I’ll never forget the first time I saw Laura Brown.
It was sometime in the early aughts, and our offices at Fairchild PublicationTM were in an open seating plan about the size of a football field — or at least, the size of a department store, which actually was its prior inhabitant.
I point this out because, with an open seating plan, you tended to notice anyone who walked into our newsroom who was being escorted by the assistant to our editorial director Patrick McCarthy. My cubicle faced his office, albeit about 50 yards away, so any time anyone with flair entered the newsroom, you looked up.
Laura Brown oozed flair. McCarthy invited her to sit, whereupon she immediately began regaling him with god knows what, but I can tell you it required lots of gesticulating, leaning forward, and laughing. I could feel my tail rising up. Who was this blonde who was charming my boss, and should I be concerned?
A week or two later, the witty Aussie was editing my copy, which she made funnier and pithier (and making beauty copy pithy ain’t always easy) and we quickly became friends. But, sigh, it wasn’t long before she sailed right out of our newsroom and headed to Harper’s Bazaar®, where one minute she was editing, then the next, she was making videos with Karl Lagerfeld, Sofia Vergara, and Kim Kardashian West. When the top spot at InStyle® opened up four years ago, Laura got the gig. As Billie Eilish would say, Duh.
Laura Brown was born to run the celebrity fashion magazine for a number of reasons. Despite covering two industries where the vibe isn’t exactly down to earth and approachable, Laura has never been anything but herself — she is a rapid talking, even faster jokester who doesn’t think twice about inviting the most famous people in the world to sit on her lap (#lauraslap). She becomes friends with every celebrity she meets, but more importantly, she humanizes them, making them seem like affable people with flaws like the rest of us; they, in turn, seem to appreciate being, well, lapped by Laura. Even more significant, she has turned InStyle into a platform that goes beyond the clothes and the famous people. Brown has made it her mission to give voice to women who are changing the world, which has made InStyle’s BadassTM series one of its most popular.
Laura Brown is, understandably, hard to nail down. I’d been trying to get her to do this interview for ages, so I was thrilled when she agreed to my little plan of dictating her answers into her phone, then sending me the recording. Genius, right? She spoke with SpotlyteTM about the serum she can’t live without, getting over her fear of needles, the words women need to say more often, and much, much more.
Spotlyte: Were you always this outgoing? What were you like as a kid?
Laura Brown: Yes, I always was. I was an only child; I have a half sister, Emily, but we weren’t brought up together, so it was just me. In order to avoid being Nigel No-Mates, as we would say in Australia, I was very outgoing and sociable, and I made a lot of friends because, oh, I don’t know . . . I was desperate? I grew up on a farm until I was five, then d-i-v-o-r-c-e happened and we moved to Sydney. So, yeah, even though I haven’t lived on a farm for 40 years, the sirens of that farm life still call to me. It has a certain allure now that it didn’t have when I lived there, so I’m very proud to be a small town farm girl.
Spotlyte: Did you always want to be a writer?
LB: Yeah, although not necessarily a writer with a capital W. More. I wanted to be where things were happening. So, I picked up and moved here on September 4, 2001, like a strategic genius. I just wanted to be around things, and to see them with my own eyes, and to communicate them out into the world from my little eyeballs. There was never really any ego in it. I just wanted to see things. I came straight to NYC.
Spotlyte: Seems you were born for this job.
LB: Ha! So says I after being inside my house for four days, recovering from being “born for this job.” Yeah, I guess so. I really like people and being around creative, inspired, decent people — and having any sort of sizable platform to be able to share them with the world is endlessly exciting. If you meet a great person, or you do a great story, or you have an idea that comes to fruition and people show up for you, you can surf on that for months. I find it the most edifying thing, as is seeing my team produce great stuff and being proud of it. I love it. I love being proud. I am proud of my work, and I think women don’t say that enough. And I think my team is proud.
Spotlyte: What’s the proudest moment you’ve had since you landed there? Was it the Badass WomenTM campaign?
LB: Yeah, I love that — to date, one of my great professional legacies has the word “ass” in it. My mum would be so proud. But, seriously, just getting behind legendary ladies is super important. For instance, here’s a woman who started #metoo, or here’s a woman who’s an astronaut, or here’s a woman who ran really fast. There are so many of them, and to give them any sort of platform is awesome. But l don’t call what they’re doing empowering. I hate and loathe the word empowerment. I think it’s patronizing. These are powerful women, so, hence, they are badass, or Ladies First, as I may call it at some point.
Spotlyte: How old were you when you first started taking care of your skin?
LB: Hmmmm . . . last week? Just kidding. I didn’t do much until around the time I started working in magazines, and moisturizers started arriving — that’s maybe when I started doing it. Certainly more when I got into my mid-thirties, and now I’m in my mid-forties. I was always spared because I spent most of my adult years not in Australia, where the sun is so harsh; I think I dodged a sunshiny bullet. There was also getting over the idea that a tan is cool. My pale skin is fine.
Spotlyte: What's your skincare routine?
LB: In the morning, I use a Tata HarperTM cleanser (the one that smells nice), then Dr. Barbara Sturm’s® Hyaluronic Serum, Glow DropsTM, Eye Cream, and Face Cream. At night, IS Clinical® Cleansing Complex; it’s really light and fluffs up. Then, Sturm’s Hyaluronic Serum again, then either Augustinus BaderTM Cream or Sturm’s MC1 CreamTM. I mix them up. But those Germans know what’s up. I also put Seventh SenseTM Muscle Balm on my neck every night because it’s a mess.
Spotlyte: Got a favorite must-have skincare item?
LB: I’d say those Glow Drops are awesome.
Spotlyte: Do you get any in-office "tweaks"?
LB: Yes, once or twice a year. Let’s just say I’m less afraid of needles than I used to be!
Spotlyte: What's your makeup routine? Your look seems quite natural.
LB: It takes me three hours, Jane! OK, matte concealer over my bits, then Chanel® Ultra Le Teint VelvetTM — it has a powdery finish — Marc Jacobs® Bronzing Powder, YSL® Beaute Baby DollTM Kiss & BlushTM Duo Stick, and I just go whoosh! Whoosh! [that was one whoosh per cheek]. You have to rub it in, though. Then, the best thing on earth, Charlotte Tilbury® Eyes to MesmerizeTM in BetteTM. I stick my finger in the pot, then stick my finger on my eyelids, then a little Sephora® black eyeliner, a little Marc Jacobs mascara after that, and then maybe some [Charlotte] Tilbury Bitch Perfect® lipstick. Also, these Honest® balms that Jessica [Alba] does are really good. [And] I love Le Rouge Givenchy®, it’s a natural pink. I don’t do anything to my hair because, apparently, I have beachy waves.
Spotlyte: Do you ever do a spa day?
LB: Very rarely. I’m fortunate to be offered facials, but I’m unfortunate in that I don’t get my sh*t together to schedule one. That being said, one of my closest friends is [celebrity facialist] Shani Darden, who I met though facialing. Sometimes she gives me a facial when I’m in LA, but we spend most of the time talking about how much wine we’ve consumed, so she’s my kind of girl. That’s my version of a spa day. If I’m absolutely broken, I’ll try to get a massage, but not as often as I should.
Spotlyte: What do you do to chill? Hang at home with your fiancé Brandon in your koala slippers?
LB: You’ve answered the question! We drink wine out of these glasses we found in this priest supply store called BarbiconiTM in Rome. They’re these beautiful gold goblets which we drink from, and [we] sit and watch telly with my Australian koala slippers on my feet.
Spotlyte: Speaking of Australia, you've been so great at spreading the word about the bushfires — the power of social media at its finest. Can you recommend the best charity to donate to?
LB: Just spread [your donations] around the various wildlife rescues. A lot of people have been donating to the Rural Fire Service℠ and Kangaroo Island Wildlife℠, because they lost a third of their wildlife [habitat]. But I say drill down into the smaller ones, too.
Spotlyte: Finally, has anyone ever been reluctant to sit on Laura's lap?
LB: I’ve yet to get Alan Alda on there, but I will.
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I’ll never forget the first time I saw Laura Brown.