When Laura Brown decamped from her role as executive editor of Harper’s Bazaar in August to become the editor-in-chief of InStyle, the fashion industry and its fans perked up a bit more than they usually do in response to a transition announcement. Most of that excitement stemmed from Brown, whose laid-back and sarcastic demeanor has been a breath of fresh air in the industry, and has also garnered an impressive social following of around 155,000 across Instagram and Twitter. She was chosen to replace Ariel Foxman, who had overseen a website relaunch and magazine overhaul that, though considered successful by his peers, did not convince enough advertisers to hang around.
But change is more than afoot. First revealed on Friday, and on newsstands February 10, the March issue attracted 12 new advertisers (including the return of DKNY, which last advertised with the mag in 2014). In addition, heavy hitters like Céline, Hermes, Net-a-Porter, Bottega Veneta and Ralph Lauren began advertising for the first time on InStyle.com. As the first issue Brown led cover to cover, these results are more than impressive.
Superficially, not much has changed about InStyle — for one, the cover formatting remains the same — but the overall content strategy is now driven with digital adaptability in mind and an emphasis on building out video (all covers, for example, will now be accompanied by filmed exclusives).
The front of the March issue features actress Emily Ratajkowski in an appeal to a younger audience. Of the cover choice, Brown said: “I’ve known Emily for a while — she sat next to me at a Rag & Bone show a few years ago, and I love her. Secondly, as both an actress and a model, she is a perfect representation of the new InStyle. In and Style are the most powerful words in fashion, and there’s no one more in style right now than Emily.”
New recurring sections include Style In, a 12-to-20-page section guest–edited by a young, high-profile style and social influencer, and My Beauty Mark, which features a celebrity’s personal take on their beauty evolution. For the March issue, these sections feature Ellie Bamber and Karen Elson, respectively.
However, the past is, in some ways, still present for the magazine, as seen with the continuation of popular sections like veteran critic Eric Wilson’s in-depth column on industry trends and the evolution of Diane Von Furstenberg’s advice column into an interview series, Date with Diane.
As has been the larger cultural trend, recent circulation numbers for the glossy have not been so promising — AAM’s last 2016 report showed a slight downward trend from January (1,415,570) to June (1,374,769). Whether Brown’s stewardship will have a positive impact on these numbers remains to be seen, but given the results so far and general excitement around the launch, industry experts share the InStyle team’s confidence.
An internal crib sheet on the issue notes that the combined social following of those featured inside is over 435 million. According to Thomas Rankin, the CEO and cofounder of visual intelligence agency Dash Hudson, that number carries weight. “This will have an effect on print readership because social media enables the creation of a tighter bond between a celeb and its fans. There’s a voyeuristic element to social, and fans of a celeb hunger for quality, ‘insider’ type content that premium magazines like InStyle can provide,” he said.
In a company statement at the time of Brown’s hire, Alan Murray, chief content officer of Time Inc., wrote: “With her dynamic point of view, collaborative spirit and deep expertise in fashion and celebrity, Brown will be an exciting and transformative force for InStyle. Her rich experience combined with her profound storytelling skills across print, digital, video and television will take this powerful brand to even greater heights.” Now, after a few months spent expanding the team to accommodate her new digitally-driven demands — which included hiring Elle veteran and digital phenom Ruthie Friedlander as site director — that bold vote of confidence remains in tact. “I was so excited about the prospect of working again with Brown, after our five years together at Bazaar, that I offered a portion of my salary to make sure she would commit,” said Kevin Martinez, VP of InStyle and Stylewatch. “I am thrilled at the new life she has breathed into the brand, and remain excited and confident about [its] future.”
In keeping with the digital push, InStyle.com also underwent a slight redesign, which debuted Friday, with the goal of being more cohesive overall. On top of the video push, a new section, In The Mag, will be used to showcase and tease features and other content from the current issue. The site has seen consistent traffic growth over the last two years, according to data from ComScore, but the last two months have seen a notable jump, with unique visits rising from 6.9mm in August to 8.2mm in December. The team currently has a total reach of 30 million views and is confident that they will continue to see uptick in the coming year.
“The killer advantage [they have] is that Brown seems to have the mandate on strategy for both print and digital. Because there is no internal competition between [the two], they can work together symbiotically to leverage audiences. Audience sharing across the mediums enables growth and higher value for advertisers,” said Rankin.
It will certainly be interesting to see if leveraging a personality and talent like Brown’s could be the answer to print’s woes, potentially providing a blueprint for fashion’s other publications to follow. Digitally, at least, it appears to be a recipe for success. But as Rankin notes, many people still love print. “Distribution may be declining,” he said, “but there is a premium aspect to flagship publications like InStyle. The smartest publishers know that packaging digital and print together to create a seamless experience for readers, and value for advertisers, is what will win the day.”