“I feel relaxed,” said Elise Loehnen, the chief content officer of Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow’s fast-expanding wellness-and-lifestyle brand. “And a little bit sad.” Loehnen, whose twinkly affect does not actually appear dimmed, had just emerged from the inner sanctum of Carmen Margaziotis, a body worker based in the Pacific Palisades whose services she was testing for Goop’s editorial consideration. Margaziotis should very likely make the cut. In 90 minutes, through a combination of acupuncture, Reiki, homeopathy, crystals, tuning forks, and muscle testing, Loehnen said Margaziotis was able to “get straight into some emotional stuff quickly. She got me over my tendency to stay in my mind, and I could feel the energy in my body moving.”
Still smiling a bit into the middle distance, Loehnen said she needed a few minutes before getting behind the wheel to return to the office, a 48,000-square-foot Santa Monica behemoth with walls painted a soft peach. It includes two test kitchens and a laboratory where a science department analyzes products as well as copy before it goes live, to make sure no one is using irresponsible language in their recommendations—Goop wants to avoid another “jade egg–gate,” as when the company was sued in 2018 for touting the unproven health benefits of an egg-shaped piece of jade that one could insert into one’s vagina. There is also a yoga room.
If you’re not from California, and so are unlikely born Gooped, or are without the geographical or financial means to experience your own Gooping, The Goop Lab, a docu-series premiering January 24 on Netflix, will be a revelation by proxy. (Yes, the one whose promotional campaign includes a picture of Paltrow mugging from inside a large yoni.) Each of its six half-hour episodes explores wellness modalities such as guided psychedelics, orgasm workshops, and extreme cold therapy via bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Goop staffers, led by Loehnen and, occasionally, Paltrow. We watch them trip; we watch them cry; we watch them group hug. “A lot of it is makeup-free,” Loehnen notes.
Though Loehnen now limits trying out deeper therapeutic sessions to once a quarter, spending hours processing on massage tables is part of the job at Goop. What started in 2008 as a somewhat breathy online newsletter of salad-dressing recipes, spa recommendations, and well-being tips by a celebrity, has evolved, on Loehnen and Paltrow’s watch, into a $250 million digital umbrella of a Web site, wellness expos, retail spaces, books, Goop-branded fashion, “clean” beauty products and vitamin supplements, three podcasts, and now The Goop Lab.
Spending hours processing on massage tables is part of the job at Goop.
Loehnen and Paltrow want to use Goop’s verticals to foster conversations about health, especially women’s health, which they see as having long been neglected by the Western male medical establishment. Goop is also very into wellness, a kind of optimized state of thriving concerned with the mind-body-soul connection. As co-anchor of Goop’s main podcast, which hit No. 1 on Apple Podcasts the day it launched in 2018, Loehnen is already known to Goop’s audience, which ranges between 150,000 and 680,000 listeners per week, as a down-to-earth nerd-sherpa through these alternative wilds. But television will bring her apple-cheeked face into living rooms, some of which will belong to that large cluster of people who love to hate, and hate-watch, her boss.
It’s smart to put Loehnen forward. People often see Paltrow’s Goopiness only through the lens of her wealth and privilege, by which Loehnen is relatively unencumbered. Paltrow has said her long-term strategy is to step back from being the sole face of the brand, and Loehnen, who escaped the collapsing women’s-magazine world in 2011, is a clear, sharp, and enthusiastic messenger with a common touch. If Goop is Oprah 2.0—a lifestyle media juggernaut spun off of an aspirational celebrity guru—then Elise is the new Gayle: a relatable civilian vector who sits at the right hand of the Star and carries her imprimatur, but who can speak for all of us. When the subject matter is the health benefits of bee stings, that’s really helpful.
G.P.’s Civilian Translator
Paltrow is by all accounts very hands-on, but it was Loehnen, a Yale graduate with years in the trenches at Condé Nast (primarily at shopping guide Lucky) and the shopping portal Shopzilla, who had the goods to scale up what was, in 2014, a company with a dozen or so employees. She told Paltrow when they first met that she had “this incredible engagement machine built on what at that point was a Web site in shambles,” and marveled at how well-defined the brand was in spite of its underperforming architecture. “The idea of helping her build a functioning business off of this,” Loehnen recalled, “was so tasty.”
The daughter of a forward-thinking pulmonologist and a nurse from Missoula, Montana, Loehnen liked acupuncture before she started at Goop. Crystals were not really her thing. But “everyone who works here gets Gooped,” she says. “It could be there’s an intuitive in the office and you find yourself getting a reading, asking how this person knew about your fucked-up childhood.” Beyond the content team, “it happens to everyone. Customer service, fashion merchandisers.”
If Goop is Oprah 2.0—a lifestyle media juggernaut spun off of an aspirational celebrity guru—then Elise is the new Gayle.
Her own Gooping happened soon after she was hired. Suffering from what she calls “postnatal depletion,” wherein “I didn’t feel well and couldn’t lose the weight,” Loehnen consulted Dr. Alejandro Junger, a Paltrow-endorsed cardiologist, who brought her back to higher functioning with supplements and dietary changes. When Goop published a piece about postnatal depletion for Goop, the user responses, all of which Loehnen still monitors like a hawk, showed that Paltrow’s audience, which is roughly 70 percent female, was ready for more. Thus began Goop’s deeper, wider content dive into the endlessly expanding yoni of wellness, which has now come to define the brand more than glamour shots of Paltrow with scrumptious-looking salads or gift guides with $15,000 gold dildos. “The story on him just went bonkers,” Loehnen says. “Women were like, ‘Oh my God, now I understand why a tree fell on my house and I didn’t even wake up.’…I felt the benefits of Junger’s simple modifications, and then I felt the chorus of like a million women saying, ‘I completely understand.’”
“Elise manages details incredibly well, but she can think bigger picture,” says Laurie Trott, Goop’s former fashion director. She was an early hire of Loehnen’s; when she left, in 2017, Goop had over 100 employees. Today the head count is 250. Back in the early days, as part of their plans for growth, Loehnen and Paltrow adopted a management technique called “the Collaborative Way,” developed by an Arizona businessman, that encouraged “speaking straight,” “listening with an intent to have your mind changed,” and transparency and emotional accountability. “Elise put it into practice,” says Trott. “Working there taught me a lot about communication.”
Communication also matters to Goop’s audience. Women’s magazines like Glamour and Marie Claire are getting killed by a thousand cuts to their business model, which has historically relied almost solely on advertising. But they’re also floundering because they traditionally fostered a one-way exchange, imparting expertise to readers who are now social-media-trained to express themselves, and spend enough time off-line being mansplained to, thanks very much. Goop famously launched the first two issues of a quarterly print magazine in partnership with Condé Nast, but shuttered it after the independently produced fourth edition. (Digital media also fosters a conversation between back-end user data, business development, and very happy investors.) As we celebrate, or mourn, the death of expertise, Goop puts forth a different model. It’s openly reliant on high-end word of mouth and anecdotal experience as much as scientific research. As it’s taking the place of women’s magazines, it’s doing things legacy media would never permit, like selling its own products on pages where it also dispenses editorial advice. It turns out contemporary readers don’t care.
For her part, Loehnen is ready-ish for her close-up. “I think it’ll be nice to be recognized for my work,” she says. “People are going to watch the show.” But. “But it marks a transition for me from being a private person who it’s unfair to be mean to, to someone public, who can be openly criticized with impunity. And that’s interesting. I don’t know what that’s going to feel like. I’m sure it’ll hurt my feelings. I’m 40 years old. I’m not a 22-year-old who grew up wanting to be on TV. At Lucky I wasn’t even one of those staffers who was featured a lot in the magazine.” Now she is. With staffers who are technically her employees. How has that been going since filming wrapped? “We don’t live compartmentalized lives here,” says Loehnen. “We are who we are. We’re all deeply imperfect and we’re all going through things…You can’t just leave it in the parking garage.”
Alexandra Marshall is an Air Mail Editor at Large based in Paris