InStyle Editor Laura Brown Talks Hollywood, Fashion, and Politics

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InStyle is turning 25 years young — and editor-in-chief Laura Brown is celebrating by featuring amazing women like Jessica Alba, Jennifer Garner, Kerry Washington, cover star Julianne Moore and, of course, Jennifer Aniston (who she’s hanging out with in the pic above!). We recently chatted with Laura — who happens to have one of our favorite Instagram accounts — to get the inside scoop on the magazine’s 25th anniversary issue. Read on!

In every interview you do, whether it’s print or video, it seems like you’re BFFs with the person you’re talking to. How do you build that level of intimacy?
People that you work with or meet repeatedly, you develop trust or currency with. There are women that I became friendly with right away, and some I didn’t. I don’t run around chasing actress friends. There are plenty of actresses in the world, and I only want to hang out with the cool ones! When I do a bunch of covers with someone, like Jen Aniston or Drew Barrymore, they know me, and they know where I’m coming from. 

When I started at InStyle, I already had relationships with a lot of the women we wanted to feature. There was already a trust there. But I should add, I don’t think that’s at the expense of the reader. It’s not an indulgent trust, like “Ohhh she’s so pretty and perfect and she eats burgers and wow her skin is sooo great.” I think I come at all of these women from a human angle, because they are human. They’re in a particular circumstance, and it’s not one that I really envy. Sure they get sent free stuff and they can get a good table at a restaurant, but they get followed around everyday. If you’re capable of portraying these shiny ladies in a human way, then it’s a relief for everybody. 

Right before we got on the phone, I was watching an old interview you did with Karl Lagerfeld.
Hah! I was freaking out before that interview! Because he was brilliant. And I was like, “Is he going to think I’m an idiot?” I remember I was in the car on the way there, and I was sort of hyperventilating. The sweet French driver turned around and he was like “Ms Brown, are you in stress?” And I said, “Yes Guillaume!! I am in stress!” I was just so nervous that this brilliant man was going to think I was an idiot. But when I finally got there and I met him… we just clicked. I think it’s because I respect people, but I’m not reverential. And I think that makes all the difference. And that interview is very indicative of that. I just came into it like, “Yeah you’re Karl Lagerfeld, but you’re also a guy!” He wasn’t full of shit, he wasn’t indulgent, and he was smart. So if you just showed up with a sense of humor and a brain, he was into it. 

I think you need to have a good sense of yourself going into these things. Like, I’m from Australia. My dad was a farmer. I don’t subscribe to a lot of this behavior in the fashion and celebrity world, because it’s kind of BS. If you don’t subscribe to that, and you’ve got a spine, I think people respect that. It allows you to cut through a lot of this obligatory, preeny, carrying on. 

Fashion and Hollywood are becoming increasingly political, and you’ve made InStyle much more politically and socially driven since you got there. Why was that important to you?
I think it’s very simple- it’s about being on the right side of history. It’s about doing the right thing. And we’ve been put in a position since the election of watching these inhumane situations, and you just can’t do nothing.  I can’t live in a vacuum, and just go “oh here’s some actress’s new couch! And doesn’t she look chic on it!” Without also being aware of what’s going on in the world and who’s contributing to it. But I believe that a lighter hand has more power than a shaking fist. You can’t be screaming all day- it’s futile, it’s exhausting, and it’s bad for your health. It’s negative. So I normally approach issues from the angle of women. Of badass women. Like, who is making positive contributions to this issue? When all of the immigration stuff came up, I was like okay let’s profile five women at RAICES in Texas, so we did that. Women that are doing really good work, and who are on the right side of things. Be it gun control, be it immigration, be it #MeToo or #TimesUp. We focus on great, decent, smart, badass women. You can’t just go “F Trump” all day, because that’s futile. You have to be more pragmatic than that, you have to be more positive. 

InStyle is celebrating its 25th anniversary this month- congratulations! How did you pull off this anniversary issue, which features not one, not two, but fifteen Hollywood superstars?
I really wanted to feature former cover stars, and my team was like well, we can try to get quotes. And I was like, I don’t want quotes! They’re going to show up! So, lovingly, I wrote a note that was equal parts compelling, humble, and a little bit like “well… we gave you eight covers.” And everybody who showed up acknowledged that yes, they were doing something for InStyle, but InStyle did something for them too! So fifteen ladies showed up, which was absolutely magnificent. 

And then for the cover… I don’t shoot any woman for InStyle who I don’t respect. I never shoot someone just because they have a huge instagram following or whatever. It’s not who you’re going to draw in for a particular issue, it’s about who your reader is, period. And so I kept coming back to Julianne. She is a fantastic person. She’s absolutely brilliant, she’s a proper advocate- she’s really in it, not just lip service. I’ve never seen a greater actor. She’s so fun. She adores her family. And she’s not a kid. So I texted her. I had the concept before I had the woman- the cover story needs to be “looks of the 90’s.” Because it’s 25 years since then, and  90’s fashion is what got a lot of us into the industry in the first place. And Julianne is up for stuff. She’s up for a concept, she’s not going to complain that she needs her hair a certain way or whatever. She’s adventurous. I think that’s what served her so well as an actor. So I knew that she would get it. And she did it. And it was magnificent.

The edition also features supermodels Amber Valletta, Joan Smalls and Karen Elson modeling 25 iconic red carpet dresses. When you were preparing for these shoots, was there a dress you wanted to try on?
Oh they wouldn’t have fit me! Everyone was losing their minds over that Rihanna dress. They were all dying for that. But I appreciate the dresses on the original woman. So no, not really! Is that weird? If I’m in the closet at work, which is rare because I’m so busy, I’m always trying on stupid things. I’m always like, “what is this helmet!” So I do that, rather than the pretty stuff. For me, it’s more fulfilling to capture those beautiful things in an image, rather than to put them on my body. 

Thank you so much Laura, and congratulations again! The 25th anniversary edition of InStyle is in stores this week. 

This interview appeared in Katie Couric’s Wake-Up Call newsletter. Subscribe here.