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Descriptors of style

If The Devil Wears Prada has fired up your imagination and both fashion and writing excite you, you’re well on your way to becoming a fashion editor, says Pankaj Mullick.

education Updated: Sep 22, 2011 11:39 IST

Yes, the privileged front-row set at fashion shows could be yours to claim as could a whole load of freebies from who’s who of the fashion world. What you need is oodles of fashion sense, writing ability, an open mind with a great willingness to learn and you have what it takes to be a fashion editor.

And a bit of thick skin - simply because stakeholders in the fashion industry can be very scathing in their criticism of your work.

So, what does a fashion editor do? He or she usually works at a magazine, newspaper or online publication conceptualising and executing a brief. The brief could come in any shape or size — from bringing out a bridal issue, being asked to combine the sports and fashion worlds (see pic), do an environment day issue or presenting an actress in a never-before-seen look.

“We first study the brief to understand what kind of look/s is expected. We need to then decide whether we can achieve the looks with luxury brands, premium brands, mid-range brands, or a healthy mix of these,” says Shamali Singh, fashion stylist, Men’s Health magazine. She says the next step is to source the garments, accessories and anything else that is required for the shoot.

“Getting the right products for the shoot is one of the most challenging parts of the job. Many a times, stores are unwilling to part with their stuff. It is because of this that we need to build a rapport with them,” adds Singh. The products, sometimes costing more than R1 lakh a piece, need to be returned in pristine condition and within the time given.

A meeting with the photographer, planning the shoot, brainstorming for ideas, is essential. Parallelly, one puts together all the articles sourced from stores to complete the look.

“On the day of the shoot, everyone is alert and high on energy. Hair and makeup start while the photographer sets up. A normal shoot lasts for a good eight hours. But if there are many models or many looks, it can stretch to 12-14 hours,” says Singh.

A fashion editor will then sift through the photos from the shoot, select the best of the lot, and work with the art team to get them laid out. The write-up follows.

For different types of articles or features, the approach can be different. “If it’s an interview, I send a request for the interview with the designer/subject and also organise appropriate images to go with the text. If it’s a trend-based piece, I organise images first and then, according to the layout given to me by the art team, fit in my text on the page,” says Varun Rana, associate fashion features editor, Harper’s Bazaar India.

So, how does one become a fashion editor? While Rana did his professional diploma in fashion design from the National Institute of Fashion Technology, Singh had more of a lucky break into fashion journalism. She had an innate sense of fashion and styling and went to a magazine looking for contacts of designers who she could approach for a job. “The editor offered me a job as fashion coordinator. I quickly learnt the ropes and started styling for various shoots. The rest is history,” says Singh.

However, for most, a background in fashion is a must. “A friend, who is in advertising, has been styling ad campaigns and such for some time now. She has a great eye for fashion, and obviously has some experience too. But she cannot find an opening readily into fashion media because she has no formal fashion background,” says Rana.

The source of fulfillment of the job is different for different people. For Rana it is “getting to meet some of the most interesting creative minds in fashion today. Through my job, I have met Sir Paul Smith, Veronica Etro, Silvia Venturini Fendi.”

Singh finds satisfaction in “getting to feast my eyes on the latest trends in fashion. Plus, when your work gets noticed, it is very satisfying.”

Rana cautions aspirants to figure out why they want to be in this profession. “Is it the glamour that attracts you? Is it the social importance it momentarily brings? Is it the power of being a fashion commentator where your word is law? Or do you have a simpler purpose: to inform and educate your reader and help the industry grow without your ego getting in the way,” says Rana.

What's it about?
Fashion editors typically write about fashion collections, trends, events and people in fashion and showbiz. They are often called upon to work on a brief with a particular look or style as the objective. They either have to style the look themselves or supervise stylists to achieve it. They must keep in touch with fashion trends and be able to report the same to their readers, whether they write for a magazine, newspaper or online publication

Clock Work
8.30 am: Check into office
9 am: Meet editor to get the brief
10 am: Instruct stylist to source outfits
10.30 am: Hold meeting with team to make final selection
11.30 am: Select models
12.30 pm: Pick out accessories
1 pm: Have working lunch
1.30 pm: Model fittings start
3.30 pm: Check on make-up, accessorisation, final look
5.30 pm: Supervise photo shoot
7.30 pm: Make final selection for magazine issue
8.30 pm: Head home

The Payoff
At the entry-level, a fashion editor at a magazine can earn Rs20,000 to Rs30,000 a month. At the mid-level, with 3-4 years experience, this can go up to between Rs30,000 and Rs50,000 a month. Senior fashion editors can earn up to Rs1.5 lakh, while freelancers can earn more, but without the luxury of a steady income in the initial stages

. Innate sense of fashion
. Understand makeup and styling
. Understand photography
. Research skills
. Flair for writing snappy copy
. Rapport-building skills
. Willingness to learn
. Oodles of creativity
. Obsessive attention to detail

How do i get there?
Study fashion design, fashion technology, fine arts, or styling at a reputable institute. As fashion journalism matures, such a background is becoming more important. Start out at a fashion or lifestyle magazine, newspaper or online publication ( represents Vogue on the internet). One can also start one’s own blog but a resource crunch can cramp one’s style

Institutes & urls
. London College of Fashion
. Istituti Callegari, Mumbai
. National Institute of Fashion Technology
. Pearl Academy of Fashion

Pros & cons


Work with leading talents in fashion


Long work hours


High stress


Work with top brands


Lots of travel


Freebies from fashion houses, designers

Critical to the evolution of the industry

A noted lifestyle journalist talks about the importance of journalism in fashion

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 Interviewed by Pankaj Mullick