You know those people who immediately bring a smile to your face? The ones who walk into a room and everything they touch seems immediately brighter and more exhilarating? Human gems like those are incredibly rare and, once encountered, it’s worth taking note. Laura Brown, Editor in Chief of InStyle Magazine, heartfelt activist, Instagram storyteller, and voice of fashionable reason to women across the world, is one of those gems. We launched The Finer Points to share the knowledge we’ve picked up from powerhouses like Laura, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to present you with today’s interview. We dished on everything from Badass Women (an InStyle initiative turned Apple radio series) to work-life balance and Laura’s no-asshole hiring policy. Scroll on and prepare to be dazzled (not to be confused with bedazzled, although we imagine Laura would applaud and say, “Go on with your bad self.”)
Marie Flanigan: I am so thrilled to be connecting with you today! Our goal here is to highlight people who are paving the way for style across all industries and we can’t thank you enough for joining us on The Finer Points.
Laura Brown: Aw, thanks guys!
MF: I’d love to kick things off with your personal story and your journey to InStyle. Have you always gravitated towards fashion and journalism?
LB: I was rather a one-note child. I was so intrigued by the creativity, fashion and culture that was all a world away from where I was brought up in Sydney. So, I ended up mythologizing it all the more and I wanted to do everything I could to get my little butt in the mix of it. And now my butt’s in it!
MF: And your butt looks good there!
LB: It’s growing but hey, what are you gonna’ do?
MF: How do you feel about being the first Australian to run a New York fashion magazine?
LB: It’s so funny! I kinda’ forget that fact because I’ve been in the city for almost 17 years. When you come here in the first place, you have this mythology of New York. You think everybody’s gotta’ be smarter, more glamorous, more connected, more chic, more everything than me. Then you get into the industry and, while you’re surrounded by these amazing, amazing people that I’m privileged to work with, they’re all just people. And it can help to be Australian in those situations because it’s sort of two strokes: Australians are, in one way, really happy to be here and that enthusiasm helps us, but we’re also relatively down-to-earth folks. We don’t really buy into all the bullshit. That helps me a lot in fashion and it may have also occasionally been a challenge in that area. You know, annually…
MF: I could definitely see that! Managing such a strongly creative team, what can you say about your leadership style?
LB: I actually just stole a donut from one of my staff’s children at the front desk…he didn’t cry though. So there’s that! No, my leadership style is pretty easygoing, very easygoing really, but there’s also an understanding that everybody’s here to do the work. And if you do the work and equip yourself well with the work, we can skip on rainbows every day! We all respect each other, we’re all kinda’ hungry, and we all want this brand to do well. And we like each other a lot.
LB: I also have a no-asshole hiring policy. When I hire a new team member, I say “Welcome to the island. It’s an island here. A colony of nice, productive, non-dramatic, effective people.” SO, if everybody does the work as I do and we all work really hard, I’m the dreamiest, even when there’s a drama. I don’t like confrontation much and I don’t like drama at all, so I work hard to build up a strong and supportive environment.
LB: We actually closed my first September issue a week early and I was like, “Hey, we didn’t have any drama…” I knew there was supposed to be more drama than this because I’ve worked in places that have been way more dramatic. And then I realized, there’s no drama because I’m the boss and I didn’t make any!
MF: Sounds like the tone you’re setting is working! So, what does your typical day look like?
LB: Oh, God! There are two different stripes to my day. If I’m in New York, I’m in the office as much as I can be. For my first year and a bit, I was running around meeting advertisers. I still do that but now they know me, so I don’t have to go courting as much as I used to. When I’m in the office, it’s like running a deli. Someone’s popping in every 30 seconds and at some point I’m like, “Can I please go to the bathroom?” Sometimes I get physically blocked going down the hallway because someone needs an approval!
LB: When I’m not here, I’m literally on a plane. I’m in Paris, or LA, or London, all different places. I’ve actually been back in New York for about a month because I got pretty burnt out from a bunch of traveling, so I made a decision to stay put for awhile. But I’m off again soon to France and Paris for couture. Once I’m there, I’m racing around trying to book 10 meetings a day, going to shows, seeing designers, going to ooh and ahh over someone’s new jewelry collection, then going to dinner at 9 ‘o clock at night, and then repeating it all again. It’s tiring but it’s great!
MF: Between the office, events, and travel, are there any tips you can offer for work-life balance?
LB: SLEEP! Professionally, I’m like Icarus. I burn bright and then fall out of the sky. You KNOW I’m there, I’m all in, and then I’m like, “I’ve just died.” I’ve got to have 8 hours on the clock by the time I go to bed or I panic. I make sure to get fully charged all of the time, so that’s the most important part for me. I also like a glass of wine. I always say, “Alcoholic or French? French!”
LB: Another note about work-life balance is that I love my work and I love the people I meet. They contribute to my life. And they contribute to my lifestyle. They’re creative, wonderful people and a lot of my best girlfriends are in this business. I can visit an art exhibition or look through a magazine and it feeds my work. I don’t work at Goldman Sachs where I’ve made a bunch of money but hated it. I made the conscious choice to have my work be my lifestyle.
MF: So beautifully said. On that note, got any advice for your younger self?
LB: Calm. Down! I would also say that for my older self. I will tell myself that in 20 years. Can you remind me? Send me a calendar invite for 2038 and say, “Laura, CALM DOWN.”
MF: More than happy to oblige! It sounds like you’ve surrounded yourself with some amazing colleagues and role models. Are there any mentors who have significantly impacted you and how are you paying that forward?LB: The mentor question is weird for me because I’m an only child and I’ve always been a bit of a self-propelled engine. Certainly, Glenda Bailey who was my boss at Harper’s Bazaar for 11 years. I call her Tenacious G because she doesn’t take no for an answer and I actually do take no for an answer. We have different styles, but she taught me not to settle and I give her props for that.
LB: Today, I very much gravitate towards younger people, actors, and models – I think I’m a bit of an Aunty to a lot of them actually. A lot of the people I meet are well-known and, being a 14-year-old girl who’s gotta’ deal with being watched all of the time, plus being a teenager, is hard. There’s nothing to envy about that situation and I always say to people “envy no one.” I’m conscious of monitoring the fragility of the people that I meet in this business and taking care of them. This business doesn’t do that sometimes, so I try to do it double.
MF: Are there 3 – 5 elements that you believe make InStyle such a powerful resource for women worldwide?
LB: The first thing is the title – InStyle. When I started here, I was like, “Well, we’ve got the best titled magazine because everybody is in it. Everybody has style.” The idea is that every woman is enough. Every woman has something that distinguishes her. And I’m not going to tell them they’ve all gotta’ wear these shoes or you’ve all gotta be this weight or you’ve all gotta’ have this house. I like shoes! You wanna’ buy these shoes? Cool! You wanna’ read about this lady I admire? Great! The whole message of InStyle is that you are enough. And I will bring you women that you might admire or think are shiny in a more human context, and I’ve dedicated an entire issue to that.
LB: We just broke our Badass Women issue which is to spotlight women who are really doing great things and to encourage people to follow them, because I think we need these sort of women in our culture now more than ever. I’ve dedicated an entire issue to them so I’m doubling down on that going forward. I’m trying to take care of the ladies, inspire the ladies, and spread the word!
MF: I love that! Any women in particular that you’re really excited to be highlighting?
LB: Obviously, Serena [Williams] is on the cover and she’s the most major. She’s the only person I thought of for the issue. We’ve been friends for 8 – 10 years but we went a long time without seeing each other. She went and had a baby and now she’s working out how to be a mother within the life of being a champion and that’s fascinating. She’s doing an incredible job of it and she’s a lovely, goofy, funny girl! Also Monica Lewinsky. I am a huge admirer of Monica. If those things had happened to her this year, she would have been somehow cushioned by the Times Up and Me Too movements. But, over twenty years ago, she was dragged and has spent her whole life recovering from that; using what she learned to help other women. I have the greatest respect for her and I’m her biggest advocate.
LB: In that same vein, Aly Raisman, the gymnast who spoke up to that freak doctor on behalf of herself and all of her girls. She’s a spunky one who is really going to go far. I love her. And Helena Christensen wandered around the streets of New York in a swim suit because I asked her to! I want to get behind women who’ve spoken up but who do it in a warm, celebratory way without too much shaking of the fists. It’s all different ladies and the mix is really great which happened organically. And we’ll be doing much more! Our radio series on Beats 1 kicked off July 9 and a Badass Women video series which will highlight 12 women. So, it’s a big deal for InStyle and the entire company. I’m so proud that this caught on as much as it did…and also that I get to say ASS for work all the time!
MF: What a powerful message to be sending women – such a breath of fresh air! We can’t wait to catch up on those, but for a stream of daily inspo, we have so much fun following you on Instagram! Have any tips for Instagrammers who may be reading this?
LB: Be yourself! I always say Instagram is the magazine of your life and you are the editor. Don’t make it a world of lies. Don’t make it what you feel that you SHOULD be posting. It’s yours to play with and it’s a privilege to have. So, enjoy it and communicate what you want but don’t get lost in some idea of what you’re supposed to be. Because people can see right through it, I promise you.MF: Amen! Before we go, what’s on the horizon for you and for InStyle?
LB: Our September issue – it’s coming out in about a month and we have multiple covers for that with all different women! The Badass Women series is coming out and then we start events in the fall. We have our party in Toronto, InStyle Awards in October, and I just end up hosting parties for about 4 months. After the 75th party I’m hiding behind a plant. So, that’s life. We’re on the up and up, ladies!
On the up and up, indeed, dear readers! We hope today’s installment of The Finer Points has you feeling just as inspired as we do. Laura’s title may not be Life Coach, but she’s certainly reminded this office full of women to keep it badass. We’re off to continue chasing those dreams and living with all of the strength, integrity, and purpose we can muster. How ’bout you?
OH! Before we go, we couldn’t possibly let Laura jet off without asking which of the industry’s finest are topping her current list of faves. Enjoy!