You may know Elaine Welteroth from her time as editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue or, more recently, as a judge on Project Runway. The youngest Editor-in-Chief ever appointed in Condé Nast history in 2017, she’s well-known as a groundbreaking 32-year-old journalist and editor. But you can also refer to her as her lesser-known, unofficial title: Karaoke Queen.
We sat down with Welteroth—the first African American to hold the post of beauty and health director at a Condé Nast publication—to learn a bit about her role on Project Runway, the music she loves writing to, and how she hopes to inspire young women with her upcoming memoir, More Than Enough.
This week is a big one for you: Your book More Than Enough is being released and it’s the season finale of Project Runway. What has been the best part of the season?
The best part has been working alongside people that I just adore and respect. Karlie, Brandon, Nina, and Christian—I’ve learned a lot from each of them. And then of course I love being able to nurture the designers. I got really invested in all of them and ended up crying more times than I thought I would.
What are you looking forward to bringing into the next season of Project Runway?
I think what I’ll continue to bring into next season is some degree of social consciousness, trying to contextualize their work as it relates to what is happening in the world and how fashion can be a platform for speaking about issues that matter to you. My goal is to continue to push the conversations so that they are not just about the fabrication and about the colorways and about the designs, but really about what it means to be a designer and an artist at a time like this.
What was your musical upbringing like? How do you discover music now?
I grew up in a very musical family. My mom is a gospel singer, my dad is a rock guitarist, and my brother is a punk rocker, so my house was filled with music discovery. It was like the original Spotify. In one room you would have gospel, and in one room you have Rancid or Green Day, and in another you have Eric Clapton. I was all about Erykah Badu, Mariah Carey—more Top 40s, R&B, and pop music.
Now I’m engaged to a musician who has exposed me to a lot of different types of music that I probably wouldn’t listen to otherwise. One of the most recent discoveries from him has been Maggie Rogers. I am completely obsessed with her.
Do you have any other favorite young artists whose music and lyrics are really resonating right now?
Lizzo is killing it. I think she captures the spirit of this generation, and is the kind of disruptive, unapologetic, outspoken pop star we need. I love that she’s coming here to just break out of every box that women have been put in. She’s like, “I am who I am. I am expansive and I can do it all. You’re going to watch me and you’re going to love it.”
What do you listen to while writing?
Through Spotify, I discovered different types of jazz music that help me focus while I’m working. As a writer, I can’t really listen to any music that has lyrics—you wind up writing what you’re listening to, or you start singing along and you can’t think of words.
I wrote my memoir while listening to binaural beats, which is really, really relaxing and puts you in this really focused, creative mindset.
Can you tell us a little bit about the types of songs on the playlist you’re making to accompany More Than Enough?
It’s curated to evoke the emotions that the chapters take you through. I want people to listen to it while they read the book, because I think that sensorial experience will be incredible. The playlist as a whole captures the emotional journey that this book takes you on. It’s filled with highs and lows and surprises along the way. But ultimately, it ends on a really triumphant note.
There’s a lot of gospel influence because, like I said, I grew up in a household filled with gospel music. It was really important to carry that sort of thread throughout the playlist. I have the modern interpretations of that too, with Chance the Rapper.
There’s also a lot of ’90s classic R&B music. I especially love Mariah Carey. Growing up as a biracial girl, Mariah Carey was my mixed-race icon. She was the only celebrity I ever saw that I could relate to in terms of racial identity—she had curly hair, she had brown skin—she was in-between worlds in the way that I was.
I hope that in the end, you put down the book and you end the playlist sort of just feeling good. Feeling good in your own skin.
Why was it important to you to spread the message that your readers are “more than enough?”
We live in a world that tells women we are not enough. And we’ve internalized these messages over time or throughout conditioning over generations. We are made to feel like we are not beautiful enough, not smart enough, not woke enough, and not successful enough.
I want this book to be a reminder—a mantra—that pushes back against all of those messages internally and externally. Because the reality is, you can experience that liberated, empowered sense of being more than enough even when you are a work in progress. The goal is not perfection; the goal is to continue to chase the biggest, most expansive version of who you are and to be bold enough to walk away from anything that threatens to hold you back.
Pick up a copy of Elaine’s new memoir, More Than Enough, out today. And don’t forget to stream the playlist soundtrack that chronicles her incredible journey.