Kate Lanphear has officially put her stamp on Marie Claire.
The publication’s March issue, featuring a Spring Fashion theme, hit newsstands on February 20. It’s the first issue produced under the creative direction of Lanphear, who joined the publication in October.
Lanphear’s reputation precedes her. The fashion industry veteran — who started her career in London and Australia, before becoming style director of Elle in 2008 and T: The New York Times Magazine in 2013 — earned street-style star status while covering fashion month shows in her signature combination: black-on-black, concert T-shirts, masculine jackets and wristsful of spiked bracelets.
But according to Lanphear, anyone expecting an overhaul will be disappointed. Her approach thus far has been about refining and evolving the magazine’s vision, rather than changing it.
“I’ve been drilling down on: How can I better execute [editor-in-chief] Anne’s [Fulenwider] vision? Where should we be going, and what does that visually mean? And how can we differentiate ourselves, but do it in a relevant and timely way?“ she said.
So far, answering those questions has involved staffing up: In January, she appointed Julia Gall, formerly Interview Magazine’s senior fashion and accessories editor, as the magazine’s accessories director. She has also brought on new photographers, including Thomas Whiteside, who shot her first cover, featuring Reese Witherspoon. (“I worked with him a lot at Elle, and we have this amazing vernacular,” Lanphear said. “It’s like working with your brother.”)
Reese Witherspoon, in Marie Claire’s March 2018 cover story
Likewise, she’s reconsidered the magazine’s go-to models. “We’re trying to figure out who our woman is: What does she look like? How old is she? What kind of energy does she have? What does she do?” Lanphear said, referencing a board of model cards propped in the meeting room adjacent to her office. “We’re talking to multidimensional women, and about their triumphs and struggles. Now that’s being reflected on the pages; you see more smiles.”
For Lanphear, taking the job at Marie Claire was a homecoming of sorts. She was employed by fellow Hearst publication Elle for six years, working closely with creative director Joe Zee. She credits InStyle editor-in-chief Laura Brown, a friend from her days in Australia and the features editor at Harper’s Bazaar Australia at the time, for introducing her to Hearst.
The five years she was away were eventful, to say the least. After spending a year at T Magazine, she took the reins as editor-in-chief Maxim in 2014, immediately tackling a redesign that moved the magazine away from photos of sexy women in favor of a more sophisticated vibe. (During her stint, the magazine had its first male cover star, Idris Elba.) Newsstand sales dropped, and barely a year in, she stepped down. Since, she’s been consulting with Google on special projects, including its fashion portal.
Looking back, it was all for the best, said Lanphear.
As an editor, Lanphear said she had missed creating content. “I was talking about data — and I know that’s part of it, and I’m glad I learned it — but I just wanted to get my hands dirty and make pictures.” Even so, when her time at Maxim was up, she considered retirement, denying several offers that had come her way. Marie Claire pulled her in thanks to breadth of content. As creative director, she knew she’d be working on visual stories with depth and meaning, in addition to those focused on the runway.
She said she’s had to adapt to the way social media has changed things in the last few years; the idea that publications need to communicate to different demographics across platforms — by, for instance, creating unique covers for both Instagram and the web — is new. (It’s an especial challenge for Lanphear, who isn’t even on Instagram.)
“I felt like an outsider, coming back, and that’s a good thing. My world had opened up, and now I see everything through a new lens: fashion, publishing, the world at-large,” said Lanphear. “More publishers are becoming unafraid to make stronger statements, and that’s [Marie Claire’s] DNA. They’ve never shied away from stories, and that was the appeal in coming here.”
Lanphear said she’ll continue driving that fearlessness forward, while being careful to keep the content “balanced” and “user-friendly.” She deems herself a good judge of what a mass audience wants, thanks to her Virginia upbringing. If on the fence on whether an idea will translate as relevant, she consults with her sister: a mom of three young kids living in Alabama.
“March is this great start, but part of being a tortured creative person is I’m always going to be tweaking,” she said. “I am never going to be finished, because the question of ‘How can we do this better?’ will always be there.”