puzzle has been visual, creative work. So, as an editor, I also work really closely with our photographic editor, Saorla [Houston], commissioning video and imagery. I’m just as passionate about imagery as I am writing. I’m all over my team like a cheap suit most of the time.
“It’s not about one look or one gender and this is being conveyed by younger generations who have purchasing power and know how to use social media.”
Your previous writing spans football, feminism and fashion. Why did beauty writing appeal to you? What makes it so exciting?
I find beauty so exciting. I was running my own business when Bunny Kinney – who is Editor-in-Chief of Dazed Beauty – came to me and said that he and Jefferson [Hack] were starting this beauty platform. I thought, oh God, I’m not a beauty writer. I had spent some time at Refinery29 writing about beauty, but mainly so I could bag free facials.
I wasn’t that interested, and then Bunny and I got talking. Actually, what Dazed Beauty stands for is self-expression, creativity and identity. Those things sound really corny because they’ve become empty terms, but we really believe in them. It’s telling that we resonate so profoundly with a young audience. Maybe that’s because they get it. I am so privileged to be at the forefront of a platform that gets it. It’s not about one look or one gender and this is being conveyed by younger generations who have purchasing power and know how to use social media.
“To be able to put stuff on social media that people find shocking, surprising or strange in this day and age when you’re so inundated with imagery is so powerful.”
What do you think Dazed Beauty offers that other publications don’t?
Dazed Beauty is a place of respite for people who have felt shut out by mainstream media platforms. At times we are shocking and horrifying. I love that people say, “Oh, that’s really Dazed Beauty.” What we’ve done in a year and a half is create this monster identity that really speaks to some people.
It feels like a shelter from all the cultural norms. It’s about celebrating people on the fringes of culture. To be able to put stuff on social media that people find shocking, surprising or strange in this day and age when you’re so inundated with imagery is so powerful.
When new platforms like Tik Tok pop up, it can often feel like the people using them on behalf of a magazine are too old to be doing so. How do you tackle this at Dazed Beauty?
I have a really young, very diverse team and they are fantastic. Take Jess, our Social Media Editor. I think she’s 22, so they’re not 16, right. I can’t hire 16-year olds. But I meet those 16-year olds at the events we do. I stand around, and I chat with them and it’s amazing. We have been running a campaign [Tallawah] around black hair. We opened this big exhibition with Jawara and Nadine Ijewere and we had all these students come down. So that’s proper face to face contact with people who are at school or college or university.
“We’re a real motley crew of a team. I thought that was really sexy and really appealing.”
I think we are quite good at just naturally keeping abreast of that. That is not to say that I’m totally down with the kids – that makes me sound ancient – but I don’t feel that old myself. I’ve grown up on those mediums. I love watching those things and I sit on Tik Tok for a long time. Other people my age would maybe not, but there’s so much going on there. I’ll definitely sign up to whatever the next thing is. But I think that my team does a lot of that groundwork for me.
“When we set out the platform, we realised we couldn’t do Vogue or Allure. We don’t want to be those channels. I don’t want to represent those ways of being.”
Dazed Beauty is pitched as a futuristic vision of beauty. How do you stay ahead of the curve and keep pushing the conversation forward?
When we launched, we had Ben Ditto working with us really closely and Isamaya Ffrench as our creative director. Pushing the conversation forward is very much their sensibility. I was very excited by joining a team where you have the most prolific makeup artist in the world, who I am now lucky enough to call my friend. But also Ben, who was such a left-field option for a beauty magazine. We’re a real motley crew of a team. I thought that was really sexy and really appealing. I thought that, as a combination, whatever we created would be really unexpected – and it was.
It was pretty alien and pretty cyborg to begin with. When we set out the platform, we realised we couldn’t do Vogue or Allure. We don’t want to be those channels. I don’t want to represent those ways of being. It had to be something different, and we wanted to open up people’s minds. We wanted to do something exciting, and how impossible is it to do something exciting and different in this day and age?
“We really wanted to push and pull and tease with this idea of what’s beautiful and what isn’t. I had to ask myself, why does that make me feel strange? I was more conditioned than I’d like to admit.”
We launched with a very alternative idea of what beauty is, beyond makeup and cosmetics. The whole spectrum of beauty isn’t properly celebrated anywhere else in terms of a media outlet.
We really wanted to push and pull and tease with this idea of what’s beautiful and what isn’t. That sounds really predictable but, of course, it was a question that even I had to unpack when I started as editor, because I would look at things and think, oh my God that’s too far. I had to ask myself, why does that make me feel strange? I was more conditioned than I’d like to admit.
“We do take pitches all the time, but I wish people took more time to sense check and spell check their work because that’s important.”
Over the last few years, magazines have morphed into multidisciplinary media brands, where events, videos and social media are all key outputs. When a writer approaches you with an idea, should their pitches include ideas for stretching the content across other mediums?
People don’t do that enough and it would be a really nice thing to do. So often, we get stuff through and it’s addressed to Vogue. Somebody sent me a mood board the other day and it had a picture of Nathan Westling before he had transitioned. It’s just people being careless.
We do take pitches all the time, but I wish people took more time to sense check and spell check their work because that’s important. Pitches don’t have to be very long, but there’s such a hastiness that comes with content now. I’ve been in that freelance position, I imagine it’s very tempting to pitch the same idea to four different publications, but you never know who’s going to turn around and say yes and then you’re going to be really stuck. I think that suggesting ways in which your pitches could translate across other mediums would be a really agile way to work as a journalist, and as a writer. But you must also charge out for this.
“We behave a lot bigger than we are, but that’s modern publishing.”
You just hosted an exhibition with photographer Nadine Ijerwere and hairstylist Jawara Wauchope for Dazed Beauty. How do other mediums (like exhibitions) expand the scope of your work as a journalist?
That’s what I bring to Dazed Beauty because it’s how I think. Somebody comes to me with an idea and I think, okay, that could take the form of an exhibition and a talk and a video and a shoot. That probably exhausts my team sometimes. We behave a lot bigger than we are, but that’s modern publishing. Dazed Digital behaves like that. You absolutely have to. If we were just sitting in the office, writing news pieces about what’s happening on Tik Tok or profiling our community members, that would be totally fine. But, it’s not how new wave publishing works or functions.
“Writers very often think of themselves as solipsistic figures working in isolation. Actually, I think smart young writers become friends with up and coming fashion designers and photographers.”
What advice do you have for young writers just starting out in the industry?
There’s so much content out there. The more expertise and speciality you can have as a writer, the better. If I was starting out now, I would think in fine detail about what I’m interested in. Not just in fashion, but particularly about what point of view I would like to get across and who I want to be working and collaborating with.
“It should always be the best person for the job. The best person for the job isn’t necessarily the person sitting next to you.”
Writers very often think of themselves as solipsistic figures working in isolation. Actually, I think smart young writers become friends with up and coming fashion designers and photographers.
The more you can insert yourself within creative communities and switch up the kinds of writing that you’re doing, the better. Get to know the features editor you’re pitching to and their interests. It’s about tailoring the pitches to the features desk, without losing your authenticity.
A lot of young writers feel the pressure to carve a niche early on in their career, but your career is marked by so many different projects with brands as well as magazines and you even started a creative agency. How have you navigated that and has the variety helped or hindered your career?
I used to have a hang-up about not rattling around in one industry for long enough. People could be confused about what I did; sometimes you hire me as a freelance writer, sometimes I come and host a panel talk for you, sometimes I work in a music video. I don’t think it hindered me. It might confuse people, but I wouldn’t change it. And I think I’m definitely in the right place right now.
“We were all working shitty jobs for not a lot of money. We wanted to have conversations about how you get paid and what you do when someone talks to you inappropriately in the workplace.”
Which role taught you the most and what were the key lessons you took away from it?
I think it would be between Dazed Beauty, because it’s been such a huge year, and running my own agency. That was a massive learning curve. I was 25 years old and sitting in boardrooms with Nike, Converse and Stella McCartney, handling briefs that huge agencies were also pitching on. It cut my teeth. I really, really don’t take that for granted.
You shuttered Babyface last year. What motivated that decision and what did you learn from those five years running the agency?
What we found was that when Babyface came into existence, there was a very strong need for us. We were a community space for like-minded women working in creative industries at the age where we had all been chucked out the other end of university and we were all working shitty jobs for not a lot of money. We wanted to have conversations about how you get paid and what you do when someone talks to you inappropriately in the workplace. How do you get into photography if you’ve never picked up a camera before? All of these questions felt really urgent, so we formalised it as a community, and then branded content.
“We were tired. Women are really good at acknowledging those kinds of things. Saying out loud, do you believe in this anymore?”
What we wanted to convince brands of, is if you want to make advertising that speaks to young women, then get young women to make it. And that felt really revolutionary. It created this network in London that did not exist. But then we got older and the briefs coming in always looked the same. It was like, can you sell another pair of trainers to your community? I didn’t particularly care and there were 10 other platforms that existed. We were tired. Women are really good at acknowledging those kinds of things. Saying out loud, do you believe in this anymore? I felt like there were lots of other people filling the space.
“People want to be brands and brands want to be people. It’s really rare that those things are executed to full effect.“
What do you think are the biggest challenges fashion brands face in communicating with their audience?
Authenticity, credibility and innovation. It’s very difficult when you’re a big brand to be reactive, because you have a certain amount of units to sell and a certain amount of KPIs and four head offices to answer to and it really shows. People want to be brands and brands want to be people. It’s really rare that those things are executed to full effect.
“That will be the biggest obstacle that brands face; people will consume less and people will be much more conscientious shoppers.”
I think that the next generation is so much less focused on consumption and products. They don’t want to be sold to and they don’t want to be marketed to. That will be the biggest obstacle that brands face; people will consume less and people will be much more conscientious shoppers.
Beauty and fashion journalism are closely linked with consumption, product reviews and recommendations. Have these new conscientious shoppers changed how you work in your role at Dazed Beauty?
Yeah, and I think that’s really fantastic. I love being held accountable. People on our Instagram accounts will say, why are you writing about this? Why are you profiling Kylie Jenner? You’re supposed to stand for everything else. It’s great that brands and institutions can be held accountable in ways that they couldn’t before. Although, sometimes I get fucking sick of the trolling. I really think that we’ve lost a kind of softness.
At Dazed Beauty, we’re not print, so we’re not selling anything. You don’t have to subscribe to Dazed Beauty, it’s a free platform. There’s one writer per story, one creative team per photo shoot. So, all of those things are personal, led by people, their words and thoughts. The intention is different. But I think authenticity is a problem that the industry faces all over.
“It’s great that brands and institutions can be held accountable in ways that they couldn’t before. Although, sometimes I get fucking sick of the trolling. I really think that we’ve lost a kind of softness.”
If you could change one thing about the industry what would it be and why?
Every time I go to PR breakfasts, everybody looks like me. They are all nice people, but the lack of diversity is wild. It’s rife in the beauty industry. As a platform, lots of big conglomerates and brands can’t get their head around Dazed Beauty, because we represent a bit of the conversation that they don’t know about or care about or think is important. Of course, it will be, and they will have to change their ways. But I do think that the beauty industry has been staid for a very long time. And I hope Dazed Beauty has inspired the younger generation.
Until those internal changes happen on those features desks or behind those Instagram accounts, real change won’t come around. Real diversity is a huge problem behind the scenes. You have amazing people like Pat McGrath and Rihanna. Amazing innovators and creators like Isamaya Ffrench, who has completely changed what makeup and beauty meant single-handedly on her fucking Instagram account. But now we have to wait for the institutionalised mindset to catch up.
“Every time I go to PR breakfasts, everybody looks like me. They are all nice people, but the lack of diversity is wild. It’s rife in the beauty industry.”
What advice do you have for younger journalists in more junior positions to help make the industry more inclusive?
You can affect change now. Every time you get booked to write a piece, you can talk to somebody that’s not industry-approved; that doesn’t have a kind of certification. Every time you work on a creative team, you can have a say in who the models are. That’s incredibly important. Those feel like small decisions but they’re really big decisions.
“You have amazing people like Pat McGrath and Rihanna. But now we have to wait for the institutionalised mindset to catch up.”
I just don’t think that the approach has to be tokenistic, because there are so many creative people out there. People just need to do their research better. It should always be the best person for the job. The best person for the job isn’t necessarily the person sitting next to you. In small, incremental ways, you will suddenly realise that you have a creative community around you and that you can choose who you work with and you can choose what kind of imagery or words you put out into the world and that will affect change.