Yale University / B.A. in Fine Arts + English
After picking up her first magazine, Elise Loehnen knew exactly what she wanted to do for a living. She often passed the days in her small Montana town by cutting out the pages of her favorite magazines and creating collages — especially with the well-known Neiman Marcus ads. But after graduating from Yale and realizing it would be difficult to break into a notoriously hard-to-enter industry, Elise took a job working with a costume designer in New York City. Around this time, a friend of a friend of her brother's was looking for an assistant to help traffic samples at Lucky magazine. All of the sudden, Elise was freelancing for the very company that had rejected every internship application she’d sent in.
Elise quickly turned her contract freelancing gig into a full-time position and after a decade at the magazine, she had worked all the way up the masthead to editor-at-large. In this position she traveled around the world, scouting all things fashionable and even had recurring appearances on "The Today Show.” In 2011, Elise left the fashion glossy for Conde Nast Traveler before crossing the country to Los Angeles to become the editor-in-chief of Beso.com, a lifestyle-centric shopping search engine with a bevy of content, stylish contributors and highly curated picks that makes the site a bona fide one-stop shopping destination.
In addition to her role as editor-in-chief, Elise takes on envious freelancing projects, like co-writing "Lauren Conrad Style.” Her newest full-time role is that of Mom to her recently born, cute-as-a-Gerber-baby son.
I’m a bit of a workaholic and probably have no balance, but I’ve picked a company and a job where my devotion is not dictated by stress or fear.
What initially drew you to journalism and fashion?
I grew up in Montana, where there wasn’t a lot of fashion -- or shopping for that matter -- but I was obsessed with magazines: first Highlights, then Teen and YM, then Seventeen, and ultimately Interview, W and Vogue. I saved all my issues and made collages with the Neiman Marcus ad campaigns (they’ve always been good). Don’t get me wrong; Montana was an amazing place to grow up, but those magazines represented a world akin to Mars. I found it fascinating.
How did you get your start in what is known as a really tough industry to break into?
I was an English and Fine Arts major in college and didn’t really know what I would do post-graduation (a recession, of course). The world of Conde Nast was so privileged that I didn’t think I’d have a chance of getting a job, and so I didn’t even apply -- especially since I’d applied for summer internships and was never even called in for an interview. Instead, I worked for a costume designer, which was so much fun, but all of the downtime killed me. I’m pretty addicted to being busy. A friend of a friend of my brother’s from college was looking for an assistant at Lucky to help her traffic samples for Lucky Breaks and she gave me a chance, for which I will always be grateful. It was a contract freelance job, and while my mom balked at the prospect of working without health insurance, I knew it was my only way in.
There was nothing glamorous about my job: I made sure items were photographed and returned, I forwarded contest rules to the lawyers, I packed and unpacked boxes, but I worked my butt off and tried to help as many editors as I could with all the menial crap that they didn’t have time for. I proved that I could be trusted, that I was competent, that I was good-humored and efficient and my responsibilities grew. When new pages were introduced that needed an editor, all the editors were nice enough to suggest that maybe I should have a chance. And gradually, I managed to slough off some of the grunt work.
But really, that’s my biggest piece of life/work advice: Do the crap work and do it with a smile. The best way to move up to the more interesting stuff is to stretch and do it all -- even if it means late nights -- just so you ultimately become so indispensable, your managers decide your time would be best used elsewhere and hire someone beneath you.
At what point did you decide to leave the fashion magazine industry (and NYC) to run a fashion website in LA?
I spent nearly a decade at Lucky and left there as Deputy Editor to go to Conde Nast Traveler, which is another magazine I’d always had a serious crush on. Writing the shopping guides for Lucky -- which involved traveling around the world to scout cities for the magazine -- was a major life highlight, so getting deeper into the travel writing bed had a lot of appeal. But the kind folks at Shopzilla started calling me and calling me (and then calling me some more) to move to LA and editorialize their fledgling launch, Beso.com. I was extremely resistant at first -- I knew nothing about the web and my husband and I lived in New York, after all -- but they were persistent. When it became clear that what I would want to build closely aligned with their own goals and that I would have the support and resources I needed, my husband and I decided to take the plunge. I knew living in LA would probably be a better quality of life for a family and I also knew that if I wanted to continue to work in media, some web know-how would be crucial. I figured if it didn’t work out, I would have been taken to Internet college and could move back and ask for a job at a magazine.
Fortunately, it’s been amazing so far. Steep, steep learning curve, which in and of itself justifies taking a new job. Whenever you’re evaluating an opportunity, that should count as much as compensation and brand equity on your resume.
What is your ultimate goal with Beso.com? How would you describe the Beso reader and what the site offers her?
The ultimate goal is to make Beso the first place you go when you’re looking to shop, whether you know exactly what it is you want or are in search of ideas and inspiration.
We’ve aggregated feeds from thousands of stores, so you can search and compare items from eensy boutiques like Mona Moore and Tenoversix and big retailers like Shopbop, Neiman Marcus and Net-a-Porter. On top of that, there’s a roster of contributing editors (primarily from Lucky and DailyCandy) putting together shopping stories and round-ups about the very best things to buy. It isn’t trend focused; it’s really about awesome, beautiful finds that make life better. The last thing we want to do is push pointless consumption or point people toward things that will ultimately haunt them from their closet. It’s also not about pushing edicts: the premise isn’t that we have superior taste to our users. The premise is that there are literally millions of things on the site and it’s our job to traffic the very best of it to the top to save users time and effort.
Part of this comes out of our just-launched Shopping Feed. When you sign up for an account, you identify the aesthetics that appeal to you and we apply the brands and stores that coordinate -- some of which will be familiar, some of which will not. Then when the editorial team tags products and other users with the same taste profile tag products as favorites, they’ll show up in your feed. It’s just a mesmerizing flow of entirely shoppable, beautiful things that should look like things you would have in your home or wear! Several other feed features are coming soon, so stay tuned.
Finally, Shopzilla has an affiliate program that’s a bit technical and hard to use -- though a lot of big bloggers do -- so we repackaged it for Beso as Beso Rewards and made it available to all users, whether they have a blog or not. When you sign into your Beso account and share your finds with your fans and friends on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, et al., you make money when your friends check your stuff out.
What does your job involve on a daily basis, and what types of responsibilities do you have in your position?
My job has evolved a lot since I started a year and a half ago. The first nine months or so were devoted to scaling our editorial, establishing story templates and style guidelines and getting the contributors and staff editors set up. Since then, I’ve inherited some other functions at the company, including marketing. I spend most of my time these days working on Shopzilla’s business-to-business properties -- their collateral and one sheets, etc. -- and new acquisitions and launches. The editorial on Beso pretty much runs itself and it takes awhile to build products, so we’ll do a lot of work to come up with what we ultimately want to create, then give the engineers and front end developers time to bring it to life. Then, once it’s got some life, we dig into the data to see what’s working and what’s not and refine, refine, refine.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I learn something new every day. Whether it’s about code, site functionality or marketing, it’s fun to stretch your brain. Much of what I do is not glamorous, but I think I got that part of my career out of my system when I was back in New York. I think I’d be bored if I were still singularly focused on editorial.
Is work/life balance ever a problem with you? If so, what is one no-fail tactic you use to create balance?
Ha, that’s funny! I’m a bit of a workaholic and probably have no balance, but I’ve picked a company and a job where my devotion is not dictated by stress or fear. I love my job, I love the industry and I’m genuinely responding to emails late at night because I want to, not because I have to. I also find that when I’m my busiest, I’m my most efficient, so I take on a lot of freelance projects just to mix things up. I’ve ghostwritten some books and am working on some books now. Occasionally, I pick up a magazine piece or two on the side. This makes me feel connected to my old life -- it’s nice to write some long-form pieces as well.
Now that I have a baby, I’ll need to be more cognizant of my screen and work addiction -- though I think it’s not so much that I’m addicted to work, but that I’m addicted to being busy and feeling productive. And it’s very easy to feel productive with a newborn! I think I’ll just become more partitioned about work and play, and when it’s work time, I’ll work even faster so that Max can get my full attention. (We’ll see how this goes as he stops sleeping all the time.)
I guess one tactic is to ensure that your choices are your own -- nobody is driving a whip on my back. If you love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work. In that same vein, now that I’m doing laundry for my little one, it’s infinitely more enjoyable than it was for just the two of us.
Was there ever a moment in your career where you’ve thought, “I can't believe I have this job?" What was it?
We had some amazing moments at Lucky before the recession hit. Like I mentioned, I used to travel to write the shopping guides, which was incredible fun. Scouting Paris for a week to look at all of its boutiques? No problem. TV segments in Los Angeles with a stay at Chateau Marmont? No problem. I had lots of amazing times at both Lucky and Conde Nast Traveler.
What qualities does one need to possess to be successful in your line of work?
Being a good editor requires a huge amount of rigor, particularly as the amount of content in the world mounts. It’s your job to see everything and read everything, so you can be sure you’re surfacing the very best stuff. Even when it comes to soft topics, you have a certain responsibility to your readers to dig deep. This is one of the reasons Lucky was so successful at its launch. We literally looked at everything, so that the reader didn’t have to. That’s the only way to build legitimate trust. You really can’t be lazy about it or dial it in; readers can tell.
This comes to the way you write as well -- it’s far too easy to fall back on clichés and empty phrases. You have to work hard to come at every item with a unique angle, and since nobody really reads anymore, you have to make those words work hard since you need to use as few of them as possible.
Other than that, I think you have to possess a tireless curiosity. If you don’t have a burning passion for the content you’re creating, then it’s not the right track for you. If you think it’s genuinely interesting and important, your readers will, too.
What one piece of advice do you wish you could tell a 21-year-old version of yourself?
To be patient and humble. It takes a while to build credibility, to build a skill set and to earn trust. I know we all think we can run things when we’re fresh out of college -- I probably did -- but it’s important to sit back, keep your mouth shut and watch and learn.
If I were starting out today, would I pursue a job in magazines?
Probably not. The media landscape is changing dramatically. While there will always be a place for proper newsstands and beautiful, tangible magazines, I probably wouldn’t start there. I recommend online experience. If you can figure out how to develop an audience there, you’re truly golden.