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An Interview with Laura Brown

Even though I'm probably a bit younger than their average reader, InStyle is one of my absolute favorite magazines. I especially admire how InStyle shifted after the 2016 election. It always had undertones of female empowerment, but this new direction put that sentiment at the forefront. The publication became more relevant to the times, more politically aware. Of course, there was all the usual excitement over celebrity fashion choices, but the reporting was never condescending or degrading. They widened the scope of their content, because it's possible to care about the latest makeup trends and the political climate.

The person largely responsible for these changes is Laura Brown, editor-in-chief of InStyle since 2016. I'd never met Laura prior to this interview, but I'd heard that she was one of the kindest and most charismatic people in fashion. Her reputation precedes her. She had a relatively relaxed day at the office, saw my interview request in her inbox, and chose to spend her precious minutes of free time answering questions from a nervous, overzealous teen. That's the kind of person she is. She is not just admirable for her skills as an editor but also for her generous personality. And yes, she's as funny as I'd expected.

I could actually feel the glamour (heightened by her Aussie accent) radiating through the phone as I conducted the interview. But not that sort of aloof, untouchable, Devil Wears Prada glamour. She's warmly glamorous, or perhaps glamorously warm. Like the publication she runs, in her own words, she is "capable of more than one thing." She's business-savvy, and intelligent and creative in addition to being incredibly stylish. She was teeming with stories and engrossing advice, from how to be humble to why you should invest in a pair of koala slippers. She tells me that if I'm ever in New York, I should stop by the InStyle offices and she'll give me some lip gloss, which is an offer I will most certainly take her up on.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

You know what's funny, I'm so pragmatic I'm always like, "But I'm not my younger self." When you're young, you do what you do when you're young. You can't second guess it. As you mature, obviously, you have more experiences and get to know yourself better. But I actually wouldn't tell my younger self what to do, because how would you learn if you're not making mistakes and being silly and having bad judgement? That's what being young is. I don't think you need to subscribe to any rule book, because that's not the point. You can start taking advice and being practical later. Enjoy it while you can, kid.

What work are you most proud?

At InStyle, what we've been able to do is focus on really incredible women of all different types, whether they are an actress or an astronaut or anything in the middle. And we treat them all equally and like the incredible women that they are. We're not snobby about it. It's not like you read InStyle and feel sad or like you don't have the right body or boyfriend or garden. I really hate being made to feel like that, so I'm proud of the good feeling that comes from reading this magazine. I particularly love what we do with Badass Women. When we first started people were like, "Badass? The word ASS? You're going to say that?" and I was like "Yeah!" You gotta have passion about what you feel and not second guess yourself. In the two or so years that we've done that, it's grown a lot. Women really love it. We have a network of women we work with who get to meet each other. More than anything, I love being able to introduce great women to each other and see what comes of that. I think that's the most fulfilling thing of all.

How would you describe InStyle readers?

I've been here for three years and I think they've changed. Before I got here it was a lot quieter, a bit more sedated, a bit more like a catalog. The traditional InStyle reader is about my age, 45 or 46. I think when I took over I had to make it more part of the times. I started my job, and three months later Donald Trump was elected, so you can't ignore that. You can't just live in a vacuum of "Here's a celebrity at home in her evening gown." We can still have that glamour, but it just can't be like that. I think the women that read us now are really involved in the world, women who work, who love a good shoe, who can read the news and wear lipstick, because we are capable of more than one thing at any given time.

What do you think is the most important skill for a young journalist to develop?

Curiosity. I think this word is a bit of a cliche, but humility, by which I mean just doing the work. I think a lot of kids coming up these days expect a lot to be given to them because of social media, but you actually have to do the work. You have to do the reporting, transcribe it, and write the story, because that's how you do it. You have to be curious, and show up. When you're figuring out what you want to do with your career, you have to listen to your inner eight year old boy, which is asking questions like, "What makes me feel good? What makes me feel bad?" You just keep following the things that make you feel good. If you go see a movie that really inspires you, or you go to a fashion show or an art exhibit or you meet someone who is really incredible-- that's what feeds you. You can't really have a master plan for it. You can kind of surf. You need to have that curiosity that never goes away, that feeling of getting out of bed and thinking "What's going on?" And you have to be kind. Don't think that one thing will get you out there. It's about being diligent.

What's been the most transformative experience of your life?

I moved to New York one week before September 11th. A lot of Australians were leaving and going home, and I was like, "Well I'm here now." I felt very much like I was supposed to be here and that this was my life now. I'm from Sydney, and it's very beautiful, and it's like, you could just hang out in Sydney. But I didn't do that. The fact that I stayed here led me down so many roads I wouldn't have been on if I had gone back home. I'm a big advocate of getting on a plane and exploring, whether you go live someplace else for two years, or backpack across Europe for 6 months. You gotta see what's out there.

In your opinion, what makes a good pitch?

I don't respond to blind pitch emails ever. I don't think anyone does really. That's why interning is really important, because you can get into the environment you want to be in. What makes a good pitch is something that's reactive to the culture or something that's just happened. For example, Jane Fonda is getting arrested to protest climate change right now, so someone asking if we could follow Jane Fonda around for a day, that's great because it's current. I do believe that for young writers, it's about having your own forum and cultivating that, and then getting yourself in the doors of bigger places. You have to really understand the site that you're pitching. It has to be in your DNA. Pay attention and physically get yourself in the door.

Using a metaphor, how would you describe your creative process?

Let me use a verb: lurching. I just lurch from one thing to another. Sometimes I'll be with someone, and I'll be like, "Oh my god, we should do this!" I don't really go into it knowing that it'll be an ask, but while I'm having an experience with somebody, something goes off in my head, and I think, "that's what would be great." I don't go out all the time because I get tired, but meeting people and seeing how they interact with the culture, then the ideas come from there. I can't stare at a piece of paper and come up with something. But I can get ideas from something as simple as a headline. Taking things in culture and twisting them a bit, or referencing something, I really like doing that. But yes, I do tend to lurch. Luckily, I'm not sitting there going, "Where are the ideas?" They're still coming. I always have all the headlines; my staff hasn't had to give me a headline in years.

What's the most challenging part of your job?

Keeping up my energy. What has changed about being an editor is you're not just an editor, you're also a host. I have to host a lot of things. I have to go meet advertisers. I have to go to all these fashion shows. I have to travel a ton. I have a lot of energy, but it's not infinite, and that's the most challenging part. The work, once you've been doing it a while and you have equity with people, is not really a problem. When I get home, sometimes I just put my koala slippers on and look at the wall and stare. I highly recommend koala slippers for everybody. It's like putting your feet into a koala, it's very soothing.

What's the most rewarding part?

The people I get to meet and work with and the people who believe in my ideas and me enough to show up for me. I never get tired of that. People having enough faith in you to show up and make something that you were thinking about while you couldn't sleep is the best.


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