Laura Brown: How Did She Become a Badass Woman? And what is it?

Laura Brown
I’m Alan Alda, and this is Clear and Vivid, conversations about connecting and communicating.
Every woman that I want to feature in the magazine is doing great work of some description. The first badass issue I did was Serena Williams, Aly Raisman… gymnast… Monica Lewinski… who is the biggest badass, who has just come through all of that with such grace. They were all just presented in the same way, and so there’s not like, “Here’s your movie star and here’s your granola.” It’s like, they’re all just rad ladies and that’s what brings them into the magazine.
That’s Laura Brown, editor in chief of InStyle magazine, who had the graceful chutzpa to feature me in her magazine as a badass. I had no idea what that meant, so I couldn’t let it go unexplored… It turns out it’s a compliment and led to an interesting discussion of what style is, what it communicates, and how it spreads. Laura is a lively person, so we invited her to join me before a live audience at Guild Hall in East Hampton, New York.
Josh: And now, without further ado, for those who want to know how to be a badass, please welcome to the stage, great badasses, Alan Alda and Laura Brown
Alan: 00:17 Hello! Thank you. Thank you for coming tonight. This is so great to see you.
Laura: 00:17 Good evening.
Alan: 00:21 Thank you.
Yeah, now, I don’t know if you know, this is our podcast that we’re doing tonight, for the first time in front of a live audience.
Laura: 00:30 I’m so sorry.
Alan: 00:32 This is Laura Brown, who is the Editor in Chief… Right? The Editor in Chief?
Laura: 00:36 Yes, ‘Chief’ is important.
Alan: 00:38 Yes.
Laura: 00:38 Please refer to me to that exclusively.
Alan: 00:40 Of InStyle magazine, and I’m so happy, Laura, I’m so happy to be talking to you tonight about style, because I don’t understand it. I have never understood it.
Laura: 00:50 That’s because you are it.
Alan: 00:51 No.
Laura: 00:52 Yeah.
Alan: 00:53 No, here’s how I know I’m not it. I don’t get it. I wear these white sneakers a lot, right?
Laura: 01:01 [crosstalk 00:01:01]
Alan: 01:02 My granddaughter Olivia says, “You know, that’s very in. You’re very fashionable.” And sometimes I’ll wear my shirt outside my pants and people say to me, “Oh, you’re part of the untucked generation.”
Laura: 01:15 [crosstalk 00:01:15]
Alan: 01:15 This is the way I’ve been dressing since I was 11 years old.
Laura: 01:20 Consistency is key.
Alan: 01:21 Pardon me?
Laura: 01:22 Consistency is key, you know.
Alan: 01:24 Is it?
Laura: 01:24 Yes.
Alan: 01:24 I thought you were supposed to look different every day.
Laura: 01:27 That’s exhausting and basic.
Alan: 01:30 So what is style? I mean, I don’t get it.
Laura: 01:33 I think… God… I mean, I’ve worked in fashion for a long time. Style is not being slavish to fashion. Style is knowing yourself. And I think that you… it sounds pat, but I think you grow within yourself and your work, and with your family and with your relationships, and you know… sometimes I think… listen, if you’re an eight-year-old boy, and you’re like, “What makes me feel good? What makes me feel bad?” So you’d be putting something on your body, and that makes you feel good, like, “Ooh, this is a badass T-shirt right here. Yeah, I feel good.” But if it makes you feel good and something else makes you feel not yourself, then don’t wear it. And those people that have style develop a consistency and an idea of the thing that makes them feel good, and that makes them stand out, in whatever way it is, in a singular way.
Alan: 02:14 But everybody, when a style is in fashion, everybody wears it.
Laura: 02:19 I don’t think they do it as much anymore, to be honest with you.
Alan: 02:21 Oh yes? Really? Yeah?
Laura: 02:23 Yeah. I think… because I’ve been in fashion for a long time… 20-something years… and seeing how many times are the ’60s in? How many times are the ’70s in? It’s like there’s no other decades that ever existed, and after a while, you just pick what you like. People aren’t going to slavishly spend $5000 on a handbag anymore because it’s the ‘it’ bag. That’s not a ‘it’ bag, it’s a bag. Carry your stuff, it’s pretty, it’s nice, you like it.
But we do trend reviews… Well, not even trend, but… The idea, we cover the shows every season, and there was a lot of embroidery, there was a lot of silver, but I don’t see people walking around in six slavish cults of embroidery and silver and cowboy and… It just doesn’t work like that anymore, because… I think we’ve got bigger fish to fry, honestly, and when I see Somebody at a show and they’re fully dressed up like victimy and whatever the designer’s doing, they really look ridiculous, and everyone around them kind of knows.
What do they say in the South? What’s the biggest… Bless their heart? Yeah. Bless their heart!
Alan: 03:33 But what’s this I’ve read about for years, that there’s some committee that gets together every year and decides on what the color is going to be [crosstalk 00:03:43]
Laura: 03:43 That’s The Devil Wears Prada monologue. Remember Meryl in Devil Wears Prada, and she does the whole thing about cerulean blue? And then, is it Annie? What’s her name, the assistant? No, Annie was the actress, the whatever…
Speaker 4: 03:54 Anne Hathaway.
Laura: 03:55 Anne Hathaway, but what was the character’s name?
Speaker 4: 03:57 Andy.
Laura: 03:58 Andy! Andy Sachs! And she was like, “This sweater that you’re wearing right now has come down the way because one person decided so long ago that this would be, and you’re a product of this system,” basically. She says it much better than I would.
But I think [crosstalk 00:04:12]
Alan: 04:12 So doesn’t that exist? Isn’t there this committee—?
Laura: 04:12 No, there’s no committee.
Alan: 04:12 There’s no committee?
Laura: 04:12 There’s, no, there’s no committee.
Alan: 04:18 I read about it every year or so! What? You mean this is fake news?
Laura: 04:22 No, Alan, there’s no committee. There’s no committee. No. Nothing, nothing nefarious happens.
What do you think they do in the Masons? It’s all just fashion.
Alan: 04:30 It’s not the Masons?
Laura: 04:32 It is the Masons. Oh, should I have said that? Yeah. It’s the Masons. The Masons are the sheikest.
Alan: 04:37 With those hats.
Laura: 04:40 Those hats! Those hats.
But there was no… What designers do do is they obviously put their inspiration together. They have an idea of what sells, and they have to do that, but they all go buy fabrics a certain time of the year, and then they all go and explore all over, and people bring the ideas, and sometimes people are thinking similar things. You know, thinking that maybe now is not the time that women want to be walking around… apart from one designer who does this, but… really tiny skirts, you know what I mean?
I think the best designers read the room, read the global room, and how women want to feel and appear and to feel like their best selves and feel the most comfort in thierselves. Not to be trussed up like some fantasy of a man that’s, frankly, never going to date them anyway.
Alan: 05:27 Is there any connection between what they show on the runways in fashion shows and what people wear? I don’t see any connection.
Laura: 05:35 Not immediately. You know what’s the best example of a trend, actually, that I notice, for one… because I didn’t notice anything for ages… but it’s white boots.
Alan: 05:35 White—
Laura: 05:46 White boots. And white, I think white… This former designer at Céline, Phoebe Philo, who was like a cult leader… oh, they just died for her, oh, they just died for her… and she started doing these white shoes. After a while… it was a bit like this Devil Wears Prada thing… this white started to pop everywhere and all of these outfits. And then last year it was all just white boots, and they don’t seem to show any sign of going away, actually. That’s the last thing I’ve really seen that people super adopted.
Alan: 06:15 Sometimes it seems to pop up by itself. I remember reading about—
Laura: 06:20 Like a blister.
Alan: 06:20 Yeah.
Laura: 06:21 Yeah.
Alan: 06:23 Hush Puppies, you remember—
Laura: 06:24 I’m going to get fired.
No, what?
Alan: 06:26 Remember when Hush Puppies were going to go out of business?
Laura: 06:29 Oh yeah!
Alan: 06:29 And then they got popular with a group of people in Seattle—
Laura: 06:35 Oh yes.
Alan: 06:35 And then it spread, and Hush Puppies stayed in business for years!
Laura: 06:38 Yeah, because actually, irony is always fashionable.
Alan: 06:41 So Hush Puppies are ironic?
Laura: 06:43 Yeah. Well, like ironic cool, like, “Oh, I’m wearing this Syracuse T-shirt in Japan.” You know what I mean? Or just this sort of idea of, “This is so uncool I’m making it cool”? But it’s also very, very conscious.
Like you think of Birkenstocks, which, by their own nature, are not very attractive shoes… but I love them, I wear them… but they’re cool.
Alan: 07:06 Because you’re being ironic when you wear them?
Laura: 07:08 Or it’s kind of like, “I’m wearing the clunky German shoes,” you know what I mean? [crosstalk 00:07:10]
Alan: 07:10 Well you see, this brings up an interesting question to me: what are you saying, what are you communicating, through style? Do you get dressed to feel good, or to say something?
Laura: 07:23 I think it depends on what you’re doing, but I think that one thing that style, or what you wear, it unifies everybody. It doesn’t matter if you’re an editor going to sit in a front row at a fashion show or if you’re a plumber going to fix a pipe somewhere, you’re going to put your shirt on or your dress on because it makes you feel a certain way to get out in the world.
And I think that that’s… Ooh, I just bounced, didn’t I?… I think that’s not to be disparaged. Fashion can be silly and flighty and everything else, but it’s always a thought. You decided tonight it was going to be that shirt and that sweater… which is spectacular, by the way… but you make a decision. Every single person here, you like your white shirt, you like your T-shirt, you like your jaunty stripes under your pink or orange jacket, my lady… right there.
But, you know, you always have that feeling, so I think that… But again, professionally, maybe there’s… especially if you’re less comfortable in yourself, you might want to fit in to a certain place, you want a certain social group, a certain career group… but I do think that the better you get to know yourself, and I think getting older really helps. [crosstalk 00:08:22] you don’t succumb to so much of those pressures and you just start doing you, you know?
Alan: 08:27 It interests me that so many people… and even throughout history… have been really really interested in becoming part of the fashion scene. I read a letter that George Washington wrote back to England—
Laura: 08:44 He’s desperate. He’s always calling.
Alan: 08:45 Yeah.
Laura: 08:45 Yeah.
Alan: 08:47 He wrote this letter to a carriage maker in London, and said, “I want a new carriage built, and I want it painted in the latest fashion.”
Laura: 08:57 See?
Alan: 08:57 George Washington!
Laura: 08:58 It’s been there since time immemorial. I mean, we weren’t around to see that, but it is… it’s status. And so if it’s your shiny carriage or your new shoes, it gives you… And there is that feeling of, I always say if you buy a new piece of clothing, oftentimes it’s the first thing you put on. You could have a wardrobe full of clothes, but you’re like, “New!” And there’s something about that newness that makes you feel something, too, and I don’t know how you could quantify that, but it’s the first thing out of the bag and you put it on because it’s new.
Alan: 09:27 And then I wear only that for the next six months.
Laura: 09:30 You wear only that for the next six months.
Alan: 09:32 And the funny thing is, every 20 years, the clothes I wear come back into style.
Laura: 09:39 Yeah.
Alan: 09:39 And I don’t mean the kind of clothes I wear, I mean the actual clothes.
Laura: 09:44 The actual clothes. And you’re mothballing them out and going, “All right.”
One of the most classic insider fashion… people who work in fashion or whatever… so many of them wear khaki military jackets. And guess who did that?
Alan: 09:58 Who did that?
Laura: 09:59 That was you!
Alan: 09:59 Get out.
Laura: 10:00 Yeah.
Alan: 10:00 No!
Laura: 10:02 Yeah, you did that. I saw it once or twice.
Alan: 10:05 Well—
Laura: 10:05 But that’s something that, I still have one that I’ve had for 16 years. So I feel like those sort of things, because [crosstalk 00:10:10] like, “I don’t care what I do.”
Alan: 10:12 I did a fashion thing once
Laura: 10:15 One time?
Alan: 10:15 One time I did a fashion thing that, when the show was over, when M*A*S*H was ended, there was a big party and we all were wearing tuxedos, and I wore my boots from M*A*S*H with the tuxedo.
Laura: 10:27 Ooh!
Alan: 10:27 Now that’s a style thing, isn’t it?
Laura: 10:30 That’s a style thing. You know what we call that?
Alan: 10:30 What?
Laura: 10:33 Get ready…
Alan: 10:33 Yeah?
Laura: 10:34 High low.
You take a fancy thing—
Alan: 10:38 You’ve got names for these things?
Laura: 10:40 Oh, darling, I could… you could all die tonight. I would just bore you to death with this.
But, high low is if you wear a fancy thing, but with another more subversive thing. Like if you wear a couture dress with white sneakers.
Alan: 10:52 Oh.
Laura: 10:52 That’s high low.
Alan: 10:53 That’s how I would wear a couture dress
Laura: 10:56 I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it. I’m surprised you didn’t get those pictures taken down.
Alan: 11:00 Yeah, well, as I once complimented Klinger on his dress, I like to be… [inaudible 00:11:06] No…
Laura: 11:08 Where are those dresses? Where are those Klinger dresses?
Alan: 11:10 I think some of them are in a museum.
Laura: 11:14 Are the rest of them somewhere?
Alan: 11:14 They… Can you imagine? 11 years and they didn’t let him keep the dresses.
Laura: 11:20 Not even one?
Alan: 11:21 No. And he looked so good in them.
Laura: 11:22 Who can we call?
Alan: 11:23 He was tasteful without being gaudy.
Laura: 11:30 I mean, that’s the dream. He taught us all so much.
Alan: 11:34 But…
You just got me so confused. I was going to ask you something and then you [crosstalk 00:11:40]
Laura: 11:40 High low—
Alan: 11:41 High low, that’s what, yeah, high low—
Laura: 11:42 And you were fashion, and you wore your boots with your tux.
Alan: 11:44 Yes. Now here’s the thing: that sounds like you’ve got a lot of terms we never heard of. Tell us some of these—
Laura: 11:44 And you don’t need to.
Alan: 11:52 No, I want to hear these inside terms.
Laura: 11:54 You know the one I think is really the dumbest?
Alan: 11:58 What?
Laura: 11:58 I can only remember the dumb ones… Fashion forward.
Alan: 12:01 Ford?
Laura: 12:02 Yeah, fashion forward. Forward. Like, ahead.
Alan: 12:04 Oh, fashion forward. What does that mean?
Laura: 12:05 “It’s so fashion forward.” I’m like, “Well is she standing in front of someone, or?”
Alan: 12:08 But what does it mean?
Laura: 12:10 It just means you’re so ahead. You’re so ahead of the game, you’re so progressive, you’re so—
Alan: 12:14 You’re leading the pack.
Laura: 12:15 You’re leading the pack.
Alan: 12:16 Ah.
Laura: 12:17 Fashion forward.
Alan: 12:18 What’s another one?
Laura: 12:19 Oh, crap. [inaudible 00:12:21] Oh, I hate the word… I really hate the word ‘iconic’ used for anything… I just used it in the magazine, actually, but… but it was actual dresses, historic dresses, but… “That’s iconic,” and it’s somebody’s lipstick. “Oh my God, that’s iconic. That’s iconic.” And I’m like, “You know an icon’s, like, Buddha and Kate Moss, but you know…”
Alan: 12:47 Okay.
So now let’s get down to the definition of what you called me in your magazine.
Laura: 12:47 You were so offended.
Alan: 12:47 You called me “badass man”.
Laura: 12:47 Yep.
Alan: 12:47 And I thought you liked me.
Laura: 12:52 I know. I was just eroding you. You were actually, you were our first, and maybe only, badass man.
Alan: 13:04 No kidding?
Laura: 13:05 No kidding. Because it’s you. It’s nothing but you. I’ve been… Obviously you’ve been a hero of mine for a long time, and then I was so captivated by your speech at the SAG awards, which was very… it was very, just, open and honest and being like, “Yes, the world’s in the shitter, but we’re artists and we’re going to do what we can,” and I thought that was wonderful, and it’s sort of the attitude that I try to take in anything that I do in journalism. So I thought, “I’m going to call him.”
Alan: 13:36 Oh, that was very nice, because usually you do a series on badass women.
Laura: 13:41 Badass women, yes, because we don’t like men apart from you. Haters!
No, they’re fine. Anyway. But no, we have something called…
So the genesis of all of this was… the origin story of this was, about a year, no, two years ago… yeah, summer actually… well I’ve been in this stuff for three years, and that July two years ago, Trump announced his first… and sadly he’s done it secondly and it’s worked… but his first trans ban in the military, and I remember just furious in my bones, just so angry. I came into work and I was like… to my features department, I was like, “Can you please find me… I’d like to find a trans woman who’s serving in the military and profile her on the magazine.”
So we found a woman whose name is Jennifer Peace, if you can believe, who has fought in every war since ’92, I think. She’s married, got three kids. Reading all about her, and as I finish reading, I just was… with my team, I was like, “God, what a badass.” And then I was like, “Oh. Oh! That’s something.” Because that’s something that comes from your gut. It’s not something which is a lot of women’s magazines or sites or whatever, like, “What’s that platform? What’s that women’s thing?” You don’t think like that. You’ve got to think about what affects you in your gut, and what is sort of good and right.
So we’ve started doing… I really was hopped up. I was like, “I want a trans woman in the military on the website once a week!” and my team was like, “Okay.” But we ended up doing once a month in the magazine and once a week on the website, various women, from scientists to actors to historians to…
And it just felt good. And when I say that, it’s sort of, how I’ve described it has changed over a couple of years, but I sort of say it very quickly. I was like, “You show up, you speak up, and you get things done.” It’s something about—
Alan: 15:34 So that’s what badass is.
Laura: 15:37 To me, I mean… And it’s quite simple. It was funny, actually, because I shot Melissa McCarthy for a segment on… Three badass issues now… and I shot Melissa for the second one, and she was like, “This doesn’t mean I’ve got to be leather jacket and riding a motor bike, does it?” And I was like, “No. No, that’s not what it is. It’s not an idea, it’s not a theatrical idea of being tough. It’s—”
Alan: 16:02 But having accomplished something of value.
Laura: 16:05 Having accomplished something of value and stood up for something, and I think that also the two things that I think are really badass are… Again, it doesn’t have to be the one time where you made history and you went and… It’s being consistent, it’s being… whether you’re heralded or not. And I also think, especially now, being empathetic. I think being empathetic is the most badass thing. It’s just not the obvious stuff. Now it’s listening and caring about people and speaking up when things aren’t right, and continuing to do that. That’s the women that I’ve focused on, and Melissa and I talked about this a lot because we were talking about her being an entertainer, and we sort of agreed that, I say, “A lighter hand has more power than a shaking fist.” It’s not… You can’t do this every day. It’s bad for your health, it’s futile, it’s…
And so that’s why what we’ve been able to do with this, and I’m so thrilled to be talking about this whole idea with you that I just came stomping into work with one day, that it’s a type of woman.
And the funniest thing. So I’m saying, “I’m going to do this badass woman issue,” and my advertising department was like, “Badass? Ass?”
Alan: 17:21 I thought it was going to turn people away tonight.
Laura: 17:24 I know! Oh, they’re all here. So many asses.
Alan: 17:29 Just saying how to be a badass, I thought, “People are going to say to one another, ‘Madge, you want to go see these two people talk about badass?’ and Madge says, ‘What’s on TV?’”
Laura: 17:43 Yeah. [crosstalk 00:17:44]
Alan: 17:44 But you mean something kind of rich and deep about it, which is very nice.
Laura: 17:48 I do, and I think there’s something gutsy about it, and you can’t shy away from things. Again, I’m not swearing… I guess… But you can’t second-guess everything. You can’t second-guess what you put out in the world, and you can’t second-guess who you’re going to support, especially where we are right now. You can’t do that.
I say this quite a lot. I actually really, really hate the word ‘empowerment’, women’s empowerment, because I think it’s patronizing, and I think it’s like, “Oh, poor Fiona.” Sorry for the ‘Fiona’. You’re fine. But like, “Oh, can we empower her?” I think women have power. Sometimes there’s different ways of them accessing it. Some might need to have more encouragement to access, which I know you and I spoke about, but it’s got to come from your gut, doing the right thing and speaking up for yourself comes from your gut, and I’m lucky to have a respectable platform to be able to support these women and have people get behind them.
Alan: 18:45 So do you have a badass woman who you’re crazy about?
Laura: 18:49 You know who I’m obsessed with?
Alan: 18:50 Who?
Laura: 18:51 Doris Kearns Goodwin.
Alan: 18:52 Oh. Right.
Laura: 18:56 I swoon for her. She… I first, because I’m not from the States, but I started seeing her on MSNBC or whatever, and I’m not… breaking news… a presidential historian, I’m Australian, but she has such grace and such knowledge about how she applies the lessons of the past to where we are now, and I think that’s an incredible, incredible asset, incredible knowledge, she’s just… But she’s so in it, too. Like I sent her a T-shirt. She’s so up for stuff. She’s a modern communicator as well as… She one of the most modern communicators I’ve ever seen, and this is somebody who spends her entire career delving into the past. It’s quite extraordinary. So I think she’s really somebody I’ve been lucky to spend some time with.
Alan: 19:45 So in presenting women in a style magazine, in the style magazine—
Laura: 19:53 The.
Go on.
Alan: 19:56 Presenting women who are known not so much for what they wear or how they live in the world of style, did you get any pushback from your readers, or did you get the opposite?
Laura: 20:08 No. Yeah, no, we got the opposite. We got… You have to treat every person the same. Obviously I’ll go to a cover shoot and there’s an actress and she’s got people with her, and it’s a production, versus if I’m doing a shoot on an immigration lawyer, it’s not such a production. There’s those elements of it.
But every woman that I want to feature in the magazine is doing great work of some description. I will not feature somebody in InStyle who I don’t respect, I don’t care if they’ve got 700 bajillion Instagram followers. I don’t care. And so that’s sort of what unites them.
The first badass issue I did was Serena Williams, Aly Raisman… gymnast… Monica Lewinski… who is the biggest badass, who has just come through all of that with such grace, again… a woman, Dorothy, I can’t remember her last name, but she’s an elephant trainer in Kenya. But they’re all just there. They were all just presented in the same way, and so there’s not like, “Here’s your movie star and here’s your granola.” It’s like, they’re all just rad ladies and that’s what brings them into the magazine.
And also, I think if you see what I do love… and again, in this hideous time we’re in politically… is it’s a lighter touch, because if you want to go, “Oh, okay”… I tell the story of a woman who does something, say it’s the immigration lawyer or whatever, or Cecile Richards, who started Supermajority, who wanted to have two million women registered to run for office, or to learn how to run for office. So it’s not just bashing the Trump administration all day, it’s like, “This woman’s fantastic and she’s doing something good. Here’s her story. If you want to follow and support that, then [inaudible 00:21:52]” And it’s been great.
Alan: 21:56 You’re in a position… Do you have mostly women working for you in the magazine?
Laura: 22:04 Yes. We have… We probably have… Yeah, we’re probably 80% women. 85%.
Alan: 22:14 So you’re in a position to mentor a lot of women.
Laura: 22:17 Yes. Unfortunately for them, yes. Yes. Yes.
Alan: 22:23 So when you mentor a woman, is it different from how you mentor a man?
Laura: 22:29 No. Well, I think that everybody that comes to InStyle, especially the men, they’re interested in fashion and all that kind of world. I think… in the past, I will say, some of the funniest dramas that have happened in an office, when they’d always sometimes go, “Oh, those women,” it’s always been a dude who’s stirred the pot a little bit. It’s been funny.
But no, I have a similar… I don’t… I see everyone’s my team, and they’re… What’s Stephen Colbert say? “I don’t see race.” But you know, they’re all my team. I don’t go, “He’s a man, and…” There obviously are, but we’re doing a job and we need to do it well, and be professional and kind, which they all are, which my team is, so I don’t actually… like I said, we have any much drama at all. But no, I don’t, there’s not really delineation in how I interact with them, no.
Alan: 23:22 So do you think it’s in style now for women to be regarded equally with men, or do we still need more badass women to make the point?
Laura: 23:32 I would love… You know what I think real progress would be was when that question’s redundant.
Alan: 23:35 Uh huh (affirmative).
Laura: 23:39 I also have a pet peeve sometimes. I also don’t love the term ‘glass ceiling’, because I feel like—
Alan: 23:45 Feminist movement often took aim at the things that women did to be more appealing to men… lipstick, attention to how they appeared in terms of their clothing and things like that. You’re doing something different. You’re accepting that, and in terms of that, you’re presenting women who are making progress and making change.
Laura: 24:17 Yeah.
Alan: 24:17 Have you thought that through?
Laura: 24:18 Yeah, I think women are capable of working to change immigration law and loving a good lipstick. It’s not… These are not mutually exclusive, and I think that we can have that girlish excitement when you get your new shoes, and you can go and canvas among—
Alan: 24:18 I know I had girlish excitement when I got my new sneakers.
Laura: 24:36 I mean, you are girlish excitement.
Alan: 24:38 My sneakers make me really happy.
Laura: 24:39 I’ve got to show you mine. I’ve got Air Force 1s, the Nikes. They’re also white. I wear them all day. It’d be so weird if I turned up in them tonight.
But I think that [inaudible 00:24:51] shows up in a great little sheath dress and a lipstick and a cool haircut, and—
Alan: 24:39 And changes the world anyway.
Laura: 24:57 And everything, and that’s what balance is. I mean, it’s course corrections on everything. Like if you look at the, “I don’t want to make myself up because I resent these women who’ve done this for men.” Fine, so you go the other way. Or like Time’s Up/#MeToo, all that kind of stuff, and we’re all just going… That’s what happens. Look at the administrations.
Alan: 25:19 So wait a minute, let me ask you, something just occurred to me. I was looking at your shoe and it’s not what I’m talking about. But when I see—
Laura: 25:26 I’m sorry, should I change?
Alan: 25:28 Well no, no, no, when I see somebody wearing an extremely high heel and maybe a high platform at the same time, I think, “Is this really way different from foot binding?” I mean, you can—
Laura: 25:41 Or, “Is this really worth it?”
Alan: 25:43 You can hurt yourself seriously if you fall off your own shoes!
Laura: 25:47 I know! When your shoes are a death trap.
Alan: 25:51 Yeah. But is that a good idea?
Laura: 25:55 I mean, look, there’s some ladies that just want to be taller. I’ve kind of moved on from crazy big high heels, honestly, because I just don’t want to wobble. I like the feeling of a long leg, because who doesn’t? Well, you don’t have to worry, but… Not to be inappropriate.
Alan: 26:15 You should see me in heels!
Laura: 26:16 Oh!
Alan: 26:18 You think I look good now!
Laura: 26:22 Klinger got to keep those.
But I think that they make you feel, something about feeling… I understand the idea of wanting to feel tall and in command, or in command in whatever way that is, and if you’re short and that helps you, then God speed. For me, I just… I also think sometimes you grow into just wanting to be, “I want to move,” and like to be in your bones a bit.
I had two pairs of shoes tonight and one had a… it wasn’t this big heel, but it was like a small heel, and I just was like, “Oh, I can’t be bothered.” I love not being bothered. I think you mature into that. [crosstalk 00:26:55]

When we come back we find out that there are actually people more unfashionable than I am. And Laura Brown explains how she herself became a badass. Born on a dairy farm in rural Australia, she has made it to the pinnacle of fashion journalism, from executive director of Harper’s Bazar to editor in chief of InStyle magazine. Be right back.

This is C+V, and now back to my conversation with Laura Brown
Alan: 26:55 You have a kind of laissez faire attitude about style, which is very interesting. You don’t have any rules and regulations. What would you say is an example of being really objectionably unfashionable or out of style? What would be an example of that?
Laura: 27:18 For women or men?
Alan: 27:18 Is there a difference?
Laura: 27:24 No.
I’d say anything really self-conscious, anything really… I don’t know. I haven’t seen a guy in a shiny suit lately.
Alan: 27:35 A guy in a shiny suit?
Laura: 27:37 Maybe a guy in a shiny suit? But then he could be ironic, and then he can have a silver jacket and it’s fabulous. Ah, crap.
I just think anything that anybody looks desperate in, and I don’t know what that is. The too-tight dress, the whatever the thing is that makes you feel… If the person…
Okay, you know what’s not stylish is when you can smell the effort. “What’s that?” It’s effort.
Alan: 28:03 So it really sounds like you’re dealing with the idea of fashion and style as an artistic expression.
Laura: 28:12 Yes. And I think that that’s what the people who really thrive in the industry, that’s what they do. I was just reading Teen magazine today on [inaudible 00:28:22] and the editor’s letter was about, “These are the people who were… a dyslexic gay kid who was in Ireland and 18 years old, and finally is found his way,” or, These are these people in all these different worlds where maybe they were marginalized or different or other, and then they’ve come in and had a voice in this world, and I think that is gorgeous and beautiful.
And then there’s whether the people that… That’s why there’s fashion for everyone. There’s Comme des Garçons that has bubbles coming out of it and everything else, and then there’s just Calvin Klein jeans and a white tank top, but there’s everything for everyone, and every single… it’s kind of amazing… every single look has its adherence and its cults and its tribes, and it’s wild. When you go to one fashion show versus another one and it’s night and day, the people that are there, and that’s really wild, and what makes them feel better to wear all black and gothic hair and makeup and gnarled jewelry and [inaudible 00:29:20] but that’s great. And then someone else, somebody might be in a little short mini dress.
Alan: 29:27 So you look at severe gothic makeup and clothing as not desperate?
Laura: 29:33 No! Weirdly.
Alan: 29:37 What’s desperate?
Laura: 29:37 Desperate is… What’s desperate? Trying to be sexy. Trying really hard to be sexy.
Alan: 29:45 Oh yeah, I would object to that, too.
Laura: 29:48 Yeah, just trying really—
Alan: 29:49 If you’re going to be sexy, just be it.
Laura: 29:51 Exactly! Don’t be like, [inaudible 00:29:53]
Alan: 29:54 Yeah, right.
Laura: 29:54 You know?
Alan: 29:54 Yeah.
Laura: 29:56 I don’t know, [inaudible 00:29:56]
Alan: 29:59 I don’t know, do that again.
No, maybe so, I don’t know.
Laura: 30:05 That’s my mating call.
Alan: 30:08 Do you think you can predict what will be in style in the future? I’ll give you an example. 500 years ago or so, men wore tights. For the last few decades, I was sure they’d be wearing them again. And I know at least one man who walks around New York in his skin-tight workout clothes.
Laura: 30:29 Oh yeah.
Alan: 30:30 Pretending he’s going to work out.
Laura: 30:32 And never does? Is he in our neighborhood? You need to point him out to me. We live close to each other.
Alan: 30:40 No, but I mean, do you think that that’s going to catch on?
Laura: 30:41 [crosstalk 00:30:41]
Alan: 30:42 Women are wearing tights on the street now. What do you call them?
Laura: 30:46 You mean like workout tights. Leggings. Leggings.
Alan: 30:49 You call them leggings?
Laura: 30:49 I call them leggings. Leggings? Tights? Workout tights? Leggings.
Oh yeah. They’re good to work out in. I wouldn’t… you know, I wouldn’t go other places, but hey, you’re a busy lady, you’ve got to drop the kids off. I mean, come on, who cares?
But no, I wear them, too. I wouldn’t wear them out, but that’s just my ass’s problem.
Alan: 31:12 I want to ask you about your own badassery.
Laura: 31:15 Oh!
Alan: 31:16 I couldn’t help noticing you’re Australian.
Laura: 31:19 Oh my God, how’d you know?
Alan: 31:22 And you told me once that you, at a certain point in your life, you wanted to get out.
Laura: 31:31 Australia.
Alan: 31:31 Did you, you grew up in a rural town, a small town?
Laura: 31:34 Yeah, I grew up on a farm outside of Sydney. Until five, when… That was before the divorce. But yes, yes, I grew up on a farm, and then we moved to Sydney, me and my mom.
Alan: 31:44 You got divorced when you were five?
Laura: 31:46 I got divorced… Australia, they start you early. It’s a convict thing.
Alan: 31:51 You mean your mom got divorced.
Laura: 31:53 My mom got divorced, my parents got divorced, and I moved to the city, to Sydney, with my mom.
Alan: 32:01 Ah. So what was it you wanted to get out of?
Laura: 32:02 I think the blessing and the curse of Australia is its distance, and especially when you’re growing up… I was born in ’74, so you’re growing up in the ’80s. We didn’t have internet. Breaking news. We didn’t have social media. So everything seemed to beam in from another dimension. Like even American TV. I remember watching you in my living room or something, and even American TV looked different. It looked sort of more stretched.
Alan: 32:34 I think you needed a better set.
Laura: 32:34 No, I was a drinker. I was an early drinker.
But no, there is a… not dimension, or whatever it is… that it is a different… resolution, maybe? Anyway, but everybody from America looked just different to us, and sort of unique and something, and so you start to focus on that.
Alan: 32:53 You wanted to go where those short, fat people were?
Laura: 32:56 Where the wide people, where the very wide people were.
Alan: 33:00 Yeah.
Laura: 33:00 Yeah.
Alan: 33:00 So that’s what you wanted to leave Australia for? I don’t get it.
Laura: 33:04 I wanted to leave Australia because it’s a dump.
No, but it was… And also, I think it depends on what you want to do with your life. Like I wanted to be a journalist, I wanted to be in fashion, and… fashion, at least, or in the movies, or all that kind of stuff, mostly… not all, because there’s a brilliant film industry in Australia, and always has been… but most of it happened up here. And if you are hungry for information and you’re a curious person, and you want to be a journalist, you’ve got to get up there. You’ve got to get up here at all costs.
Alan: 33:36 How did you know you wanted to be a journalist? How did you get into fashion or style?
Laura: 33:40 I just always loved magazines. They were so romantic to me, and again, they weren’t diffused by the internet or anything. You’d buy them at the shop and they were three months out of date, because in Australia we got them all late. That’s improved marginally, but… You would just go and you would get your Vogue and your Harper’s Bazaar, and I’d be a teenager and I’d be looking at supermodels, and I just—
Alan: 34:05 So you were reading Harper’s Bazaar as a kid, and then you wound up running Harper’s Bazaar.
Laura: 34:08 Yeah! I did! Well, second running. Yeah. I did.
Alan: 34:11 Wow!
Laura: 34:12 I social climbed.
But it was just a vision of it. And also, I think you would get news… especially then, as well… a little bit second-hand, and I remember I was writing about… And then we had finally gotten the internet and everything, before I came here, but I was writing about a fashion show second-hand. I was writing about a Helmut Lang show or something, and I was writing about it because I’d seen it somewhere, and I was like, “I just want to see it.”
Alan: 34:37 See what?
Laura: 34:38 “I want to see the show with my own eyes.”
Alan: 34:40 Oh, oh, I see.
Laura: 34:40 “I don’t want to see it second-hand.”
Alan: 34:43 Yeah.
Laura: 34:44 And that just infects you. Again, if you want to do what I do, you just have to go. It depends on what your idea of quality of life is.
Alan: 34:52 So you went to the States first, or—
Laura: 34:54 I went to London first.
Alan: 34:55 Yeah. And you went there cold? You didn’t know anybody?
Laura: 34:58 Oh man. No, I went with three other girls. We backpacked around, got drunk, and got fat for three months… that was great… and then we came back and got temp jobs and whatever, but I wanted to go to the shows and stuff. But I remember I decided… I went to London and I was like, “I’m going to freelance.” I didn’t know anyone, and London is not… London, I know some of the greatest people there, but at its first blush, it’s not necessarily the most open place. And so I was like, “Oh I don’t know anyone,” and one day I remember I didn’t have enough money to buy a Diet Coke. I didn’t have 50P or something to buy a Diet Coke, and I was like, “Okay, I better get a job.”
But I was so desperate, because I was very close to Paris and that’s where the shows were, and so I got myself some freelance stuff, work for an Australian magazine… I think it was Harper’s Bazaar by then… and I sent myself to the Paris shows. I didn’t know anyone, again, and it was raining, and everyone was so mean, and I was in row… How far does the alphabet… Whatever the 27th letter of the alphabet is, that’s the row I was in. The models were just torsos. I never saw feet. And the only person I talked to was a waiter for four or five days. But I had to see it.
Alan: 36:17 Were you able to write something that somebody bought?
Laura: 36:21 Bought? No, I would be commissioned stuff, so I wouldn’t do it on spec. But that’s one thing I learned early in the piece. No, they’d be like, “I’ll go,” because Australia’s very far away, somebody’s already there, they’ll go, “Great, you go and cover” blah blah blah.
Alan: 36:35 So what was it… It sounds like you’re the very definition of badass that you’ve been telling us about. What was it that made you know you could leave Australia, your home, and make it in this very competitive profession someplace else across the ocean? What did you have?
Laura: 36:55 Foolishness. No, I think… I think I knew that I was able to be in the world, which was, like, I could walk into a room and meet a person and get on with them. I socialized well. I’m not like a socialite, I just socialize well with people. And you have sort of guilelessness when you’re younger and you get on a plane. There’s that, too. And also, if you’re from Australia, worst-case scenario is going back to Australia. Like, okay.
Alan: 37:26 You mean to give up and go back?
Laura: 37:28 Yeah! I mean, to go back to Australia is no bad thing, but… so you just kind of go, and I just was like, “I’ll try,” and then I moved… I’ve said this a bit, but… I landed in New York on September 4th, 2001… like a winner… with $5000, so it was the worst time to move there, but I don’t know, you’re just there, aren’t you? I mean, I think that… Now I think about it, and I go, “Goddamn, I moved there on September 11th and I would make $700 writing for a magazine, and then I would take the check and I would send the check to my mother in Australia, put it in the bank there.” Just crazy stuff that now I don’t know if I could do, but there is something also about being Aussie. We just want to go. I think that really… I think that helps us do well in a lot of places, but I think especially in New York. I think we’re just happy to be here. I think that sort of colors everything we do.
So even when I arrived, when I arrived, blessedly I didn’t lose someone or nothing bad happened to me, but I was never going to leave. I just was in it. I was there, and now it’s 18 years later.
Alan: 38:40 Well, we’re reaching the end of our—
Laura: 38:43 Dear God! Is Sarah waving?
Alan: 38:46 [crosstalk 00:38:46] But I’m sure glad you did make it.
Laura: 38:48 Me too, because we’re here together.
Alan: 38:52 Now here’s the thing. We always end our show with seven quick questions.
Laura: 38:56 Okay.
Alan: 38:57 Has anybody ever heard the podcast, who’s here tonight?
Laura: 39:01 Yes.
Alan: 39:02 Yes. No, that’s good! That’s so nice! I’m glad to hear it. So you know we do these seven questions, and we have a new set for this season.
Laura: 39:12 Ooh! So this season!
Alan: 39:14 They’re easy questions, they’re not hard.
Laura: 39:16 You’re so fashion. This season.
Alan: 39:17 Oh yeah, that’s right.
Laura: 39:19 Told you.
Alan: 39:20 Okay, here’s the first question: what’s the hardest thing you’ve ever tried to explain to someone?
Laura: 39:30 Math? Because I don’t know how to do it. I know a little bit how to… The hardest thing to… No, I think the hardest thing has been trying to explain to someone that they’re right for a job or something if it’s in their DNA, which is very difficult to explain. Because if you’re seeing somebody in a room, you don’t just go, “You’re this sort of person because you check [inaudible 00:39:54] boxes.” I know because I feel it, but it’s very hard to explain how I feel it.
Alan: 39:59 This is when you’re telling someone they’re right for a job?
Laura: 40:02 Yeah, or when I’m interviewing someone or I can just tell somebody’s going to be good for a story or good for a job, I always say it’s in their DNA. But it’s quite hard to explain somebody’s DNA.
Alan: 40:12 It sounds like this is how you—
Laura: 40:12 Sure, you could, but I can’t.
Alan: 40:14 This is how you talk them into it.
Laura: 40:15 Yeah, I just… I don’t know, but it’s a really hard thing, and I just go, “You know.”
Alan: 40:20 Okay, here’s number two: how do you handle a nosy person?
Laura: 40:28 Oh, reverse.
Alan: 40:30 What, you get nosy about them?
Laura: 40:31 No, I reverse. Physically.
Alan: 40:37 Your alimentary canal goes in backwards?
Laura: 40:38 I just go backwards! I just go backwards. No, a nosy, gossipy person, if I can’t leave the table or room, I just sort of shut down, but I physically or metaphorically reverse. I can’t stand it.
And we all gossip and we talk about the news and everything, but… and I’m pretty open-book about everything I do, but… it’s more gossipy people just, and bitchy people, then I just go [inaudible 00:41:01]
Alan: 41:01 Well I hope I never see that.
Laura: 41:01 I’m going forward!
Alan: 41:08 How do you tell someone they have their facts all wrong? Or do you?
Laura: 41:17 “That’s bullshit.”
Alan: 41:19 That’s what you say?
Laura: 41:20 Yeah! “That’s bullshit.”
Alan: 41:21 Let’s move on.
Laura: 41:22 Okay.
Alan: 41:26 What’s the strangest question anyone has ever asked you?
Laura: 41:30 It’s not the strangest, but it’s the most annoying.
Alan: 41:34 What?
Laura: 41:34 Can I give you that one?
Alan: 41:34 Yeah.
Laura: 41:34 “How do you get your ideas?” Ugh.
Alan: 41:39 What do you say? See, I just asked you the question.
Laura: 41:44 “I don’t know, man.” I go, “I don’t know, I’m in the shower,” or, “I don’t know, I can’t sleep.” “I don’t know, I’m in a conversation.” But it’s almost like somebody wants a PowerPoint presentation about how I get my ideas, and I’m like, “I’m alive? I don’t know.”
Alan: 41:57 Okay, next question.
Laura: 41:58 Yeah.
Alan: 41:59 How do you stop a compulsive talker?
Laura: 42:04 Reverse.
Alan: 42:07 What is this reverse thing?
Laura: 42:08 Well then they’re all alone!
Alan: 42:11 You mean you shut down?
Laura: 42:12 No, I… Or I just go, “Great. That’s great.” It’s lowering. “Great.”
Alan: 42:22 Okay, here’s the opposite of that, number six. How do you like to start up a real conversation with someone who you don’t know at a dinner party?
Laura: 42:32 Oh. Actually, this is helpful. It’s more like social protection for me, as well, but I do actually mean it. I often ask people sometimes, because I meet a lot of people and sometimes I don’t remember them, and there’s a lot of PR people whose job might, you know… I say to people… and it is interest, but it’s also because I might not remember who they are… I say, “How’s the empire?”
Alan: 42:59 Even if they’re not English?
Laura: 43:02 No, even if they’re not English. But it just means, “Wow, because you’re so successful in whatever you do that I’ve forgotten, how’s the empire?” And then they might go… but then that can lead, if they’re a cool person, to a great conversation, or if it’s somebody I don’t know so well, that might give me a clue as to who the hell they are.
Alan: 43:20 Right.
Laura: 43:20 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Alan: 43:21 I think if you said that to me, I’d say, “What?”
Laura: 43:26 No, you’d go, “Who’s this?”
Alan: 43:27 Yeah, right. I’d go in reverse.
Okay, last question. This is really interesting to me.
Laura: 43:35 All right, boss.
Alan: 43:36 What gives you confidence?
Laura: 43:42 That you should envy no one. I say this to young people all the time when they’re like, “oh my god, that celebrity, they have this, they have that,” and I go, “Yeah, but that celebrity also had a mental disorder, or got rubbed in a bathtub, or had a breakdown or had a bad marriage or had fertility problems or had [inaudible 00:44:03].” So I think that what gives me confidence is just an equalization of all of us, and just knowing that if I’m in a room with somebody who’s a grandee, such as yourself, that we’re just… What gives me confidence is having respect but not reverence. And I think that that is what breaks everybody down, and then makes everybody communicate, as you well know.
Alan: 44:34 So you feel equal to other people by having respect for them, but not being bowled over by them. Yeah.
Laura: 44:41 Yeah, and it’s not an ego thing. It’s just like, you’re a person, too, and I somehow manage or try to manage to see that in everyone.
Alan: 44:47 Very nice answer. Thank you.
Now here’s the nice thing. We usually don’t have a live audience when we do the podcast, and tonight we do, and now’s a chance that we usually don’t have to get questions from you for a couple of minutes before we close the evening. We have a couple of microphones that can meet you, so raise your hand if you have a burning question, or one that’s just smoldering, that would be all right.
Laura: 45:11 Don’t.
A pilot light of a question.
Alan: 45:15 Yeah.
Speaker 5: 45:18 Hello. Very nice to meet you guys, you guys are great. I do have a question. Why is it in this world that when men are considered tough, a girl is a bitch? Excuse my French.
Laura: 45:35 I hope that’s disappearing.
Speaker 5: 45:37 I hope so.
Laura: 45:39 Again, that’s the sort of thing that… It’s the thing that you don’t necessarily want to keep discussing because I’m wary of reinforcing it, but I think that… hopefully just… Well maybe, you know what? If you’re a bitch, you’re a bitch, right? But—
Speaker 5: 45:53 I am who I am.
Laura: 45:54 Yeah. But I think if a woman is self-possessed and knows what she wants, then good on her. I don’t… I also think that a tough guy now, I mean, look where that’s gotten us. You know? Sorry, short answer, but I don’t think that there’s… I think that parallel, hopefully, is on its way out.
Alan: 46:14 So what does a woman… Let me just take it a step further. What does a woman do who’s in a corporation where she’s behaving as herself, which she has every right to do, and in fact can only be effective if she is behaving as herself, and then the consensus starts to be, among the men who are in a position to hold her back, that she’s, as you said, bitchy? What’s the strategy she should adopt?
Laura: 46:43 Well I have a hard one with that, and this sounds so pat and so blue sky, because I’m always like, “Why are you in that bloody company anyway?” If—
Alan: 46:51 Well maybe you can’t get a job anywhere else.
Laura: 46:53 Yeah, if you’re having to crush what makes you you to do your job, I don’t think you’re going to do a good job, and I think that it’s going to tell on you in one way or the other, on your health or on your colleagues. I think being frank, if you’re aggressive with somebody, being frank about your mistakes, being frank about what you want people to do for you [crosstalk 00:47:15] as the employer, but if you’re up against some cabal of dudes that think… hopefully wrongly… that you’re that sort of person, then try to get out. I don’t know. I hope that, again, those environments are hopefully going to disappear. I don’t know. I don’t know.
But I’m also lucky because I come from an industry that women have had a great foothold in for a long time, so I haven’t really… I haven’t had… I mean, I’ve always had, my bosses are men, most of them, and… my bosses are decent people, so I guess I’m lucky.
Alan: 47:51 That’s good.
Laura: 47:51 Yeah.
Alan: 47:52 How about another question?
Laura: 47:56 Oh, there’s two? Two over… yeah.
Alan: 47:58 Ah yes, we have—
Laura: 47:58 These two ladies here. Yeah.
Alan: 48:02 Thank you.
Speaker 6: 48:02 Well, Alan, I’m wondering if you would answer your own question. How did you become so self-confident?
Laura: 48:14 Ooh, touché!
Alan: 48:14 Yes. I never had to answer that question.
You know, it’s very interesting. I don’t know why, because… well I just don’t know why, but I’ve always had the ability to go to somebody and say, “I need your help.” I found out in college that they had a program where you could go to school in Paris during your junior year, so I was unafraid to do what I’m going to tell you about now, and I don’t know how I had the nerve to do this. I went to every one of my professors and I said, “I have to have a 90 average to go to Paris. What do I need to do to get a 90 in your class?” It was kind of simple, but—
Laura: 49:03 It’s effective!
Alan: 49:04 Yeah, and some of them said, “Oh, you want to go to Paris? Just read the books and pass the test and fine.” And I had one guy who said, “You want a 90? Earn it.” And I knew I had to work extra hard in that class, so I was able to organize my work time and I finally wound up going to Paris.
Now where did I get the confidence to do that? I’m assuming it wasn’t a bad thing to do. I don’t think I hurt my education.
Laura: 49:32 I think there’s a certain efficiency to it, frankly.
Alan: 49:33 Yes, yeah. And I read an article in a magazine that I thought was fascinating, and I called up the author and said, “Can I come talk to you about it?” I had this ability to do these things, and I’m a very shy, introverted person. I actually am. I don’t like the telephone. I get anxious talking on the phone.
Laura: 49:54 [crosstalk 00:49:54]
Alan: 49:53 Do you really?
Laura: 49:53 I don’t like it.
Alan: 49:56 Yeah. I loved it when email came in.
Laura: 50:00 He writes back to you in email in two minutes.
Alan: 50:03 Yeah, I like email.
Laura: 50:04 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Alan: 50:06 So the answer to your question is I don’t know.
So anybody else?
Laura: 50:12 Yes, there was this lady here.
Alan: 50:13 Oh, I’m sorry.
Speaker 7: 50:15 Hi, I have two things to ask. First of all, Ms. Brown, some women… I’ve worked in the corporate world in the past. Not recently. My sons, when they were born, I stopped working many years ago, but when I was in the corporate world, there were some women who were trained for their jobs, but they were not very nice. It seems to me that you, in your jobs, would be assertive but polite about it, and that makes a difference.
Laura: 50:15 100%.
Speaker 7: 50:42 If people are rude to the people that they’re working with, be it men or women or whatever, other people don’t want to work with them, and sometimes that is a contributing factor as to why women are not—
Laura: 50:55 I think that it’s a way of being with people. If I have any criticism to give to my team or a member of my team who’s done something, I say to them more often than not, “You know. You know that that’s not the way forward,” so I’m giving them some credit, even if they didn’t know and I’m sort of… But I’m saying, “You know that that wouldn’t work,” or, “You know that [inaudible 00:51:13]” so I’m coming at them with some respect of having a brain. I’m not just pummeling because there’s no… because people often, you know, it depends… people don’t recover from those sort of things. I think it’s really hard—
Speaker 7: 50:55 It’s a skill that we all learn when we work, yeah.
Laura: 51:28 Yeah. Yeah. People always remember if a boss said something awful to them, and can carry it for years. I agree.
Alan: 51:36 That sounds right.
Laura: 51:36 [crosstalk 00:51:36] second part?
Alan: 51:37 But do you ever go crazy and yell at somebody?
Laura: 51:40 Sometimes the sales department. No, I don’t yell, I just go like… because they come in… It’s pretty funny. Actually, my dear, dear friend [William Gasparoni 00:51:49]… shout it out… list of demands, and what I do like to do, I shout theatrically and close my door just to see if anyone thinks that I’ve gotten someone into trouble. No one has yet. “How could you?” You know what I mean? And everyone’s like [crosstalk 00:52:00]
But no, if someone asks me to do something stupid or [crosstalk 00:52:10] I know what my time, what managing time is worth, and what [crosstalk 00:52:17] I just go like, “No!”
Alan: 52:16 You know what I forgot [crosstalk 00:52:17] doing things that you don’t want to do. I forgot, I wanted to ask you, but you had a program that I saw an episode of on the internet called Dirty Laundry—
Laura: 52:36 Oh, you did see one of those! [crosstalk 00:52:39]
Alan: 52:39 So am I wrong about this? She asks people to come in and be on her program and bring their dirty laundry—
Laura: 52:47 Yeah, not literally.
Alan: 52:48 And you do… Well, one person brought in stuff and you said, “Don’t you have anything really dirty here?”
Laura: 52:53 Oh yeah, who was that?
Alan: 52:53 I don’t remember.
Laura: 52:55 Yeah. No, it was people bringing in things that had a story.
Alan: 52:55 That had a story, right.
Laura: 53:00 The biggest scandal was when Priyanka Chopra brought in a leather jacket that was an ex-boyfriend’s, and all the Indian tabloids went crazy because it was some big Bollywood star. “Oh, it’s so-and-so’s jacket,” and it was a big scandal for my dumb five-minute show [crosstalk 00:53:15]
Alan: 53:15 Let’s move on.
Laura: 53:16 Yeah.
Sorry, you have a second part! I’m sorry.
Speaker 7: 53:22 I did have another question. Mr. Alda, some years back I saw you at a book signing. It was the one about your dog being stuffed, or don’t stuff your dog, as the case may be, and at the time… I’m laughing that you were talking about the sneakers… because at the time, I happened to be on a fad and I was wearing army boots all the time, and I showed them to you and you looked at them and laughed at them. But at that lecture also, I never got a chance to ask you the question. When you were working on the Scientific Frontier show, you were the host for so many years. Do you have any degrees in science, or were you just interested in that show for the show itself?
Alan: 53:54 No, I was just interested in science. I’ve always been interested in it, and it was a wonderful education for me to… I must’ve talked with… I tried to count once, and I think there were about 700 scientists, and we just had conversations and I tried to understand what they were doing, and if I didn’t understand it, I’d shake them sometimes. I’d say, “I don’t get it. Tell me again in another way,” until finally I would get it.
And then when I would get it, the hope was the audience got it, too. Because sometimes these were very abstruse things, like—
Laura: 53:54 When you can say ‘abstruse’, you are good.
Alan: 54:30 Abstruse.
Laura: 54:32 Abstruse. Go on.
Alan: 54:36 That gets you going when I say ‘abstruse’.
Laura: 54:39 A little bit. A little bit.
Speaker 7: 54:39 But I found that show amazing, because you took… as you said, too, yourself also… very complicated scientific things and explained it so that the rest of us could understand it.
Alan: 54:50 You know, it was a little bit selfish on my part, because to me, that’s like poetry, science. Or music. And I don’t like being deprived of it, and I don’t like the whole culture being deprived of it. Scientists see nature in a way that the rest of us don’t. They see under the beauty of the flower to the beauty of photosynthesis and other things happening inside it. Because we don’t think about it, we don’t see and we haven’t got the language to talk about it, and it [crosstalk 00:55:32] as if you would say, “Starting tomorrow, there’ll be no more music in the world.” We’re living that way, in a way, with science now. There’s too little in our lives, and therefore there’s too little pleasure that we can get from that. One of the reasons I did the show is I wanted the pleasure of hearing it.
Any other questions? And then we’ll let everybody go home.
Laura: 55:51 Oh yeah, we can… In the front. She probably doesn’t need it. Oh, do you need the mic for recording?
Alan: 55:56 Yes.
Laura: 55:56 Okay.
Alan: 55:56 Yeah.
Speaker 8: 55:59 Yes, who do you admire most? [inaudible 00:56:01]
Alan: 56:01 Who do we admire most? Both of us?
Speaker 8: 56:05 Yeah.
Alan: 56:06 Well I like you a lot.
Speaker 8: 56:08 Alan, I find you to be swell.
Alan: 56:08 Whoever you are, I don’t…
Speaker 8: 56:09 I think you’re pretty swell.
Laura: 56:13 Yeah. You made me.
Alan: 56:15 I’ll let you go first. Who do you admire the most?
Speaker 8: 56:16 Who do you admire most?
Laura: 56:16 Oh geez. I don’t have one person. I mean, I’m lucky enough now to be able to put women I admire in the magazine every month. I’m thrilled [crosstalk 00:56:33] and so it could be anybody from Doris to Serena Williams to the lawyers for [Raisas 00:56:41] to… It’s just… How lovely to not be able to just pick one and just to… I think it’s an incredible time for women now, an incredible forthright time, and we’ve got to do it, so sadly, not just one.
Alan: 56:57 Well, I have one. You’re going to think this is a craven asking for applause. I have one, it’s a woman. It’s my wife Arlene.
Thank you all for being here tonight. It was such a pleasure to be with you. Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you. That’s great. Thank you.
I’d like to thank Laura Brown and everyone at Guild Hall who made this episode possible. We all had a great time and I think we’ll do more of these live-audience recordings in the future.
You can read more badass features by Laura Brown and subscribe to InStyle Magazine online at: And you’ll also want to follow her on Twitter and Instagram @laurabrown99