Hanging out in Laura Brown’s Instagram feed is like gaining entry to an exclusive party where all your favourite celebrities are exactly as you’d hoped they’d be – kind, funny and a little bit daggy.
So this week, when Brown posted a video of herself barking at her cat while chasing it round the sofa (an acceptable pastime in a pandemic), Michelle Pfeiffer responded with a smiley heart face. Kate Bosworth added, “I love you guys”. Even the notoriously reserved Naomi Campbell has let loose a few laughing emojis in one of her other funny posts.
“They are people I work with,” Brown says when asked about her celebrity mates, with just the tiniest edge to her voice. We’re talking backstage at the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival, just before Covid-19 pulled the pin on the party. “I’ve been doing this a long time and I’ve earned [people’s] trust because I’m generous but not a suck-up.”
In past interviews, she’s been more direct. “If I hadn’t made a couple of friends after working with celebrities for so long, that wouldn’t say much for my social skills.”
I’m generous but not a suck-up
One of the most successful Australian journalists working overseas, Brown has spent the last 20 years surrounded by celebrity. During her 11 years at US Harper’s Bazaar, working with legendary editor Glenda Bailey, she helped create some of the magazine’s most iconic images.
For one highly regarded cover shot, Brown persuaded Rhianna to pose in the mouth of a shark to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Jaws – it was, she happily admits, the maddest idea she’d ever executed. “We built this crappy-looking shark in Long Island and it got shipped down to Tampa, and we shot Rhianna in a hallway. The backdrop was just black plastic bags. And it ended up becoming this great image.”
Yet these days, Brown – who has become a celebrity in her own right, with 352,000 followers on Instagram – prefers to craft less showy shoots that convey more of her subject’s personality. “We produce beautiful images still, but now I’m more keen to get to where the woman is.”
During the last four years as editor of InStyle, which has a print audience of 3 million and 10 million on digital, Brown has injected the brand with a fresher, more youthful feel and improved its social media presence.
This is a smart move, obviously, giving the shift in ad dollars from print to online. But if digital poses a challenge to the magazine industry, coronavirus could wreak unimaginable damage. “It’s so hard to say what the effect on the industry will be,” she said at VAMFF. “I have a friend with a fashion brand and no one is buying anything.”
When I email this week for an update, she’s more characteristically upbeat.
“I can say it’s very strange to be at home every day, and to see so few people on the streets. But workwise, we have kind of a new hustling energy. Doing a lot more on digital and trying to be reactive, not just worrying about how we’re going to shoot handbags for the June issue.
“Our industry is constantly on, so I kind of thrive on that. Even though I’m getting out of bed later, ha. But I put on jeans, a shirt and some lipstick, and Zoom with my team every morning. Looking more together helps you get it together!”
I’m more keen to get to where the woman is
There’s a performative aspect to Brown – she’s very funny and quick – that plays well on social media. It helps, too, that she looks so lovely, all pale blue eyes and flawless skin, and – as you’d expect from an editor of her calibre – she has an enviable sense of style. She’s not Anna-Wintour polished or the classic magazine editor in black, but the kind of cool best friend with artfully messy hair whose wardrobe is just right.
On the day we meet, she’s in a print Zimmerman top (“I have a lot of print shirts – I put all my shirts in a pile and I’m like, Jesus, I’m hitting that one note a lot”), camel-coloured Christophe Lemaire trousers and Neil J. Rodgers suede boots.
“He [Rodgers] is from LA and he’s really good – he’s naming a loafer after me,” she says, slipping from an Australian accent into pure New York rat-a-tat, which happens often. “He’s such a lovely person. I haven’t physically met him. I hadn’t physically met Celeste [Barber] ‘til yesterday. We’ve been talking for two years or something, and she’s been on a cover but we hadn’t physically met – well, because she lives in fricken’ Tweed Heads and I live in Manhattan.”
Shortly after this, Barber bursts into the dressing room to use the loo next door, then decides better of it and runs away. She too is speaking at VAMFF.
Judging from their banter, they’re firm friends – and Barber certainly fits the category of women Brown says she loves to interview. “My favourite ladies right now are the ‘broads’: women who are not babies, who have lived, who have a sense of humour,” she says. “I love Alison Janney or Michelle Pfeiffer, Melissa McCarthy, Jen Aniston – they’re not 21 and they’ve got a real perspective and they really get the joke. They also have really great set of girlfriends around them, that they’ve had for 20 something years.
“I have young mates who are really cute, but a martini with Alison Janney is a wonderful thing.”
Given that Brown is 45, it’s hardly surprising that she might have more in common with Julianne Moore or Aniston, but she argues that the scales of celebrity fell from her eyes long ago. “I think I just don’t mythologise people so much. I’m not dying to join a private club in LA so I can see more celebrities.”
Right now, though, there would be no clubbing anyway, thanks to the coronavirus lockdown. This is Brown’s second stint working from home – she self-isolated for a week after returning to the US following Milan fashion week. “I rediscovered the joy of Skype,” she says. “I hadn’t used it since, like, 2018. I also wore a different t-shirt every day. The first one was a NASA one that said, ‘I Need My Space’.
More seriously, Brown says she regards our current situation as a test. “Living in the States is already a test – it’s election season. Everyone is going to be on CBD gummies for weeks. I know I will be.”
Her favourite designer: “A denim brand called Colovos, by a Kiwi called Nicole Colovos. She used to work in magazines here, then started a jeans company and they won a Woolmark award the year before last.
They sent me a pair of jeans to wear in Milan and she was like, ‘I think you’re going to like these jeans’, and I put them on, and people were just dying for them. I was like, look at me, the world’s oldest influencer.”
Her hardest-working piece: “Any pair of pants. Skirts are too skirty – I love a trouser or a dress. There’s more rigour with a skirt than I’m capable of. I’m really basic.”
The item she can’t let go of: “I have a Chanel jacket that Karl gave me; it’s so beautiful. It’s red and it’s got pearls all over it – the craziest goddamn jacket and it just sits in my closet. I don’t hold onto things, much, but Chanel stuff I do, as would anyone.”