“Style is about whatever makes you happy,” says Leonie Barlow, founder of award-winning website The Style Insider. “It has to be something accessible, something that makes you smile. The underlying philosophy of the blog is that style has nothing to do with money, or with age, but about creating great looks with whatever you have. I try to showcase that through fashion, recipes, lifestyle and beauty. I just did a photo shoot for The Warehouse, which I do every season because I love to surprise and delight without spending a lot of money.”
Leonie recently celebrated the blog’s fourth birthday, having spent the previous 20 years in traditional media as editor of publications such as She, The Australian Woman’s Weekly and Fashion Quarterly. Many of her former peers mocked the idea of leaving a successful career in print publishing to start a blog which was, at the time, relatively unknown and unexplored.
“I remember wanting to put our magazines online, but back then being online didn’t seem like a priority,” says Leonie. “It was frustrating for me because I knew this was where the industry was heading and the rest of the world was leaving us behind.”
Leonie lost count of the number of times she had to explain what a blog was during the The Style Insider’s first year: “When the whole Whale Oil debacle happened, it at least put blogging on the map in New Zealand. People began to realise that blogs could make a difference, make a noise that they were in fact worth taking notice of. Now, every media organisation is jumping on the bandwagon, and certainly in New Zealand they’re still clambering to catch up.”
Publishers, she adds, are only just realising that their online offerings need to be be treated differently, as opposed to simply rehashing what is in their magazines. “They’ve learned that they need to throw resources, time and money at their online presence, so that it complements their print offerings.” The blogger, who still loves nothing more than leafing through glossy pages, believes there’s still a future for magazines, “they just need to be smarter how they approach print”.
“One-man band” Leonie describes her digital initiation as a real baptism of fire. “I was an old dog that needed to learn some new tricks! I wanted to future-proof my career, I needed to upskill, learn the ins and outs of social media, photography, video editing and so on. That was the hardest part, but also the most rewarding.”
Most importantly, the career-change afforded her the freedom to spend more time with her family, and “to be more present as a mum”. Her two boys, Guy, 13, and 11-year-old Jed, are both into “parkour, backflips and all sorts of crazy things” and Leonie helps them create content online. She believes it important that parents be digital savvy, and has helped others conquer their digital fears in order to be “one step ahead” of their kids and the problems they may face online.
It was, fittingly, print media which led to Leonie meeting her firefighting husband, John, after he mischievously sent her flowers and a letter asking for a date after she mischievously compared herself to Carrie from Sex and the City (“both journalists, both gorgeous, and both single!”) in a Valentine’s Day editor’s note for She magazine. “He also sent this photo of himself from when he did some modelling, and I just thought what a weirdo!” laughs Leonie. She ignored John for a while, before eventually calling to thank him for the flowers, and to say blind dates just weren’t her thing. “By the end of the call, he’d persuaded me to meet him for a drink, and it was love at first sight. Six weeks later, we moved in together and nine months later I proposed. Fourteen years later we’re still together.”
As for plans for Christmas she’ll be logging off and taking a well-earned break, save for a few sneaky scrolls of Instagram, of course.