The bizarre story behind one of the most iconic magazine covers of the last decade.

Rihanna isn’t a stand-there-and-pout kind of magazine cover star. She’s the kind who’ll slip on a gold swimsuit, strap on some heels and climb into the mouth of a fibreglass shark.

And because of it, the singer secured herself a starring role in a piece of fashion iconography.

That Jaws-themed image, which featured on the March 2015 subscriber cover of Harper’s Bazaar, is considered one of the most memorable magazine covers of the past decade and one of the stand-outs from the title’s 152-year history.

Behind it all, was Australian-born Executive Editor, Laura Brown.

Speaking to Mamamia‘s No Filter podcast, the 43-year-old, who is now at the helm of InStyle US, explained how the now-legendary cover came about.

The iconic cover. Image: Norman Jean Roy for Harper's Bazaar.

"Rihanna, number one, is super concept driven. She won't book a cover just because. If she's not into the concept, she's just not going to do it," Brown said. "And even if she is into the concept she will be eight hours late - she's in her own dimension of time and space. She's really badass like that. She won't just stand there and put her hand on her hip."


And so, Brown got creative.

With the 40th anniversary of the movie Jaws approaching at the time, she saw an opportunity to subvert an iconic pop culture image.

"I always saw those [behind-the-scenes] pictures of [director] Steven Spielberg in the shark's mouth - those sort of famous ones where he's got nerdy athletic socks on and he's holding on going on going 'Argh!'. It's so funny," Brown said.

"And I remember thinking, 'Oh, that thing that scared us so much [watching the movie] was that big old fake shark that this nerdy director is messing around in. So I said, 'What if we put [Rihanna] - but sexy - in the shark, and we stick it in the ocean, and that's the subscriber cover?'"

Rihanna was all in. And so a shark was built; in Brown's words, "a super crap looking shark out of fibreglass."

"It had blood all over it, like painted blood. The image that you see it was physically shot when [Rihanna]'s in the crappy shark, leaning back, she's got like a neck cushion and the background is black garbage bags in just some hallway.

"Then, through the wonders of technology, she's in the ocean."

The resulting image become so famous that it was projected onto New York's Empire State Building for Harper's Bazaar US' 150th anniversary in 2017.

Of the more than 120 covers Brown was involved in during her time at the magazine, she told Mamamia the Rihanna shoot was "super gratifying".

"Not in an ego sort of way. But seeing something in your mind, then having anyone show up for it, number one - I can't ever get over how thrilling that is. And then seeing it going out into the culture some way," Brown said.

"Yeah, that was hands down the most memorable."

Listen to Mia Freedman’s full conversation with Laura Brown.