…in the eye of the beholder. Or in this case the reader, and then things really start to get complicated. Because for me at least, every Top Shelf, The Face, and After Dark on this website drums up a personal, often knotty, connection. There are the interviews I read before I worked here—those are the ones that got me to fall in love with this website. Then there are the ones I experienced first-hand. Some of those I love because I know what it took to book them—the endless emails and the scheduling tetris. Others I love because I learned a lot, or very simply, I just really liked what they had to say.
The list of favorites I keep in my head is always changing. It really depends on what I need at any precise moment to move me, or it could be a matter of the time of year, or that I just want to see a bunch of pretty pictures. Ultimately, what I’m saying is that it depends. And yet I’ve been thinking about Top Shelves more than ever lately—I miss them! As I wrote a few weeks ago, we’re spacing out the remaining ones that we shot pre-quarantine, and we’ll resume our weekly cadence once it’s safe. So in the meantime I wanted to go down memory lane. Well, my memory lane, with the five Top Shelf interviews that I always return to. These are my favorites—for today, at least:
The interview that started it all for me! The year was 2010 and my memory is hazy on how I landed on the page, but somehow, someway, Eva Chen’s Top Shelf became my gateway to ITG. The interview’s stuffed with all the fixings of an excellent Top Shelf: confident recommendations, a no nonsense air of relatability, and a healthy mix of high/low product shoutouts. Keep in mind that this was Eva Chen the Teen Vogue Beauty Director talking, so I really ate everything up. And a decade later her beauty recommendations still hold up. She’s got impeccable longevity, that Eva.
The quote that really spoke to me: “Chanel and Clé de Peau make cotton pads. Yes, you can buy them at Duane Reade for ninety-nine cents, but do I want the Chanel ones that have the little CC logo? Yes. It feels like you’re taking off your eye makeup with cashmere. It feels so happy and delicious.”
I love Iman. A lot of people talk about how Rihanna’s Fenty was a watershed moment for beauty, but before Gloss Bomb and Pro Filt’r, there was Iman and Iman Cosmetics. She does what she wants, says what she wants, and don’t get me started on her love story with David Bowie…I might cry. But what I enjoyed the most about her The Face interview from 2012 was the clear perspective of it all. And the unflinching honesty, too. For instance, her take on plastic surgery: “I’m against it. I can say that because I don’t need it yet.” Iman had so many good nuggets to share that it morphed into not one, but two separate articles. The focus of the second interview was career, and she explained the genesis of her cosmetics line: “the seed for Iman Cosmetics was implanted in my head in 1975 on my first job for American Vogue… the makeup artist asked me if I brought my own foundation because he had nothing for me. He proceeded to put something on me and when I looked in the mirror, I looked grey. And you have to understand that our currency as models is our images—it’s photographs. Nobody cares how you really look, it’s how do you look in picture.” Afterwards Iman went shopping for foundation pigments, and a makeup line was born.
The quote that really spoke to me: “I don’t wear makeup unless I have a photo shoot. But of course I know how to do my own makeup—I’m actually better than a lot of makeup artists because makeup artists do lots of people’s faces, I only do mine all the time.”
Michelle Phan is what, 30-something years old? But in internet vlogger years, she’s more like a great-grandma. At this point she has beget the vloggers who beget the vloggers who beget the newest crop of vloggers vlogging today. All vlogging roads lead back to Michelle Phan, and even though she made a name for herself as a makeup sorceress, it was her Top Shelf skincare recommendations that really spoke to me. It was a K-beauty palooza, replete with essences, tea masks, and a liquid-to-foam cleanser. It was where I discovered the brand Cremolab, and also that a jelly body mist exists, and is a thing of beauty.
The quote that really spoke to me: “My aesthetician does this nine-step process starting with microdermabrasion with a diamond tip, lasers, a light glycolic acid peel…It feels very intense, and the next day your skin goes through a little bit of injury, but then it starts healing. The following week it looks amazing. After I see her, I don’t need to use photo filters as much. That’s my goal. I’m like, ‘Look, I want you to give me skin where I don’t have to rely on filters all the time.’”
This is the woman who lobbied for a tampon dispenser in The White House… and got it. And oh yeah, she did it while serving under President Obama as his deputy chief of staff. As if that wasn’t enough to blow my socks off, here is a woman who also understands the value of a good facial—she’s got a standing appointment at Rescue Spa and a healthy supply of P50. To me, Alyssa’s interview is the perfect example of how beauty needn’t be trivialized. You can be smart, ambitious, and thoughtful, and still care about your skin—and it’s OK to admit that! One value doesn’t have to take away from another.
The quote that really spoke to me: “I joked once that I’m the Forrest Gump of politics, because I was with Bernie in the ‘90s, before anyone knew who the fuck Bernie was, and then I worked for John Kerry, and then Barack Obama. I always just wanted to be around someone who was inspiring every day—I wasn’t waiting to see who would win a presidency. Actually, I picked Obama because I never thought he’d run for president—after Kerry, I never wanted to be that heartbroken again. I thought, he is the junior senator from the state of Illinois whose middle name is Hussein. We’re not running for president any time soon. And then he did.”
Elaine’s interview is catnip for curly-haired folks. In her Top Shelf, there are four glorious paragraphs dedicated to how she maintains her larger than life ‘do. It’s what moved me to chuck my own comb off to the side and resort to finger detangling, the way Elaine does it, and to give in to the idea that curly hair care is a marathon and not a sprint (her routine takes up to two hours). The rest of it felt a bit vindicating, to be perfectly honest. Turns out that Elaine and I share a lot of the same products! So maybe I’m not so clueless about how to take care of my hair after all. And dry shampoo for curly hair? Who would’ve thunk?
The quote that really spoke to me: “For me, my hair was an extension of what was happening inside of me. As I was growing into myself and my voice professionally, my hair was getting bigger and bigger and bigger. And Vernon was part of that. He told me that I needed to have iconic hair, that my hair is my calling card. He also taught me how to be tender with my curls. I used to get frustrated when I had to detangle my hair, and he taught me how to do it with no products, no tools, no nothing. You just do it with your fingers. It takes time and patience, but you don’t lose any hair. And not only does it detangle, it gives you amazing texture. It’s breaking up the curls so you get the ‘fro. It’s the antithesis of everything you’ve been taught as a curly girl, which is to drench it in moisture, scrunch it, and then to not touch it.”
But those are just my top picks—what are yours?
Photo via ITG.