In order to interview and photograph Instyle’s new editor-in-chief, Laura Brown, we had to attempt to temporarily forget she’s our favorite person on the planet. We had to convince ourselves that rather than carrying out our usual routine of cackling in hysterics over carbonara and red wine at Barbuto with Brown, we’d need to hunker down, focus, and talk seriously about food and fashion: We tried and failed.
It’s impossible not to have fun adventures with Laura Brown: She’s kind of like a chic, gorgeous Mary Poppins in that sense. Us potatoheads have been Brown’s personal laugh track for years, and to us (and everyone else) it’s no secret she’s a young Diana Vreeland. We continue to be excited about what she’ll do, and we finally sat down at the source – Barbuto (where we shot our very first video, starring Brown) – to chat on all things food, fashion and the modern day celebrity…
From start to finish, what would be your ideal food day?
An ideal food day starts with a delicious breakfast wrap with egg, cheese, bacon and pico de gallo – some sort of Mexican breakfast.
Lunch would be a really delicious salmon, brown rice, kale salad combo. I mix all of that together like a kid. I love chicken with rice and salad – or fish with rice and salad. I could eat it every day of my life. At work, we get this rice and salad from Blue Ribbon, minus the tuna poke. Then we get the grilled chicken from Dos Toros, and shake it up with the rice and salad from Blue Ribbon. It’s got this little spicy sauce and Japanese vinigarette; it’s really good.
Dinner would be the carbonara at Barbuto, obviously, and about five glasses of red wine with a generous pour. Well, not five, but it would be ideally, if I could live through it. It would be an early bird’s special, at five or six thirty, so I could go home quite merry but at nine o’clock because I have a job.
What are your morning and nightly beauty regimens?
In the morning, I wash my face with iS Clinical cleanser; my facialist Shani Darden recommended it to me, and Shani was recommended to me by Rosie Huntington-Whitely and Jessica Alba, so I thought, ‘That will do!’ I wash my face with that, and then I put on a serum from iS Clinical. I do an eye cream called Youth by iS Clinical, and I use a Caudalie Day Cream that is really nice; it smells like grass.
At night, I take off my makeup with micellar wipes from Trader Joe’s, if I remember to, otherwise I just shove my face in the shower. I use the same cleanser as the morning, and then I do Shani Darden’s retinol reform. It really helps with dark spots as you get older. I put that on and then do Lancome eye cream, which is very rich. I do a reverse panda; I put white around my eyes and make it very thick and just leave it there. Then I do a mixture of nightcreams; I whore around with my night cream. If I can be greasy, I put on SK-II otherwise I’ll do Charlotte Tilbury’s.
How was food a part of your life throughout your childhood?
I’m a farmer’s daughter, which not a lot of people know. It was always meat and three vegetables growing up. The “meat and three veg” mentality is something that I have with everything I eat, even now. I don’t angst about food. For myself and being healthy, it’s all about having three good square meals a day. You clean your plate, you eat dinner, and that makes you a big, strong healthy girl. I don’t get how so many New York women think “I should be grazing, I should have five small meals a day” Three good meals a day has worked for centuries and I think people have done fine with it. Especially with rice – I love rice. Asia seems to sustain itself on rice – only when McDonald’s came in did people seem to put on any weight.
I don’t overthink food at all. I don’t snack. I don’t have a sweet tooth, which annoys my boyfriend, because he does. If I’m having a PMS moment, I’ll take a giant bowl – like an Asian noodle bowl or a ramen bowl – and just fill it with pasta. That’s a pound of pasta…like, two plates of pasta. I’ll just sit there and eat it like Homer Simpson with a hoagie. Or a hoagie – I could eat a hoagie like Homer Simpson with a hoagie. I can also eat pizza at such a rate that I’ve had three pieces of pizza when people are just finishing their first.
What’s it like being someone who doesn’t overthink food working in fashion for as long as you have?
It’s funny, maybe being from where I’m from [Australia] has helped me to not obsess over things like that. I also think that being in fashion is like any profession: when you know the kind of sacrifices made and how the industry really operates, you don’t end up mythologizing it as much. I see actors and models all the time, and I don’t envy them. I don’t envy anyone – and didn’t, even when I was younger. I never questioned myself. I always thought it was a bit lame, women in fashion who didn’t eat, I thought it was so lame. I have gotten however far I have gotten by having character and eating my dinner, and that’s behind any success I’ve had.
I say “envy no one” all the time. Look at these celebrities, who we might be conditioned to envy. There are all of these people – these avatars – and they never have everything. You are best served to realize that fast, because it gets you absolutely nowhere wanting to be someone else.
Would you say there’s a lot of envy in the fashion industry?
I’m sure. I think for less secure people, yes. There’s always going to be something that happens during Fashion Week that makes you feel like shit about yourself. You’re at a luxury brand dinner and all the fancy people are upstairs and you’re downstairs; your title is viewed as less important than someone else’s; you don’t feel great in your pants…there’s always a bit of a little slap that happens, but you have to realize it for what it is and not care about it. Because it actually is just weeks of your life, not your life. There are many more people that dwell on that stuff than I do or ever have. I certainly don’t give a shit now.
Have you given less and less of a shit as you’ve worked more?
I mean, yeah…I never gave too many shits, but I give a shit about my work, doing good work, and being nice and respectful to people – especially to my staff! But I have a certain amount of confidence, because of this job, and because people obviously think I’m good enough to get and deserve this job. I’ve earned my stripes professionally, so now I feel like I’ve got double license to not give a shit, basically. That’s my advice – to not give a shit and eat your dinner.
There’s been a movement toward the celebrity as the model in fashion. Do you think that’s a good move? How do you approach it?
It’s interesting. I think that what I’ve done at InStyle, is recognize that the idea of the celebrity has changed hugely, that models are now sort of the muse again. It went from model model model, to celebrity celebrity celebrity, and now we’ve got social media and the sort of social model. The definition of celebrity is widely different, which I appreciate because it gives me more flexibility instead of just having A-list actor after A-list actor that you’ve had twelve times before. I like all those things very much, but I like now having Nicole Kidman on a cover and then having Bella Hadid on the next. I feel more freedom than I used to. I love Jennifer Aniston, but now I don’t have to bang down her door every day, saying “Will you be on my cover?”
Do you think it’s valid when people complain that they’re seeing the same three models over and over again?
Yes. I think that some people have embraced those models to such an extent that it is all you ever see. I get it, it’s very persuasive having somebody on your cover and in your magazine that has 80 million Instagram followers. I understand the allure of that, and have nothing against that at all, but there are more strings to your bow. Often, the magazines that embrace so few girls are the magazines that have the largesse and license to be able to have a broader range of girls.
When I got to InStyle, it was celebrity only; it was like, you’re an actor or you’re on a tv show, so we’ll shoot you and that’s fine and dandy. But I wanted to put this broad range of models in my magazine, and it was like breaking news. I wanted to have personalities and Youtubers. People were like “You want to get a quote from an unknown girl in a fashion story and have her talk about where she’s from and what she does?” Yeah, I do, because she’s got something to say.
The response to that has been absolutely fantastic. Take someone like Isabeli Fontana, who is a huge model. I did her first issue in a fashion and jewelry shoot and was like “This is Isabeli Fontana, she’s a freaking badass, everybody should know more about her!” I’m treating everybody like a human being. I want every single contributor to the magazine – if you’re a model, an actress, an actress who writes, or a model who styles – to show me all the different strings in their bow. Because, guess what? They have them. You can be more imaginative with every girl, and it’s up to me as an editor to do that.
If there’s a girl that I like who is lesser known, I will put in her the magazine with someone who is wildly well-known. I will give myself that license. It’s all part of the rhythm of editing. Everybody then gets a look in. That’s editing!
What about the mass circulation stuff? Everyone online plays the traffic rat race…
Yeah, there is that. At heart, I’m such a basic features editor. I’m a big believer in “if you build it, they will come.” I one hundred percent think if you have something to say – if you have a voice – they will find it. If you have something to say and you distinguish yourself by that – by your ideas, by what you say, by your tone, by who you engage, if you’re clever (hopefully) – they’ll come. Of course I web-stalk, so we can optimize the viewership, but I don’t look every second. At the end of the day, everyone I hire can do the button tapping and know their SEO’s from their comScores and their CSS’s from their blah blah blah, but they are all voice people. They all have a voice; every single person I hire has to have something to say and a voice. They can’t just be sitting on Tweetdeck all day.
What are your favorite restaurants? (Besides Barbuto, which we know is your number one favorite)
Do you find that food blends into fashion and fashion blends into food?
You guys exemplify that, don’t you? Yes: food has fashion waves – like kale, Brussels Sprouts, carrots. Fashion is applied to everything. I laugh at the trendiness of food sometimes. A hipster butcher makes me laugh. Bless your heart, but I do not need a hipster butcher. Fashionable food can be really overthought, as well. I don’t want to go searching for my chicken on Portlandia, I just want dinner.
What’s your definition of good content?
It’s original. When Ivanka Trump’s line was first dropped by Nordstrom, we did a hysterical piece called “Terrific Things To Buy At Nordstrom.” It was opinionated and funny and it went everywhere. Everyone was like “That’s from InStyle?” Yeah, it’s from InStyle! Because InStyle has an opinion now.
Original content is also content that reflects the times we’re in. I think it’s irresponsible if we don’t get engaged in what’s going on right now. In the April issue, we profile five women from the ACLU which is the first time InStyle has gone anywhere near anything like that. It’s called “They’re Here To Help.” It’s still a positive; it’s not like “oh, they’re a bunch of lefties!” If your mom or your cousin or your grandma or anyone in your family has a Visa issue, these ladies are going to help you. I thought it was a positive kind of proactive way to cover this thing, and that to me is good content. It has to be reflective, it has to be positive. It’s too easy to be negative. I said to someone once “I don’t want to hear that things are over, I want to hear things that are good.”
Do you have to be careful wth political things in terms of advertisers?
Yes, that’s why I keep my editorial to nice people, doing nice things. I don’t go saying “Trump can suck it” in InStyle magazine. I say “Trump can suck it” on my personal Twitter. I also feel in our field, we are all very clear where our magazines are. Like bless Graydon Carter, but I don’t write editor letters like he does, so I’m quite benign compared to some approaches. I mean, you get comments on social or Instagram sometimes, but that’s okay. There’s some stuff that really freaks me out. We did something on “13 Women Around The World Who Are Working To Protect Women” – everyone from Angela Merkel to Kristen Gillibrand to a Republican US Senator. Basically, it was like “Here are women who can help you, and who can help babies.” You still get some comments like “This is a left wing agenda.” These are things that women are doing for women, and without sounding too lofty, when you know you are on the right side of history and doing the right things, comments be damned.
Does every magazine operate like that? If every editor is a personality, does every magazine have to edit what their editors’ views are?
Some of the news magazines certainly do. The staff are only allowed to express themselves in a polling group, because that’s their take and their brief, and I understand that. I think that if you’re a “media professional,” you are aware of how to behave professionally, and not to come down too aggressively on one side or another. But you know you are on the right side of history when you go marching and there are millions of ladies there with you. You’re not some radical nut job fostering your own agenda. It’s not like anyone is batting along. I’m always saying “proactive and positive.” It’s what we’ve got to do, girls.
Do you respond to comments?
Not aggressively, but sometimes I do respond. I don’t get many aggressive comments, thank God, because I’m quite jolly, but when I do respond, I try to diffuse them and say, “what’s the backstory behind that?” Or you block; I love a good block. It’s deeply fulfilling.
Do you like having your picture taken?
I don’t mind it. I’m actually more comfortable with video. It’s sort of improv-y. I always joke that I was a journalist for over twenty years, and now I’m doing improv. So video I don’t mind, but the picture? Because it’s static and that image stays, I’m maybe less comfortable with it. I do know which side of my face looks better photographed; I’ve been on this Earth long enough to know that. I don’t go “oh, yay! Photoshoot, pick me!” But I have to be out there, a lot, for this job.
Who is the celebrity you haven’t gotten to work with yet that you want to work with?
Tilda Swinton. I know her a little bit – I’m friendly with her, and we’ve talked. We’ve tried to have things come off and they haven’t, for whatever reason, but I’d really like to collaborate on something with her. She’s really fun and funny on set. She’s got such a great mind, and regardless of how she looks and all of the other things she’s celebrated for, she has great ideas and great concepts. I’d really like to do that.
What advice would you give young girls struggling with self-confidence and body image?
Know what your currency is, and explore it. If your currency is your personality and you know that you can walk into a room and people laugh, or if you can draw things and they’re beautiful, or if you can sing – focus on that. It sounds trite, but focus on what makes you original and develop that. There is always something, for every single person. Whether you are good at math or whatever it is. And don’t worry about your pants; they’re just pants. Don’t overthink anything.
Did you ever want another accent, besides your own?
Oh, God, no.
Never have I ever….
Sky-dived? Had sex while sky diving? Killed a man….or have I?
What’s the new potato, right now?
Overalls! Onesies, anything that you can just zip up, because life is hard. Life is hard, just zip it up.
*Laura Brown, photographed at Barbuto in New York, NY by Danielle Kosann