So What Do You Do, Rina Stone, Creative Director at InStyle?

Rina-StoneAs creative director of InStyle since 2007, Rina Stone has seen her purview expand from the pages of a magazine to an entire brand universe that now encompasses everything from apps to stilettos (created as part of an ongoing collaboration with Nine West). And the hot-off-the-presses September issue is an even bigger deal than usual this year, as its 700+ pages celebrate not only fall fashion but 20 years of InStyle‘s signature inspirational yet attainable approach. As for how she balances multiple projects and tasks, Stone is quick to credit her fellow InStylers. “None of this work would be possible without the huge contribution of the many talented art directors, designers and photo editors on my team,” says Stone. “They can switch gears in an instant from a magazine feature to a digital mini book to — believe it or not — a behind-the-scenes video. They rock!” Fashionably speaking, agility is the new black.

Position: Creative director, InStyle
Resume: Before joining InStyle as creative director in 2007, Stone was the first creative director of People. She previously served as Talk‘s design director and worked on the prototype for Radar. Her prior experience includes design and art director positions at Us Weekly and its monthly incarnation, Us magazine. She also redesigned and launched Sports Illustrated for Women, and contributed to redesigns of GQ and Entertainment Weekly.
Birthday: October 6
Hometown: Valley Stream, New York
Education: BS in journalism from Boston University
Marital status: Married with two children, 4-year-old Linus and 6-year-old Hazel
Media mentor: Martha Nelson, former editor-in-chief of Time, Inc.
Best career advice received: “Don’t ever do anything just for the money. If you don’t believe in what you’re doing, you will be miserable and you probably will not be very good at it.” And, secondly: “Being strategic and having all of your facts is important when making decisions, but there will come times when you need to make a decision based on gut instinct alone.”
Last book read: The Fever by Megan Abbott
Guilty pleasure: This week it’s Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.” I can’t get it out of my head — and my kids love the video.
On Twitter: @rinajoystone
On Instagram: @rinajstone

What are your responsibilities as creative director of InStyle?
Creative director means lots of different things in different places. At InStyle my role is focused on keeping the brand in line — visually, photographically, typographically — across all of our categories. So that would be within the home sector, beauty, fashion — and I work very closely with each group. The art department and the photo department report into me, and the digital/tablet department reports into me, but I also have a very close relationship working with all of the directors — the style director, fashion director, beauty director and home director — I collaborate with them on shoots, on concepts for stories, on how to tell a story. I then am part of all of the run-throughs, so if merchandise is not really telling the story that we want to get across or if it’s not becoming a cohesive collection of pieces that will present themselves well on the page, I give them feedback there.

How has your role — and InStyle itself — changed since you arrived in 2007?
I’ve watched the industry and my role at InStyle change so much just in the last few years. I used to say, ‘I’m the creative director of InStyle magazine.’ Well, InStyle is so much more now than it was then. It’s more about the brand. Obviously the magazine is the touchstone of the brand, and we put so much time and effort into it, but we do many other things now.

Was that transition, from magazine to a larger brand, a gradual realization?
Absolutely. We just started jumping on so many different opportunities. For example, [in August 2013] we launched a collection of white shirts — the Perfect White Shirt Collection — and my role in that was everything from the design of the shirt, helping pick the buttons, shooting an ad campaign, and then when we went on a promotional tour, my team and I were designing the skin of a bus! It really went full circle.

And that was around the same time you were partnering with Nine West?
Yes, and the same thing happened when we launched our collaboration with Nine West. It starts out as what seems like a little editorial extension — doing a booklet, giving the shoes some context — and the next thing you know it turns into a full-blown ad campaign. We’ve just launched our third season, and the InStyle for Nine West collection [which now includes shoes, handbags and jewelry] has a 90 percent sell-through rate. We’re practically running an agency here! It’s so much fun, and it kind of just evolved over time.

instyle-sept-2014How do you characterize the InStyle brand?
One thing that’s at the heart of InStyle is its inspirational quality. Everything we do needs to be inspirational for our audience — it’s no longer a reader, it’s the consumer. And whether they’re consuming editorial content or a pair of shoes, it needs to have a certain sense of luxuriousness, but it can’t be a turnoff or too avant-garde. Everything is at the height of what’s happening in fashion, beauty, design, but it’s something that is understandable. I’ve been here for almost seven years, and we work so much on either visual mood boards or merchandise mood boards that I feel like at this point somebody could do a psychological test of me and flash pictures up on a screen and say, ‘InStyle or not InStyle?’ and I could ace it.

InStyle has always had a unique relationship to celebrity culture and Hollywood. How would you say that has evolved over the years?
Since we’re celebrating our 20th anniversary, I’ve spent a lot of time going back and looking at the first issues, and when InStyle started out,the majority of the stories were commentary on red carpet fashion and interviews with designers who dressed people on the red carpet. As time passed InStyle has become a part of every part of a woman’s life, using celebrities as another area of inspiration, because celebrities don’t just walk the red carpet. They are style icons unto themselves, and I feel as though when we do a fashion editorial on a celebrity, we like to make them the best version of themselves, and it’s really great for a reader to see.

What do you consider the most challenging aspect of your job as creative director?
I think the most challenging part is keeping the book cohesive when we have such a wide audience. With everything we do, the age range is so broad and the number of people is so great. You can take a niche brand, and you know who your girl is and you visually stick to that. With InStyle, everybody’s our girl — there’s a sexy girl, an edgy girl, an uptown girl, a downtown girl. How do you marry all those styles and all that aesthetic into one package? That’s always the struggle. And I think we do a pretty good job at that. What it does is sometimes pushes people out of their comfort zone or makes them think, ‘Oh, maybe I would try that.’

You’ve just published the 20th anniversary mega-issue. When you have an issue of that substance and scope, what is the process for getting all of the pieces together?
It feels like it took all year! An issue like this we’ve been thinking about for a while. We definitely pinned stuff up on inspiration boards — things we should do for the 20th — and then as we sat down and actually started to fill up mockups and pages, all of those bits and pieces came together. One great thing we have in the issue is the ‘Clothes We Love’ runway report, and we really wanted to blow that out. We even did a gatefold that had all kinds of fun statistics from the season. In planning features, we want to make sure we have a good balance and a good mix. This September issue [is] big, and it’s one of those things where you read through it once, it sits on the coffee table, and two weeks later you go through it again. We just want to be able to surprise and delight [readers] throughout.

And you snagged Julia Roberts for the cover.
That was a real coup. Ariel [Foxman, InStyle editor-in-chief] felt there was no one better to celebrate our 20th anniversary. She’s such an InStyle girl. Putting that shoot together, we wanted to do a fashion story — obviously, because it’s the September issue — but we also wanted to make sure that we left with something that was iconic and memorable — some pictures that would last forever. She loved the concept, and she has such personality. I think some of these portraits, you can put them in a time capsule, take them out in 20 years, and they’ll still be relevant.

Stephanie Murg is the editor of Mediabistro’s Unbeige, and writes about art and design for publications such as Wallpaper*, ARTnews, Gotham and Art+Auction. Follow her on Twitter at @StephanieMurg

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.