“I’m really proud of that,” she said over Zoom from her Upper West Side apartment in Manhattan ahead of the launch of the June issue, which is the first chance for monthly magazines to really address the COVID-19 crisis in print due to the two-month lead time. “Everyone has their reasons of their schedules and their economics and I’m not going to speak to other companies, but we’re doing it.”
Maintaining a monthly frequency during a pandemic, though, is no easy task for magazine editors. Apart from advertising concerns, editors have to completely rethink how to produce content (gone for now are the days of 20-plus-person fashion shoots) and consider if their usual features will appear tone-deaf at a time when millions of Americans are losing their jobs each week.
For Brown, clearly up for the challenge, the production issue comes down to inventiveness. “I’m not precious about how we shoot the designer handbag; I don’t care if a picture’s quality isn’t the best because we snapped a subject off of a computer screen,” she will tell her readers in her June editor’s note. “What I care about is us reflecting the world, participating in it, and doing our bit to make it better.”
Many shoots were conducted over Zoom; DJ to the quarantined masses Questlove was photographed by a friend; World Central Kitchen’s José Andrés and Lin-Manuel Miranda conversed over Skype; celebrities took isolation selfies, and accessories and clothes were sent to photographers’ homes. The latter has been helped by several p.r. reps storing racks of clothes in their New York apartments, which one can only imagine are already tight on space.
“You become quite sanguine,” Brown added. “It’s not like we’re sitting here in a dark room and every other magazine is skipping down Fifth Avenue doing a fashion shoot. They’re not. So you just accept the reality you’re in and do your best to be original and entertaining and empathetic and smart.”
As for trying to strike a delicate balance between escapism and reflecting what is happening in the wider world, she has mixed some of the usual content with features on the likes of U.S. Rep. Katie Porter, who persuaded the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to commit to not charging for tests, and Col. Leslie Curtis, who is leading hundreds of nurses into battle against COVID-19. Other segments focus on life in quarantine for celebrities and designers.
“We really tried and I think succeeded at being reflective of what’s going on in the world and being in the world,” Brown said. “We still like a nice shoe and we still like all this stuff, but you can have that while living in the world.”
For the cover, she stuck to the original plan of actress Carey Mulligan, who was shot in Paris just before the city was locked down, explaining that while it seems a world away now, “it also reminds us of grandeur, of beauty, and of a life that we are yearning to go back to.” While a handful of other mainly international magazines have put frontline workers on the cover and Vogue Italia’s blank cover paid tribute to victims of COVID-19, Brown did release a one-off digital cover in between May and June’s print issues, featuring infectious disease specialist Dr. Jana Broadhurst.
“We had just shipped May so I didn’t want to wait a month to then highlight Jana Broadhurst’s work so that was more that. It wasn’t like you’re a doctor you don’t get to be printed,” she said. “I’m not normally a fan of digital covers generally. I think they really erode your sense of occasion so I’m not planning on doing them, but this situation was worth it. She was worth it.”
But as InStyle is forges ahead with 12 issues, it’s not been immune to the economic impact of COVID-19. Its parent company Meredith Corp. recently unveiled cost-cutting measures to counter falling advertising revenues due to the pandemic. This included temporarily cutting pay for 60 percent of staffers.
For more, see:
WATCH: Working From Home With WWD’s Fashion Market Team