What are the prospects for the fashion and lifestyle journalism in India?
Tremendous. We’re at the early stages of the lifestyle segment growth and it can only get bigger and better. Currently, we have a few dozen magazine titles, for instance, in this segment — in big global markets, a few hundreds exist. It will go niche. And that’s just magazines. There are newspapers, the internet, television... The challenge is to find — or become — a serious, dedicated lifestyle journalist. We have to get past the mindset that this is a good-time business, for those who like to live it up. This is a profession that needs specialised knowledge like any other and will only work if approached that way.
What traits shoud a fashion editor have?
First and most significant — an understanding of the audience for whom they’re creating content. Every reader or viewer interested in fashion is not the same. Some want simple advice — what should I buy, what will suit me, where do I get this. Others want discerning information — why does this cost so much, what makes this special, how does this compare to something else. And then there are those who are passionate about fashion — they want background info, they want to know everything about the designer, his process, his work. These are distinct audiences. You can’t bring a single approach to fashion for all of them. And you can’t look down on one or the other audience. Each of them constitutes a reader, a buyer, someone you need to connect with.
The other important trait is simply to take your business seriously. It’s easy to get caught up in the visible aspects of this business, the good times and parties and glamorous pictures in the paper. But to be respected in this business you need a foundation of strong knowledge, great integrity and the ability to put in incredible amounts of work. There’s a tremendous amount of legwork and running around and thankless tasks. If you cannot deal with those, you won’t last.
Any advice for aspiring fashion journalists?
Be clear about what you want — the image or the actual job. The two are very different. Life as a fashion journalist isn’t a fantasy of great clothes, hot bodies, glamorous locations and binge drinking at all-night parties. It’s research and background work and sourcing and keeping track of every pin at the shoot and sweating in 48 degrees in a desert with food or water a distant dream, and no bathroom for miles, a ‘star’ who has tantrums and clothes that won’t fit. It’s shoots that will turn out badly. It’s years of slogging as little more than an errand boy or girl where you assist someone only on logistics and do very little ‘creative’ work on your own. If you’re good enough, committed enough and enjoy the whole process — not just the end result — then you have a future. Otherwise, if you just want the beautiful life, become a socialite. Also, you need obsessive attention to detail. True greatness in this profession I think is achieved by really zeroing in on the little things. Details in the shoot. Details of garments. Details of a set. Details that pull the whole picture together. Details of the words that accompany the visuals.
What role can fashion journalists play to develop the Indian fashion industry?
Fashion journalists are critical to the evolution of the industry; they bring a fragmented industry together, viewing it holistically. Fashion is as much a sign of the times as cinema, music and art, and fashion journalists document it. If they’re knowledgeable and honest, they critique, become the catalyst to growth. They translate designers’ dreams into language that consumers, readers, viewers understand. A fashion editor is a curator. He or she documents, sifts through, pulls common threads together, tells a story. A fashion journalist is as much a storyteller as a writer, they just tell it with pictures and concepts instead of words.
Payal Puri, former editor, Cosmopolitan As told to Pankaj Mullick