About 10 months ago, Laura Brown donned an emerald green suit and walked into an East Village art gallery, where two rows of benches lined the walls of a square room with high ceilings. She took her place in the front row.
It could have been a scene in what Ms. Brown calls a “BFM” or “bad fashion movie” — a phrase she began using a few years ago to describe the fashion editor archetype: elitist, egomaniacal, and downright “Devil wears Prada” – ish. A day earlier, publisher Dotdash Meredith announced that Ms Brown’s job as editor-in-chief of InStyle magazine had been cut.
In her “BFM” the scene would have played out like this: A fallen editor makes her first public appearance at a fashion show and strides as steely as ever into a cave of whispers and side eyes.
Except that Ms. Brown was there the furthest a mainstream fashion editor might get Miranda Priestly’s ilk. She didn’t show up that day with sunglasses and a cool grin. She sported beachy waves and a cheeky smile. She hugged some of those seated next to her and made them laugh between looks.
When people asked about InStyle, she didn’t say, “I left,” which fashion people often say after being fired, Ms. Brown said. She had no interest in “going away for a while, eh collect me and then announce my next thing.”
She also knew that “the power of magazines isn’t what it used to be.” Many years ago, social media leveled the playing field in fashion; In the front row today, top editors are usually seated between Instagram personalities and famous friends of the brand. In this case, Ms. Brown was all three at once.
“I knew how much equity I had earned,” said Ms Brown, who is 48 and deeply Australian, while having lunch at deeply Parisian restaurant Le Voltaire last month. “My worth didn’t depend on being the editor-in-chief of InStyle.”
“A nice lady eating spaghetti”
But, oh, what power these fashion magazines once held. Raised in Sydney by a single mother, Ms. Brown waited tables at a seafood restaurant as a teenager, where she learned to joke about tips with adults. Without the internet, reading magazines felt like a “stepping stone” into other people’s worlds, she said. Working for magazines was all she ever wanted.
At 27, she moved to New York, a week before 9/11, 2001. That was still the age of the imperial editor, although budgets were already shrinking. Ms. Brown had only been working at Talk magazine for a few weeks when she learned that the magazine was shutting down in the midst of production on a young Hollywood photo shoot of Melvin Sokolsky. (The concept was oiled actors hatching from eggs.)
After brief stints at W and Details, Ms. Brown joined Harper’s Bazaar in 2005. The magazine’s editor at the time, Glenda Bailey, favored theatrical photography, such as Rihanna lolling in a shark’s mouth, which she called “coups.” One of Ms. Brown’s early “coups” was sending “The Simpsons” starring Linda Evangelista to Paris (more than a decade before Balenciaga created his own “Simpsons” Take Paris episode).
Bazaar is also where Ms. Brown began befriending some very famous women. “I distinctly remember a cheeseboard with sweaty cheese,” Jennifer Aniston wrote in an email, describing her first interview with Ms. Brown at the Beverly Hills Hotel. (Ms. Brown later elaborated, “That bundle of Brie was getting sweatier and sweatier, about as sweaty as me. We just ignored it the whole time.” There was another elephant in the room: Ms. Aniston’s recent breakup with Brad Pitt: “I remember saying to her, ‘That sucks.'”)
Ms. Brown’s intense enthusiasm somehow calmed these women down, shifted the focus away from them, and made them feel less alienated. Michelle Pfeiffer said she met Ms Brown while promoting a fragrance and carrying samples to the editorial offices in a Ziploc bag: “Laura hopped on the couch like an 8-year-old and immediately allayed any nervousness I had would have.”
Kiernan Shipka met Ms. Brown when she was 12 while Harper’s Bazaar was filming a tour of the Mad Men actress’ high-end closet. “I’m getting ready in my bathroom and the brightest energy is rushing through the door right now,” recalled Ms. Shipka, now 23. Last month they found themselves at a restaurant sipping champagne and dancing on the booths to Whitney Houston. “There’s no pressure to perform around her,” Ms. Shipka said.
Making friends with these women wasn’t difficult, Ms. Brown said. She wanted them to feel welcome; in turn, they saw them as a rarity in fashion. “A nice lady eating spaghetti,” said Ms. Brown. She wasn’t one of the “pointy people,” another term she uses for a certain type of fashion person: exclusionary, intimidating, obsessed with hitting a “fancy sandwich card” (and, as she put it, clothes with to wear pointed shoulders). ).
“‘I wear that, so I’m fancy,'” said Ms. Brown, whose own uniform tends toward floral tops and high-waisted, wide-leg jeans. “‘I’ve got this body, so I’m fancy. I was invited to this party, so I’m fancy.” That’s not very imaginative.”
“When I was younger, I always thought everyone in the New York fashion world was on some kind of superhighway. More connected, more glamorous and smarter than me. And then you walk into the room and you’re like, ‘Oh’” — and here she’s practically cackling — “’that’s not Mensa’.”
About Non-Chucking Wobblies
Ms. Brown was appointed editor of InStyle in 2016 after 11 years at Harper’s Bazaar. Her first cover was Emily Ratajkowski, wearing a Virgil Abloh-designed white t-shirt with “In” printed on the front and “Style” printed on the back. The message read: “Everyone is invited to the party,” Ms Brown said. Even if this party takes on end-of-the-world vibes like in 2020.
But the chaos of the pandemic and racist reckoning spurred on Ms Brown, who has tended to cover the work of activists (and friends) like Me Too International’s Tarana Burke and Black Lives Matter’s Ayọ Tometi.
Travel restrictions meant that instead of attending fashion weeks or promotional trips, “you could get back to journalism yourself,” said Ms Brown, who is Dr. Anthony Fauci, Stacey Abrams and Deb Haaland made the covers of InStyle (both print and digital). in 2020 and 2021. (When The New York Times polled nine of the industry’s most influential fashion magazines about their racial representation, InStyle was the only publication willing to answer questions.)
But in November 2021, InStyle’s ownership changed when the company acquired Dotdash Meredith. Two months later, InStyle’s print publication ceased – along with Entertainment Weekly and others – and Ms. Brown was fired.
While worrying about younger people on her team, Ms. Brown felt relatively “satisfied,” she said. She didn’t “do a wiggle,” which appears to be an Australian term for “freak out.” (She also had a wedding to plan: In April, she wed in Hawaii to a 31-year-old writer named Brandon Borror-Chappell, whom she met as a waiter at the Sunset Tower Hotel, in front of a whole crowd of famous friends, while he was wearing a strapless, custom Valentino – wears a toffee-pink dress.)
“So maybe I’ll get fewer handbags mailed to me,” Ms. Brown said before suddenly turning serious. “Once you’ve earned your spurs and done the work, you take it with you. You don’t just fly into space.”
To a certain extent, she was also prepared. Two years earlier, she decided to register a company, Laura Brown Media, and ponder her next steps.
Those moves are clearer today: Ms. Brown will release a podcast called “So Seen” in early 2023, made with SeeHer (Ms. Brown consults or sits on the boards of several non-profit organizations, including this one dedicated to representing women in marketing and media). She is executive producing a film about the fashion world with Bruna Papandrea, a producer of HBO’s The Undoing and Big Little Lies. She advises luxury brands. She is working on a collaboration with the French brand Sezane.
At a dinner celebrating this collaboration in October, Ms. Brown slipped into her usual roles of hostess and jester, performing funny little dances and quickly introducing herself. (Laura Dern calls Ms. Brown “the big connection.”) There’s not a conversation anyone breaks up around Laura Brown that she doesn’t say, “You know who you are to need to know?'”)
Sezane had rented a TriBeCa apartment for the candlelit dinner and stocked a wall-sized bookshelf with dozens of new sweaters, which were offered to each guest towards the end of the evening. At first, the actresses and supermodels and stylists were reluctant. But once Ms. Brown started hurling the knitwear at people like a human T-shirt pistol, all pretense was dropped. Women stacked sweaters in their arms. Nobody was overly cool about it. And there was something very Laura Brown about that.
“I’ve always had a good sense of which fashion worlds I wanted to be in and which I didn’t want to be in,” she said. “I’m not so interested in the pointed ones. I like color and creativity and generosity and warmth.”