Laura Brown: Editor-In-Chief of Instyle & very proud global Australian

Interview by Molly O'Brien, Marketing & Communications Specialist, Advance. 

It’s a safe assumption that there is only one editor-in-chief of a fashion magazine worldwide who distributes clip-on koalas as a way of saying “good job”. That person happens to be Laura Brown.

After leaving her native Sydney for New York to drive her career as a fashion journalist and editor, Brown was named editor-in-chief of InStyle in August 2016 – a publication which boasts an online and print reach of more than 30 million readers.

Known for her approachable, laidback and funny demeanour, the former executive editor of Harper’s Bazaar credits her professional successes to simply working hard and being nice to people.

Brown’s impressive rise to the helm of an increasingly competitive industry has done anything but go to her head – it’s plain as day she’s a very proud member of the Australian diaspora – one that still very much enjoys a double chocolate coated Tim Tam.

What’s the best thing about being an Australian in New York?

Appreciating that I’m actually an Australian living in New York! I think that’s something that most Aussies experience while living here. It doesn’t matter what professional status you have – we’re all lucky to be in New York and are appreciative of the opportunities it presents. We all make the most of living here enthusiastically and don’t take it for granted, and I think that’s because it takes quite a bit of effort. We got on a (long) plane, saved our money, and left Australia to be here.

How do you think your "Australian-ness" contributed to your successes working in global markets? 

Definitely by being enthusiastic and hard-working, but also the ability to get the job done. A lot of people in New York talk a big game, but then there’s the issue of being able to produce; you gotta practice what you preach! Australians are particularly good at getting the job done. If you a) are able to execute and b) if you’re nice to people, you’ll do well automatically.

Was it always going to be New York for you, or was that something that transpired organically as your career progressed?

I remember working at Harper’s Bazaar in Sydney where we received a bag of magazines every week – the “air bag” – and I would go through them religiously. I remember sitting in my Potts Point apartment one afternoon, with a beautiful view of the Harbour, but I was reading a New York magazine and was already mentally there. My brain was already transported – it was just a matter of my body following. 

I think if what you’re doing professionally translates to your lifestyle, which I think being a journalist absolutely is, you want to be where things are happening; you don’t want to experience it second hand. The biggest motivator to driving me here was writing about fashion shows from the internet and thinking that I just wanted to look at the bloody thing with my own eyes!

How long have you been in New York for now?

This September, it’ll be 16 years!

You’re known for having an extremely kind, easy-going, “making-fashion-fun” reputation – are you an anomaly in your industry?

I hope I’m not an anomaly! I think I may be less typical in the way that my “goofiness” is out there and very public, whereas other people in fashion may keep their cards a little closer to their chest. They may actually be super funny or silly but may not necessarily project that. I’ve worked for a number of years in magazines and I’ve always been myself, but I think you do earn the right as you get older to be even more so.

What advice do you have for those (particularly Aussies!) interested in entering the fashion/editorial industries – two that are becoming increasingly competitive?

Don’t be scared and just get on the plane; don’t overthink it! Do whatever work you need to do to get you to where you need to go. Intern if you have to. Work in a bar if you have to. Start contributing to websites. You may not make any money out of it, but you’ll get a byline, and that could be the start of something big. The most important thing? Just show up. Proximity is the most important thing.

How has the digital revolution changed the magazine industry, InStyle in particular?

There’s so many more acronyms! Many of which I don’t understand!

I think what it has done is open channels to be greedy in a good way; there are so many different ways to tell a story now. Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook Live; it’s a great way to be able to think creatively about how you’re going to communicate one idea or corollaries of the one idea. However, and I’m very hell-bent on this, you can have every technology at your disposal, but if you don’t have a voice or a story, if you don’t have a distinct character – you don’t have much at all. It’s more important to have a voice than to understand acronyms.

What’s the first thing you do when you land back in Australia after a period of time away?

Lie down – it’s usually very early in the morning when I arrive! On an ideal day, (after I’ve slept for about five hours at the lovely Pier One hotel) I’ll walk around Lady Macquarie’s Chair – sit on the point and take a giant big breath of fresh air and then I’ll eat by the beautiful Andrew “Boy” Charlton Pool. If I’m spending time with my mum I’ll walk around Woolloomooloo and eat lunch at Otto.

Besides its people, what do you consider Australia’s greatest export?

Clip-on Koalas! I love them. If my staff do a great job, they get a clip-on Koala. If they do a really good job, they get a clip-on koala on a bottle of champagne! Besides that: double chocolate Tim Tams, Maggi noodles, and the occasional gum leaf. Because I’ve been away for so long, I do really miss the nature in Australia.

Favourite Australian saying/slang? (That has, or hasn’t caught on…)

That’s an easy one: “I’m so bloody hungry I could eat the arse out of a low flying duck!”

Finally, what has been your ultimate New York moment?

The first New York moment I experienced was walking down the street and having someone sporadically shout a compliment on my sweater or shoes – people being completely open and nice! I can also have to most epic experiences in New York and it be an idle Monday or Tuesday. I think there are things that you can do in New York that you just can’t do anywhere else. As exhausting and as testing as it is, that’s why we’re here! Australians – we get ourselves here to make these experiences on a random Monday.