Mikki Taylor: The Exit Interview

Essence’s fashion and beauty editor steps out on her own after 30 years.




Essence magazine's beauty editor Mikki Taylor has announced her retirement after 30 years with the magazine. She gave this interview to The Root.

The Root: How did you come to work at Essence magazine?



Mikki Taylor: Well, I first visited Essence as a student in 1971. It was founded in May 1970, and the headquarters was in a brownstone on West 31st Street in New York. I wanted to see this place--this new magazine that was all about women like me. I met Susan Taylor [then-beauty editor], and I was in awe of her. When I finally went to work at Essence in 1980, I was still in awe, and Sue would tell me to "get rid of the nervousness"--and get focused.

We had a small staff, and I worked on the fashion and beauty team. My title was "home sewing and accessories editor." At that time, black women in the fashion world who could not command the same compensation kept up with our white women peers because we made our [own] clothes. I mastered my craft, but I also poked my head into all things beauty. Susan became editor-in-chief in 1981. June 1981 was my first Essence cover, and I believe it was with then-black supermodel Wanakee Pugh.

TR: What were your favorite covers at Essence over the 30 years?

MT: There are two: One was in May 2000 in which we assembled eight of Hollywood's most amazing actresses. And the second was in the Obamas' home in the summer of 2008, very similar to the photo of JFK and his family in 1962. We, as a people, hunger for images of ourselves--there is no other culture that has such a lack of positive images as we do--so an Essence cover is key. In the '60s and '70s, black people sat for portraits. In the '80s and '90s, we let that slip away. We need to capture ourselves [and] that is why we captured the Obamas.