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1 Oct

Cara Kagan’s Behind the Scenes Beauty Tell-All – WWD

Cara Kagan’s Behind the Scenes Beauty Tell-All – WWD

In her debut novel, “The Rise, Fall, and Return of Sarah Mandelbaum,” former WWD beauty editor Cara Kagan draws from personal experience in the wonder and fashion publishing industries as inspiration for her protagonist, Sarah Mandelbaum. 

WWD hired Kagan in 1992 to pioneer its coverage of mass-market beauty, where she built a Rolodex of industry leaders. She then expanded her reach to report on rising trends that spanned mass and prestige, resembling the influence of makeup artists and their eponymous lines. 

After WWD, she became the wonder and fitness director for YM and Mode magazines before creating Girl, the primary multicultural and multisize fashion and wonder magazine for teens — years ahead of body positivity. Despite her self-described wild hair, sensible shoes and decidedly basic fashion sense, Kagan held the wonder and fitness director position at Elle for several years. 

Here, Kagan reveals what it was like covering the wonder industry within the Nineteen Nineties, the way it differs today and if a number of of Sarah’s bosses in “The Rise, Fall, and Return of Sarah Mandelbaum” are based on legendary WWD editors. 

“The Rise, Fall, and Return of Sarah Mandelbaum” takes place within the ’90s, weaving Sarah’s profession in beauty and fashion along with her rock star dreams. Why did you choose that era? 

Cara Kagan: The Nineteen Nineties was a incredible decade for me. It was when my profession began taking off, I met and married my husband and I began working at WWD, which was an exciting place to be. There have been so many exciting things happening in the wonder and fashion industries. Latest York City was a wonderful place to live.

What were a few of the big stories you covered at the moment?

C.K.: I don’t need to detract from what’s happening now because beauty is at all times a dynamic and engaging industry. But amazing things were happening — things we take as a right today. For instance, in 1990, Avon introduced Anew, the primary skincare product to include alpha hydroxy acid — now a mainstay of skincare regimens. That very same yr, Sephora launched its first U.S. store in SoHo. Meanwhile, department store beauty floors were exhilarating places to walk. Ed Burstell did fabulous things at Henri Bendel, and Joyce Avalon at Barneys was at all times willing to take a likelihood on area of interest brands. Steve Bock at Saks Fifth Avenue was a genius at diversifying its offerings to incorporate traditional and indie brands.

One of the vital thrilling trends was the rise of makeup artists’ lines. Trish McEvoy was picking up steam. Bobbi [Brown] had just launched a brief line of lipsticks at Bergdorf Goodman and was already expanding. MAC was up and coming, with Estée Lauder having the vision to accumulate it. Meanwhile, on the mass end of things, Goal launched its proprietary Sonia Kashuk range. Cosmetics corporations were also finally meaningfully expanding their shade offerings to be more inclusive. 

Sarah is thrown into the world of reporting on fashion and wonder, where she feels she doesn’t slot in with the “fashion flamingos,” who she describes as high-fashion magazine beauty girls who must shift from one slim leg to the opposite due to their “ludicrously expensive torturous shoes.” How accurate is that have?

C.K.: Well, that is fiction, even when it’s inspired by actual events. So, anything that will have been good becomes fabulous. And anything that was not so good becomes horrible. It just makes for a more exciting story. But I, personally, felt a whole lot of pressure from some people to look and dress a certain way once I left WWD and got into high-fashion publishing. 

And a few persons are OK with that; they’re fashionable, self-confident and handle all of it gracefully and effortlessly. They even thrive on it. That’s just not how I’m made. I used to be picked last for gym class. I even have frizzy hair and rotten feet, so I can’t wear the shoes, and I’m only 4 feet 11 inches, so I’m never a sample size. Plus, I take every little thing personally. And yes, there was quite a little bit of cliquishness and cattiness, because the book describes, but that’s to not say there weren’t many sensible, wonderful people. 

Do you’re feeling it’s different today?

C.K.: Yes and no. There are such a lot of more media outlets now that we have now influencers and podcasters, so no one or small group of individuals is as influential as they was. And there’s far more emphasis on broader concepts of beauty. Plus, sneakers are actually essentially couture, so there’s no have to be a “fashion flamingo” and shift from one foot to a different due to tortuous shoes.

Nonetheless, we’re all on camera on a regular basis now, and everyone seems to be continually posting pictures of their best lives and selves on social media, which puts us all under scrutiny — especially our own. Sometimes, after a Zoom meeting, I take into consideration all of the plastic surgeries and cosmetics procedures I “need” because I’m horrified on the image I’ve been gazing for an hour. I don’t think I did that pre-Zoom. But however, I’m loads older now.

On the fictional Fashion Day by day Gazette, Sarah’s editors share traits with WWD legends: Michael Gallagher, for one, and Nils Petersen, together with his white bushy mustache, two-finger typing and a love of rock ‘n’ roll.

C.K.: I used to be fortunate to work with sensible, talented and larger-than-life editors at WWD. Together with his charisma, talent, extraordinary taste and skill to at all times get the story, Patrick McCarthy was a fashion legend to me and, I’m sure, to many others. He inspired the character of Michael Gallagher, though Michael can be his own person. 

As for the character of Nils, whom everyone in my creative writing workshops loved, there may be a lot of [WWD former executive editor of beauty] Pete Born in him, rounded out by fictional details. Pete was and is a really influential figure in my life and profession. I even have a fantastic love for him. Like many individuals, he has his quirks and an enormous personality that make for excellent fiction. Once I told Pete I wrote the book, and it has a personality that everyone loves based on him, he immediately asked, “Does that mean I even have to purchase the book?” It was classic.

“The Rise, Fall, and Return of Sarah Mandelbaum” is on the market on barnesandnoble.com, amazon.com, walmart.com and bookshop.org.

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