VP of Byrdie Leah Wyar speaks about embracing lightness in the age of COVID
In a world where Salvador Dali’s paintings seem more realistic than the present, there is still a message of hope and light in the age of a global pandemic. In a conversation with the VP and GM of Byrdie, Leah Wyar, she comments about Byrdie’s new digital issue, her favorite pastime during quarantine, and what Lily Collins taught her about maintaining a positive outlook. Though Leah has 20 years in media and solving beauty conundrums, nothing prepared her for a COVID era where masks were a hot accessory and lipstick a luxury.
She has worked for prestigious publications including Women’s Health, Cosmopolitan, Elle, and Harper’s Bazaar while utilizing her psychology background to further nurture her managerial skills. NYSG had a conversation with Leah about the behind-the-scenes of an editor’s life and how to embrace lightness in unprecedented times.
What has been the most surreal thing that has happened to you in 2020?
Leah Wyar: Besides having a baby at the height of lockdown in April? 🙂 I’d say creating manageability amidst major chaos: the reality of two full-time work-from-home humans, homeschooling a first grader, caring for a newborn—in a two-bedroom NYC apartment—all while launching two very big firsts: Byrdie’s digital issue and virtual Beauty Lab. When you’re in it, it feels almost impossible…then you look back and gain so much strength and confidence from having gone through the process and pioneering a new way of living and working. Feels like we can do anything now!
How have you applied your knowledge of psychology into your career as a beauty director?
Leah: It gave me a real sense of empathy, which I think was crucial to my personal development from junior employee to executive, as well as becoming a manager. The fashion industry is full of magic, but also a lot of problems. As I was coming up, hazing ran rampant. It’s practically baked into the culture of certain media empires. Not that it made it any easier to deal with, but my baseline knowledge of knowing that people’s own insecurities often drive this tormenting behavior helped me to fight, not take flight. It also fostered an acute sense of self-awareness; recognizing that some of the hazing came from real frustration–perhaps, for instance, the editor who was outrightly favoring those around me or telling me that I’d never be anything beyond a mid-level editor, was annoyed that I didn’t come into the job fully baked and leaned into that frustration rather than a plan to fix that. Facing that pushed me to pinpoint my blind spots, get the necessary experience, and excel…so in turn, I turned it into a positive that benefitted me in the long run. On the flip side, having gone through those painful moments made me a better manager: I knew I wasn’t the only one, so I came from a place of understanding, as well as a yearning to help and grow my employees.
Is there a new beauty trend your foresee coming in 2021?
Leah: I hope an embracing of the things we haven’t been able to control. We’ve seen the inability to keep up with so much that was once routine (from manis/pedis to hair color to Botox), plus overall disengagement of things that feel pointless right now (I, for one, haven’t contoured or put on a full face of makeup since February). Will this give all of us a reprieve? Maybe those 11 lines become a little less offensive to us…or society? I hope.
During all the cataclysmic events this year, what’s something you have faced?
Leah: Purposeful isolation not just for the physical health of myself and family, but for my mental health. I’ve had insurmountable anxiety around keeping my kids safe—and inexplicable anger toward those who refuse to act responsibly and believe the science. I’ve seen people who prided themselves on not wearing masks and not believing in COVID get diagnosed with it. Even then, you can’t convince them that they were wrong. So I’ve had to temporarily remove myself from certain circles; hopefully when a widespread vaccine is available, it will offer more control over other people’s thoughtless behavior and I will feel comfortable loosening these boundaries.
We all have different layers, what did you discover about yourself during quarantine?
Leah: That life can change in one second. That no matter what degree of control freak you are, you will face scenarios that are not immediately solvable. That stuff that once only existed in movies can become reality. And you will survive.
This issue is about dualities and I find it interesting how humans can have contrasting views, how have you evolved as a creative in the Age of COVID-19?
Leah: I’ve definitely had to redefine how to get my inspiration. Living in New York affords endless opportunities; walking down the street, you see people dressed for the sole purpose of being noticed. You sit on the subway and spot incredible nail art. You shop off friends’ feet at a cocktail party. None of that is possible anymore, at least in real life. Instagram is still there, of course. But going offline is so crucial. So I’ve turned to books, which used to be mainly for decoration around my apartment. Cracking them open has been really helpful in igniting creative juices. The Man With Kaleidoscopoe Eyes (The Art of Alan Aldridge) is amazing for colors, fonts, getting out of your own normal. Kevyn Aucoin’s Making Faces is super technical but reminds me of the joy and confidence applying makeup can bring. Even those iconic Assouline travel books—my favorite being Capri—can serve as a form of escapism, which our brains desperately need right now.
What was your first impression when you met Lily Collins?
Leah: Truth: I wasn’t able to meet her. My incredible editorial director, Faith Xue, was already on the west coast at the time of Lily’s shoot so volunteered to run the set that day. Consequently she wrote the cover story–and when I was editing it, it offered such a vivid portrait of her that I felt like I did meet her! Faith describes “the Lightness of Lily,” that is “her openness, easy laugh…her smile—an unmistakable aura of happiness emanating off of her, made more noticeable by the fact that it’s so rare to encounter this type of joyful lightness during such a difficult year.” With that, is it a surprise that this cover launch was a huge success?!
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