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2013 February 11

Alluring Proposition: Linda Wells and Paul Cavaco

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Linda Wells and Paul Cavaco Linda Wells and Paul Cavaco
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(NEW YORK) Editor-designer partnerships are often fraught, but Allure editrix Linda Wells and her creative director, Paul “the C in KCD” Cavaco, seem to have it all figured out. Thirteen years together, and they’re still cracking each other up. And they said it couldn’t last…

How did you two meet?
Linda: Before Allure even started, we called Paul and asked him and his KCD team to talk about doing PR for the magazine.
Paul: Linda described Allure—she was going to lift the veil on beauty products: what really works, what doesn’t work, and what’s a lie. It was such a new thing to approach beauty from a reported point of view. I just looked at her and said, “Sorry, I don’t know how to do this.”
Linda: I love the fact that you turned us down and then you came to work here.
Paul: I couldn’t figure it out! I was flummoxed by the whole thing. And then, of course, the magazine came out and it was great.
Linda: I was sort of shattered when Paul said that. I thought he was so shortsighted. I felt terribly hurt and insulted! But I also thought he was wrong. It might be a statement of how inarticulate I was in explaining the concept.
Paul: No, no. You were very articulate. It’s more of a statement of how I always say no before yes—until I can wrap my mind around it.
Linda: Then Paul covertly styled a cover of Allure that we photographed with Steven Meisel and Linda Evangelista. He styled it completely on the sly.

Wait, what? 
Paul: I was shooting an ad with Steven and he said, “Can you just call in some stuff for this Allure cover?” I said, “OK, fine, whatever.” Steven told everyone not to tell Linda; I thought it was probably a conflict of interest. I lived in a brownstone that didn’t have a doorman, so don’t ask me how the biggest bouquet of flowers got into my apartment the next day, onto my dining room table, with a note that said “To my secret editor.”

When did you not-so-secretly join Allure?
Linda: In 1999, Polly Mellen retired, and there was only one person I wanted to work with.
Paul: I was getting ready to do the next thing, anyway. Linda approached me, and we went to a bar. 
Linda: It was somewhere in the Sixties on Third Avenue, where no one would find us! We agreed that the magazine should be beautiful, because it’s about beauty, while still giving information. Before Paul, we’d been fighting to be not beautiful, to prove that we were tough, strong, and journalistic. We realized that was a really ridiculous approach.

It worked out, I take it?
We often do stories about the biggest beauty mistakes—but Paul pointed out, very brightly, that you don’t want to see the ugly. You don’t want to see the sunburn! You want to see the skin look great. Even if you’re showing what’s wrong, we make sure it’s still a beautiful photograph.
Paul: We were also coming off the ’90s, with grunge and everything.
Linda: And heroin chic, too—stringy hair and no makeup. It wasn’t the most beautiful time in fashion history. We worked with Michael Thompson on most of our covers, and focused on the close-up face cover—that became our branding, our stamp.

What do you squabble over after 13 years?
Paul: We only clash about deadlines. I never think I’m going to make my deadlines, and I come to Linda’s office and tell her that. Then I always do.
Linda: I find it funny! I tell Paul, “You know what? Deadlines come around. It’s the same thing every month—it’s not a surprise.” Besides, I don’t issue the rules about the deadlines.
Paul: But I still complain to her about them. 
Linda: But really, we agree much more then we disagree. If you don’t believe in the same vision, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to suffer through working together.
Paul: Sometimes we’ll look at two covers; she’ll like one and I’ll like another—and they’re so similar. It’s, like, photo 19 and photo 20!
Linda: Then we’ll mud-wrestle. I always win, ’cause I’m bigger.
Paul: But really, we try to be adults about everything. We fight enough with our children. We don’t have to fight with each other! 

Do you think that’s the norm?
Linda: People always say we’re laughing more at shows than anyone else—we have a really fun time.
Paul: Linda’s reputation is flawless, so I knew this would be fun.

Do you hang out outside the office? 
Linda: We do! 
Paul: We go to dinner, normal things like that.
Linda: We’ve also gone to see concerts. [Laughs]
Paul: We went to see TLC, believe it or not. We also saw Madonna—it was the most mortifying thing in the entire world, because everyone stands up to dance. You can’t sit at a Madonna concert.

Who has better dance moves?
Paul: We didn’t move! We weren’t about to, like, go dancing! Oh, God.
Linda: Paul can dance. You do not ever want to see me dance.
Paul: I’m Latin, so… 

Onto the mag. How’s Allure enduring?
Linda: Sales are up enormously in both drug stores and department stores—beauty is really relevant right now. We’re a much more image-oriented society, and beauty is relatively affordable compared with other forms of indulgence. 

How closely do you work with the ad folks?
Linda: We’re working in a totally different way—it used to be so church-and-state at Condé Nast. We realized that there was a way to work together! We come up with very basic, strong editorial ideas, then the advertising department sells those ideas—and it gives advertisers more marketing possibilities. Our publisher, Agnes Chapski, can really take these ideas and make them reach their greatest potential.  

Have other women’s titles ripped off Allure on the beauty front?
Almost every magazine has increased its beauty editorial coverage, including more reported pieces. No harm there!  Everyone now has a “Best in Beauty” issue of some sort. Ours is recognized as the leader, though. Our seal has become an incredible licensing business on products and in advertisements.

Did you ever worry about Allure not working?
Linda: I was more worried before we launched. We had this prototype of the magazine for advertisers to see. Two days after it was printed, Mr. Newhouse decided to shred the entire batch of prototypes because they weren’t right. They weren’t good enough. We had to get a whole new art department and start again. I was a little worried!
Paul: You were also just a baby!
Linda: But they had their support behind me, for whatever reason. One of our first issues had maybe nine pages of advertising—it was pathetic. But from that moment on, Allure completely took off and hasn’t stuttered since. Sure, I’ve worried about losing my job, but I’ve never thought the magazine was going to fold.

Did you have a Plan B, though?
No! I just felt so lucky to do it. I was so busy, too. I’ve never had time to think about what I’d do instead of this!

How about that Keira Knightley cover everyone was in a tizzy over?
We did not remove her nipple! That’s a shadow from the jacket. We were kind of shocked by the reaction.
Paul: Let me show you. [Whips out a magnifier.] Just follow the line of her jacket! She’s very flat-chested. 
Linda: It’s OK to say that. She’s the first to admit that she’s flat-chested.
Paul: I mean, people have nipples!

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