“To survive, we need imagination”, Nonita Kalra.
A force to be reckoned with, Nonita Kalra, one of the most influential people in the fashion world, has been at the helm of fashion and lifestyle media publishing for over two decades. He has worked with big names such as ELLE India, Harper’s BAZAAR India, Man’s World, Business World, etc., and is currently managing editor of Tata CliQ Luxury.
In the course of our conversation, she analyzed her journey as editor-in-chief of premium fashion magazines and gave advice on how to venture into the fantastic world of magazines and build a career there.
Through the looking glass: a look at Nonita’s career
From June 2000 to December 2012, as editor-in-chief of ELLE, Nonita Kalra shaped the magazine as the fashion bible for women, teens and young adults.
The brief at that time was to develop a product with international standards but with a strong focus on the celebration of India and Indian fashion, which is why ELLE at that time created all its content with local talent.
From models to photographers, to every single article within the magazine, there was a sense of fearlessness and originality as the entire industry would come together to create each issue.
The talent pool reads like the who’s who of the business world. From Atul Kasbekar, Farrokh Chothia to Colston Julian, Prasad Naik and Jatin Kampani, image makers have pushed the shot with every single shot.
Models like Ujwala Raut, Sheetal Malhar, Bhawna Sharma have defined the role of the clothesline. And even actors like Deepika Padukone and Sonam Kapoor were featured on the cover for their flawless style. The focus remained on fashion and its role in defining personal style.
In 2013, she decided to close this chapter and for the next two years she ventured into multiple projects as a fashion consultant.
In 2016 she became Editor of Harper’s Bazaar India, one of the most recognized fashion magazines in the country.
His creativity and vision have taken Bazaar to new heights and, under his leadership, the magazine has produced many iconic covers, such as the “12 Illustrative Covers in 24 Hours” as part of the # 24HoursWithArt campaign in May 2020, or the “Storytellers” edition of May 2018 issue, with Tahmima Anam, Fatima Bhutto and Tishani Doshi.
In conversation with Nonita Kalra. (Image courtesy of Harper’s Bazaar India Instagram, Nonita Kalra Instagram)
So, who better than Nonita Kalra can tell you what happens behind the glossy pages of a fashion magazine?
“Fashion is freedom. Fashion is democracy. It is the choice of wearing your feelings, your emotions, your politics on your body as armor and as an ornament. Fashion is liberation, “says Nonita, former editor-in-chief of Elle India.
Behind the scenes: the role of the publisher and the daily routine
When we think of a fashion magazine editor, most of us go back to Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly in “The Devil Wears Prada,” a character written loosely about Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue UK. But is that all?
Nonita Kalra says a publisher’s role is to give the product a tone of voice, month after month, that translates into a clear and cohesive point of view at the end of the year.
“I like to think it’s like putting together the sum of the moving parts and getting a clear statement,” says former editor of Harper’s BAZAAR.
A typical working day for her began with an editing meeting with the entire team – from interns to senior editors – gathered in the conference room, discussing different stories, shooting, work divisions, etc.
“I like everyone to contribute and collaborate. The best ideas come from chaos, and I thrive on it, “says Nonita.
The rest of the day is devoted to firefighting and making room for floor B / C / D because anything that can go wrong will go wrong. But there is always time for a coffee and chocolate break because creativity has no rules.
“That’s why I’m clear no two days will ever be the same,” he says.
On misconceptions, the end of magazines and the digital front
There is a big misconception in fashion magazines that they are nothing more than glamor embodied in glossy pages. Addressing this, Nonita says a fashion magazine is hard work.
“To be honest, there is very little glamor. But it’s worth it because while it’s 100% sweat, there’s also 100% freedom to create, “he says.
Nowadays, people tend to pick up a cellphone or browse on their laptop rather than a magazine. In a rapidly changing world, digital platforms have become the main source of content consumption and the magazine market is shrinking.
So how should one transition to a career in a magazine in the current scenario?
“If a person wants to start or change careers and get into a magazine, then they should do it!” says Nonita Kalra. He further added that “There is nothing more rewarding than working for what you love.”
But acquiring digital skills is also important as it would open even more doors, he says.
Nonita is currently working as editor-in-chief of Tata CliQ Luxury, an e-commerce site. How has your role shifted from the print to the digital space?
“The medium has changed, as has the pace, but the core of the content is definitely the same,” he says, defining his role in the new sphere.
Whether it’s a magazine or a digital website, it’s all about good storytelling, he says. Stories delivered honestly and in a compelling and inclusive way will give you loyal customers.
In conversation with Nonita Kalra. (Image Courtesy: Nonita Kalra Instagram)
What do you need to start a career in a fashion magazine?
A person doesn’t need a specific degree to enter the field of writing or creating content for a fashion magazine, but they should be a good communicator, explains Nonita.
“Writing well remains fundamental but it is something you learn by reading. You also need to be up-to-date as the stories need to be current and relevant to the audience, ”adds Tata Editor-in-Chief CliQ Luxury.
Speaking of different job roles, Nonita said that in a fashion magazine there are fashion writers, lifestyle and beauty writers, copywriters, copy editors, stylists, photographers and more.
“It’s one thing to keep in mind: know your subject, learn to write and communicate. But, you also know the other job roles, as it’s a collaborative effort to create something relevant,” he says.
Commenting on the skills needed, Nonita says hard work is key.
“A magazine will give you the space and the freedom to exercise your creative muscles. Make the most of it, “he says.
And if someone wants to change their writing medium and come to work in a magazine, it is by no means impossible.
“If you have an individual voice, we have a place for you,” Nonita says.
She also explains that fashion magazines are a very welcoming place where you will find people with different educational and career backgrounds. Recalling his previous work, Nonita says there were people who had been lawyers and naval engineers before but now worked for the magazine.
And when he was in Elle, their team had a simple rule: you were always welcome back if you quit your job to study. And yes, as long as you loved writing and loved the brand, your background wasn’t important.
Nonita Kalra’s Golden Tip
There are thousands of students who want to work in a fashion magazine and many who want to change jobs. What is the only advice Nonita Kalra would like to give them?
“There is only one rule: you know the brand you want to work for, even better than the publisher. I have hired people on site when they have in-depth knowledge of the brand, “says the former editor-in-chief of Elle India.
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