INTERVIEW: LAURA BROWN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF INSTYLE MAGAZINE
words by JVB • Fashion
From putting Rihanna in a shark and taking The Simpsons to Paris Fashion Week to launching a podcast celebrating barrier-breaking women, Laura Brown’s approach to fashion is nothing short of a breath of fresh air. In an industry known for its exclusivity, Laura is all about making things more accessible and relatable, both in her work and life. As an InStyle’s Editor-In-Chief, she brings a fresh perspective to the table that is equal parts gutsy and creative.
Julia von Boehm: This is a weird question to start with but where and when did you learn how to speak so fast? I am always amazed at how fast you can get your ideas out.
Laura Brown: [Laughs] That’s funny! I was an only child with a lot of things to say so the [words] just tumble out. They go as fast as my brain, blessedly. My brain may not go as fast some days but it’s still firing. I just need to get it all out. It’s like pushing a baby bird from the nest. They just come so fast. I’ve had friends over the years who were like ‘What are you talking about?” [Laughs]
JVB: When you were little, what dreams did you have for your future self?
LB: When I was nine, I really wanted to be a fashion designer - I really loved fashion. I used to drape a bath towel around myself in various positions when I was kid. They’re probably archived somewhere in a landfill in Sydney!
I loved glamorous things. One of my signature memories is of the [International Woolmark Awards] at the Sydney Opera House in 1998. It was Claude Montana, Missoni, and Karl Lagerfeld — and it was the most glamorous thing. I remember thinking that was ‘it’. I just wanted to go to that place where those people were, where things happened. I wanted to be a part of that.
JVB: And now, you’ve accomplished that and so much more! It’s funny you mention wanting to be a fashion designer because I initially did as well and look at where we are now! I get a lot of questions about my career so now I have to flip the mirror on you — what is the day in the life of an Editor-in-Chief really like?
LB: Oh my god, heavy sigh, a sip of tea, [then] oh my god again. [Laughs]. It depends on where you are. I always say editors these days are not so much editors — they’re more like hosts. I certainly feel like a host. InStyle is like the best party ever you’ve been to or you want to go to and you want to hang out with everybody here. Hopefully you love everybody we feature, our videos say something and make you laugh, and our events are...actually fun.
Whether I’m in the office or not, I am always on and I’m always representing, well, unless I'm asleep. (Laughs) Magazines these days are held together with sticks and glue. Without personality, without a voice, you're nothing. I think that’s a big problem in this business right now - the lack of voice.
So, I guess I have two modes: If I’m in the office, I’m really in. My office is like a deli. There’s literally somebody in the door every 30 seconds and I’m like ‘You want pastrami, You want bacon?’. I don’t like going out for lunches or interrupting my day. I just love doing old fashioned magazine work. It's such a luxury.
When I’m not here, I could be on a photoshoot, away in Los Angeles, in a meeting or on set, or hosting dinners — that’s including the time we’re away for fashion shows two months out of the year. We also do a whole chunk of events in Los Angeles over awards season. I joke I host a party that goes from September to March because that’s when [things] sort of wrap up. We’re the only masochistic magazine that does not only Fashion Week but awards as well!
JVB: The ‘glue and sticks’ part brings me to my next question, where do you feel print magazines will be in two years from now?
LB: It will be Darwinian. Those that have a voice and point of view will survive. I look around and I’m like “What are you saying, guys?” You don’t have to be shaking your fist every minute, but you have to take a stance on things. I started at InStyle barely three months before Trump was elected. I had no choice but to react to that, and our Badass Women platform - ladies who show up, speak up and gets things done - is the result. You have to have some guts. If you get so scared you’re going to lose your advertisers that you just run boring, obligatory stories to keep their business, or you just feature celebrities for their social followings, that’s fatal.
JVB: It’s interesting you mention needing a voice because increasingly celebrities are taking up that mantle of using their voices to create impact and change not only in Hollywood but on a global scale. How do you choose your cover stars?
LB: I don’t shoot anybody for the cover I don’t personally respect, and I never will. Of course, I’m aware these are prominent people, but a following isn't enough. We have to make something great, and original together. The silver lining of print these days is you have a bit more latitude in who to choose for your cover because you don’t live and die by newsstand sales anymore. And then I can make a mad video to go with the story for the internet. I hear it's the future. (Laughs)
I love to work with people who run counter to a cliché. I love humor. I love people that bring more to a cover than just what the theme of issue is. For example, we shot Rebel Wilson for the cover of our Beauty issue and we’ve done this beautiful but hilarious pastiche of fragrance ads. That’s more interesting to me. I’m not just going to stick a model on the cover of the Beauty issue. It’s not original, it’s not exciting, and it’s not real. It’s got to be someone who brings more than a face and a following.
JVB: Your Instagram is often regarded as fun, light, intelligent, and down-to-earth: how important is your social identity to your professional identity?
LB: Very. One of my [former] bosses at Time Inc. was telling a reporter about me. He was like ‘Laura obviously knew how to put a magazine together but her presence on social media is why she got the job.”
[On Instagram], I’m just myself — a bit of Australian marsupials and a bit of me. I obviously have expertise in what I’m doing. I’ve been doing this for a while. I think I have a light hand with how I treat myself and other people on [social media]. You get “access” but it’s on a very human level. It’s not like “Here I am with this celebrity!” or a way to boost my ego.
I think a good example is when we did the shoot with Melissa McCarthy for our [February 2019 cover]. We just did improv all day and were laughing so hard! There are so many stupid little moments that I got with her and just having that spirit through my Instagram is what I love.
I’ve said to friends, even actor friends, who were very nervous about joining Instagram, “Instagram’s a magazine of your life” and when everyone goes on about print being dead, I’m like, “What’s Instagram? It’s a magazine. Guys, it’s all a goddamn magazine.” So, don’t fear it. The lighter hand everybody has with Instagram, the better off they’ll be - also hopefully people can start smelling bullshit when people just Instagram their free clothes.
JVB: What are some of your must-dos to stay on top of your game, professionally and personally?
LB: Murder! [Laughs]. Enthusiasm. You have to be happy to be there because it demands a lot of you, especially now. I didn’t become an Editor-in-Chief at the time it was wine and roses. Oh, to have had a minute as an EIC in the late 90s. (Laughs). You have to be excited and proud of your ideas, and gratified when people show up to help you execute them. When anybody turns up on set for something I thought up in the shower, I’m always like “Woah! And they flew here?!”
Never get over that naive enthusiasm. I also think you have to remember the joy of making things. You have to have something to show for yourself. You can’t just exist on the Internet alone. You can’t just be a selfie. I can muck around on Instagram all day but slap down a magazine once a month and say, I did this. That gives you pride and ownership. I think people are so concerned by all these perceived threats from everything else that they forget about the joys of making an image. An image that really stays with people or an interview, or a video. You have to keep loving what you are doing and if you are afraid or resentful that it’s not what it used to be, do something else. Because that sort of mood, it carries.
To be successful, you also have to manage your time well. You can’t fall into the old tropes of how this industry is. Like I don’t believe I have to go to a cocktail party to kiss the ring of an Italian executive to get him to buy a page in the magazine. I like these people and will meet them around the traps — that’s fine. But this is not 1958. InStyle also brings something to the table. Otherwise, why would they be with us? I think it’s important editors remember the value of what they are doing, rather than just trying to "take care" of everybody. We don’t just work for advertisers.
JVB: I couldn’t agree more. Relationships are such a big part of fashion but trying to keep up with everyone can be your downfall sometimes, professionally speaking. I’m always wondering about fashion shows and I would like to know your thinking on this — do you think fashion shows are going to keep existing as they are?
LB: I think it’s Darwinism as well. Paris? They’ve got to get it together. There’s no reason we have to be there for 10 days. It’s just because that’s the way it's always been.
JVB: They’ve added more days, actually!
LB: People have families. I think if you can do a show, make it a spectacle, and make it the most beautiful thing like a Valentino couture show, then do it. But if you got something to say that’s maybe not best presented in a fashion show then don’t feel like you should [do one]. I’m just get frustrated about wasted time and obligation in "fashion month," and that expectation of ‘Well, I’ve got to stay for that show.” Do you really, though? You don’t have to attend a fashion show to work with the brand. It’s nice to go and we all want to support each other but you don’t have to.
JVB: Exactly, that sentiment is still hanging in there but I feel like that’s slowly leaving.
LB: It’s not realistic. Not seeing your family for a few days because you’ve got to sit a seat for 45 minutes is very odd.
JVB: Since joining InStyle, what is your favorite issue and why?
LB: Sentimentally, it would be my first September issue. When I first got here, it was a wildly different magazine. I had to take it by its rear and kick it. It took a long time to make that turn. I think we’ve done it now, but it took a while. On my first September issue, we ran multiple covers and it was the first time I got to choose who wanted. I ended with 5 to 6 covers that were all wildly different people, all so happy to be there, and it was totally born from my enthusiasm.
I was also very touched by my first March issue because that was my first big cover and I was surprised by the people that showed up for me. [Valentino creative director) Piccioli and Christy Turlington did something for me. Michelle Dockery, an old friend of mine, also showed up for me. I'd never run a magazine before, and they didn’t know if I would necessarily do it right [but they supported me]. I remember with the March issue, I was flying to a shoot somewhere (if people were showing up for, then I was showing up for them). I was run ragged, but one PP and Christy sent me a picture from set and I started crying. I was so touched they had done that for me.
InStyle’s May 2019 issue will hit shelves April 19.