On the Work Friends set, Laura Brown makes everyone feel at ease. In front of the camera and behind it, where she keeps everyone laughing. This is her comfort zone. But among the jokes cracked, Brown takes a small poke at herself when it comes to the seemingly average question, “What do you do?”
“I’m an editor, a host, and a consultant…at least this week,” the Australian editor answers. The unsureness isn’t indicative of her incredible portfolio of work, but simply what to label it at this moment. After all, Brown—a fashion media powerhouse with over 20 years of experience—is plotting the next chapter of her career, with more formal plans to announce this fall.
Following an 11-year stint at Harper’s Bazaar where Brown was Executive Editor, Features and Special Projects—she was the creative behind the prestigious fashion publication’s cover shoots and celebrity profiles—she was named InStyle Editor-in-Chief in 2016. Brown led the publication with an everyone’s-welcome attitude not historically seen in fashion. Even when production struggled to continue in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, Brown maintained InStyle as a hub for inspiration and joy, capturing Zendaya for the September 2020 cover, interviewing Dr. Anthony Fauci from his own backyard, landing President Barack Obama on the cover ahead of the release of his memoir, winning InStyle’s first ASME Award with a striking feature on Secretary Deb Haaland, and launching a podcast to celebrate incredible women. Following a very public and sudden exit earlier this year, Brown’s taken a break and is ready to make her return.
It’s for this reason that Brown’s current job title might not neatly fit on a business card or, really, any kind of traditional box. “The whole point of doing this for so long is because the doors are opening,” says Brown, who also sits on the board of Me Too, #SeeHer, and Fashion Trust U.S. “And I’m deciding which one…or I just do all of them because I’m an excitable child.” What you can expect is a new media company with Brown at the helm. “You can have a media company where you can do it all.”
"In this new chapter, I just want to do all of it and more of it and own it."
ON BECOMING A GO-TO JOURNALIST FOR A-LIST CELEBRITIES
In any industry you’re not in, you might misunderstand or mythologize in some way. Especially when it comes to Hollywood and fashion. But I think the more involved you get in this industry—there’s still love, respect, and admiration—but, if the fancy folks were ducks in a pond, you see the legs going. And when you’re privy to the legs going, it makes you not envy anyone. It makes you approach anybody you work with as a person because that’s what we all are. And it’s important to realize that you’re in the room too, just because Fancy Pants X is there. Don’t undersell yourself.
Also, trust grows. I’ve been in magazines since I was 19 and when you have a history of collaboration, there is a trust established and you become a go-to. Then, people share things and want to make stuff together. It’s never, “Alright actress, you’ve got to wear this jacket from this advertiser.” None of that. I want to feel like we’re making something great together.
ON LAUNCHING HER OWN MEDIA COMPANY
The idea is a buffet of platforms—more formally, a multi-platform company. If you’ve been in media a long time, you should be about to host something (podcasts, TV) design, write, or consult. You should be able to be talent and be behind the scenes. Be all those things. Sometimes American media is set up as “do you do words or images?” And I always did all of it. So in this new chapter, I just want to do all of it and more of it and own it.
ON NOT PLACING VALUE IN JOB TITLES
If you’ve earned equity in what you do and if you've been doing it for a long time, you start to look beyond titles. So when a change happens, or if you get fired, it’s alright because who you are working for does not dictate your future. And your value does not reside in the company or brand you work for. I think that is a great realization to reach. Period. For any woman who’s been doing something for a long time.
ON WHAT TO KEEP AND WHAT TO LET GO
I’m ready to let go of old fashion rituals, and fashion media is very strong on that. You’ll hear, “You have to go to this cocktail party for eight minutes to meet this Italian advertiser.” The economy of magazines is just so tired and I used to chafe at it because if you’re investing in a magazine, then I shouldn’t need to schmooze. I don’t miss those facile meetings for money. But I do miss shoots. I miss the magic of knowing you’ve got the shot and how exciting that is. And in all the things that I’m planning, I will get back to that in some way because I really love making images. You know, in time.
"Show up as yourself, with good work behind you, and treat people well. It’s pretty simple."
ON KNOWING WHEN TO PASS THE TORCH
When you’re coming up in your career, you’re running around more—and do! Show up, get on that plane, go to that shoot. I was traveling like mad throughout my career and I loved it.
But then, when you become more senior and you’ve got a bit of equity and control over the workplace, you’ll get to the point where it’s like, “Okay, I don’t have to do this.” It becomes a great opportunity for someone else. Trust that what you’ve built is enough and it doesn’t go away if circumstances change.
ON ENTRY-LEVEL ADVICE SHE LIVES BY
I have lots. First, know that the industry you want to go into is in your DNA. For example, if you want to go into fashion, you’re already going to be on Instagram and watching live runway shows. If you feel like you should be doing something or don’t feel confident to speak about it casually, then really rethink it. Your interest is going to lead you to a very natural place.
Be enthusiastic. I think there’s nothing cooler than enthusiasm.
And put your hand up for things! Offer to help and, if you execute it well, you’ll be asked to do the next thing and the next thing. And then—shazam—there’s a career. Do it well and then 20 years will go by.
ON HER WORK UNIFORM
Look, I don’t work at Goldman, I worked in magazines. Coming up, was it more of the “must wear black” thing. It was very fashun. But when you’ve been doing it for a while you get your own sense of style. Some of the best-known women in fashion have a particular style and they’re not just changing into the hottest thing all the time. Grace Coddington’s always in a shirt and trousers. Anna Wintour’s always in a floral dress and Manolo Blahnik boots. Samira Nasr from Harper’s Bazaar is always in jeans. For me, I’ve worn jeans to work for years. I call my uniform: blouses and trousers. I love a great floral shirt and high-waist, wide-leg trousers with a platform heel. I always feel my best when I feel—this is not a word, I’m making it up—stride-y. Leggy and purposeful.
ON THE SIMPLEST SECRET TO SUCCESS
Show up as yourself, with good work behind you, and treat people well. It’s pretty simple. You can do good work, be kind, and actually get somewhere. It doesn’t have to be any harder than that.