Publisher's Letter

updated 05/16/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/16/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Traditionally a magazine's art department houses its most colorful employees. PEOPLE's Art Director, T. Courtney Brown, is a splendid case in point. It can be asserted with relative certainty that Brown is the only PEOPLE employee who ever escorted Andy Warhol to Studio 54 while wearing a white rubber dress. She is also one of the few staffers with a tattoo—a small star on her left wrist, given her by famed tattoo artist Lyle Tuttle—and the only one to have sung backup in the '70s punk group Spider Webb and the Rubber Band. A staffer for the past two years, Brown wore all-black or all-white to work for the first few months. She switched to brighter colors after seeing Les Misérables on Broadway and concluding that "the real reason those people were so depressed is because their clothing was so drab."

Non-drabness is the quality Brown strives mightily to bring to this magazine every week. What you see is what she oversees, from the tint of Don Johnson's eyes on the cover to the typeface in Chatter captions to, ultimately, the period at the end of this sentence. Her goal, she says, is "to make the magazine more than the sum of its parts. What I try to do is kind of a visual shorthand. Really good design is almost invisible—it's something so right and so subtle that it's actually strong." During an average week, the cover will be revised for subject or style two or three times, and the layouts for most stories will be altered at least once, often on deadline, to make room for better photographs or more text. Brown handles such last-minute changes with aplomb. "Writers, editors and photographers all want more," she says. "More lines, more space for pictures, more everything." Luckily she views her work as a collaborative effort. "I really want input," she says. "As an art director, I call upon a reserve of visual information I've stored up. Other people's ideas add to that bank."

Brown gives much of the credit for her passion for magazines to her late father, UPI travel editor Murray Brown. "He had an insatiable hunger for reading, and we had every magazine imaginable," says Courtney. "I learned at his knee, and I never wanted to do any other kind of work." After graduating from Manhattan's Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, she began charting a career that reads simultaneously like a résumé and a social history. Her former jobs include, but are not limited to, researching underground films, designing T-shirts for a company that owned the rights to tattooer Tuttle's body (itself tattooed from neck to ankles) and working as a designer or art director for such very varied publications as Good Housekeeping, High Times, Consumers Digest and Playgirl. While at the Digest, she wore identical blue sweatshirts to work every day—each labeled with the appropriate day of the week, of course.

Now a confessed "adult," Brown, 41, recently made a small concession to maturity and her official stature: She purchased five suits. Or, more precisely, five of the same suit, in different colors. "This may be the first time I look responsible," she says, "but I've always been responsible."

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