NEW YORK, United States — “It’s amazing how much I talk about the memo I wrote for the job,” said InStyle editor-in-chief Laura Brown, sitting in her office and surveying a wall covered with small-scale reproductions of every page in the March edition. Brown joined InStyle from Harper's Bazaar at the end of August and the issue — the first under her complete control — features Emily Ratajkowski on a cover born from an idea she pitched before she was hired.
The model-actress wears a white t-shirt, emblazoned with the words “In” on the front and “Style” on the back, designed at Brown’s request by Off White designer Virgil Abloh. It’s a cover unlike any the magazine has done before and reflects her fascination with the power of the two words as something of a mantra for the title.
“They are exceptionally powerful words,” said Brown. “I don’t want a magazine to alienate people or preach to people. I want it to be cool and interesting and fashionable and funny and engaging and clever… but I want somebody to be like: ‘That t-shirt looks cool and I love it.’”
Brown’s collaboration with Abloh is indicative of her close relationships with tastemakers throughout fashion and Hollywood. When Brown asks her friends to contribute, they show up. Take, for example, an editorial starring Valentino’s new sole creative director, Pierpaolo Piccioli, and the brand’s current campaign star Christy Turlington. Both are longtime friends of Brown, who first introduced them to each other. The issue also includes an essay written by Lena Dunham about red carpet dressing, an idea born over dinner with Brown. Hari Nef wrote another piece about fashion as self care that came out of a text exchange with the editor after the election.
Elsewhere in the issue, models such as Linda Evangelista, Karlie Kloss, Doutzen Kroes and Liya Kebede; photographers such as Ralph Gibson, Carter Smith and Jason Schmidt; writers and editors such as Joan Juliet Buck, Caroline de Maigret and Leandra Medine; actresses such as Rowan Blanchard, Queen Latifah, Tracee Ellis Ross and Allison Williams; and designers such as Rosetta Getty and Jonathan Saunders cover the pages, with images or bylines. It’s no wonder, then, that Brown thanks 53 people on the issue’s contributor’s page.
I have to do what I think is interesting and fun and open. I don’t have a formula, but I trust my gut.
“I’m trying to do a snapshot of where we’re all at: who we’re looking at on Instagram, who we’re watching on PBS, who we’re listening to or who’s coming up,” said Brown. “For every Jennifer Aniston, there’s a Gigi Hadid.” The combined social media following of everyone featured in the issue is 435 million. One of the biggest contributors to that count is Lily Collins, who guest-edited “Style In” — a mini-magazine that comes inside InStyle and caters to a younger audience — though her influence can be seen across the March issue.
But will the approach alienate InStyle’s core readership? “Every change — there are people that are up for it and not so up for it. I have to do what I think is interesting and fun and open, and that’s done okay for me so far,” said Brown. “I don’t have a formula, but [I trust] my gut.”
Brown’s instincts will be put to the test as InStyle — like many magazine brands — struggles with declining print advertising revenues. Time Inc, which owns the title, has been revamping its advertising strategy over the past year and recently installed Kevin Martinez as InStyle’s dedicated vice president of sales. New print advertisers for the magazine’s March issue include Celine, Bottega Veneta and HBO.
“In print, we have to provide something beautiful and interesting to make it worth it. Otherwise you can just look on your iPhone,” said Brown. “I see the print and the digital as two halves of the pie… Every story lives beyond the page.” InStyle has attracted record-breaking traffic to its website since Ruthie Friedlander came on as site director in October, reaching 8.2 million in December, according to ComScore. The website has also absorbed some of the print edition’s more serviceable franchises, such as “Instant Style” and city guides. A redesigned site will launch alongside the March issue. And, in addition to Friedlander, Brown has hired Jessie Heyman to beef up online essays as digital features director, as well as Sarah Cristobal to finesse the tone across the title as executive features director.
“At the moment, I read every single page,” said Brown, calling the pace unsustainable but necessary as she charts a forceful new course for InStyle. “I said to my staff, ‘You can have ideas later.’ I just came in [like] out of a cannon.”