In 2014, Lanphear took the fashion industry by surprise when she was appointment as editor-in-chief of men’s magazine Maxim, a New York-based title that dominated the market for men’s magazines in the 1990s, and was synonymous with sexy, bare-it-all editorials. A recognisable street style star – with her sharply asymmetrical bob of white-blonde hair and androgynous style, and the former style director of Elle and T: The New York Times Style Magazine, Lanphear signalled a serious change of direction for the ‘lad’s mag,’ bringing a new style, sophistication and modern relevance to the magazine, replacing bikini shots with close up, candid portraits.
“It’s a challenge for any magazine to evolve in turn and stay relevant,” Lanphear told BoF. “With unprecedented access to information and more options than ever before, men are looking for sources they trust to help them navigate the changing landscape, and [one] that will help him curate a myriad of things he’s passionate about.”
In a brief statement on the Maxim site, she added, “I hope to cultivate and broaden Maxim’s coverage of style and culture.” In her bid to shed the title’s bawdy legacy and reinvigorate the magazine with a more intelligent mix of content, Lanphear brought in Aaron Gell, formerly deputy features editor at Business Insider, as Maxim’s editorial director. New bylines include those of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Rick Bragg, Rolling Stone writer Jenny Eliscu, novelist Andre Dubus II and New York Magazine columnist Maureen O’Connor. Her first official issue, published in March 2015, featured a closely-cropped, make-up free portrait of Victoria’s Secret model Candice Swanepoel. Other cover stars have included Taylor Swift and Lily Aldridge, all shot from the shoulders up.
Born in the rural, conservative American South, far away from a cosmopolitan New York where she is now based, Lanphear harboured an early interest in fashion and styling through magazines, which she started to collect as a young age. After earning a degree in journalism, she moved to London, where a youth revolution had taken hold, with bold new publications like The Face and i-D, challenging and subverting fashion media.
From there, Lanphear relocated to Sydney and eventually landed at Australian Vogue and then Harper’s Bazaar, where she became a ‘jack of all trades’ at the then-fledgling publications. “The staff were so small that if you put your hand up you were allowed to do anything. You’re allowed to execute your own ideas, because it’s so small,” she told BoF in 2011.
After moving back to the United States, Lanphear worked at Harper’s Bazaar before becoming senior fashion editor at Elle magazine, which under her direction introduced a moodier, edgier aesthetic. In early 2013, she was named style director of The New York Times’ T magazine.
Her signature look is the clean, casual but edgy ensemble of skinny jeans, sweatshirts, plaid, and leather motorcycle jackets. Lanphear has earned a cult following for her ‘too cool for school’ minimalism.