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EXCLUSIVE
STORY
BY ROCHELL "E"
EDITOR IN CHIEF of ELLE INDIA
NONITA KALRA



hat does it really take to be an Editor in Chief?  There many perceptions.  After a phone interview with the Editor in Chief of ELLE India, Nonita Kalra, I can definitely see the depth of what it really takes to be an Editor in Chief of substance and  not being too superficial 'about fashion'.

 

ELLE India was founded in 1996 as one of the first of India's fashion magazines.  In its 14 years it has grown into a phenomenal force; capturing the voice to the independent, confident, and sophisticated woman.  That in itself describes ELLE India.  It's not just a fashion magazine it's a lifestyle.

 

ELLE India Editor in Chief Nonita was 31when she took over; she has presided has the youngest Editor in Chief for the past 10 years. Talking to her, I immediately see why Nonita was selected to be the Editor in Chief of ELLE India.  Nonita’s fashion career started with working for ELLE India.  She jokes, “Nobody else gives me a job, so I just stay and stay.  I’m just joking, I love what I do.”  Nonita is not married nor has children, but she lives with her devoted partner; she says that ELLE is her baby.

 

Being ELLE India Editor in Chief, it never crossed Nonita’s mind nor expectations; “It’s something that just came about.” She says; “I know that when the magazine launched, I was the first freelance Copy Editor.  I contributed to the first issue.  But, no I never thought that they would ask me.”

 

 Nonita’s background is business journalism, television and working for various newspapers, running their feature pages.  Nonita says that when she took over ELLE her first thought to herself was, “I wanted to make it a really good magazine more than I wanted to make it a fashion magazine, because at that point the industry was really nascent.  Good reading is good reading and under the guides of fashion you can’t give people bad copy or bad content.  So I did what any good journalist would do, ‘I said let’s make this a great product, then we started to make the focus on fashion’.  As the Indian audience got more and more ready to expect it; Ten years ago was the first time Indian Fashion Week started, before that ELLE is 13 ½ years old in the country, before that there was no ‘real’ concept of fashion.”

 

Unlike some of the other fashion magazines ELLE India has their own way of choosing the concept and deciding who will be on its cover.  “The process is, we first decide the fashion trend.  Then we try to pick a model who’s a fresh face or somebody who is the equivalent of the Indian super model.  She has to be somebody who would suit the clothes.  I would prefer ‘Indian models’. Nonita states that when ELLE came into the country14 years ago, ELLE India launched with an Indian face.  “A lot of people were taken back because it’s an international magazine ‘why are you not capitalizing on the fact that you are international’.  We said that we would like to bring international values to a local market.  And we always try to work with Indian models.”

 

ELLE India was founded in 1996, it's now 2010.  ELLE readership has increased in the past 14 years.  “We have 85,000 readers.  Some people who know the magazine business realize that those numbers are large. Some people tell me, 'you have a population of a billion people', and I always say that when you sort of break it down not 2 percent of that population speaks English.  Of that 2 percent it has to be interested in fashion.  When you break it down, 85,000 is a good number.  We reached it slowly; we would never lie and tell you that our circulation doubled over night, because it cannot.”  Nonita adds; “It's difficult, you know most of India, English isn't their first language.  Yes, we all speak English, but it isn't their first language. We do print in English because it's a premium magazine.”  

 

Nonita says that ELLE India has influenced fashion in India by creating and showing people its well into the practical and the inspirational.  “Practical will tell you then and there on how to dress better and how to get the certain look.  But the inspirational inspires the dream, it creates a certain environment, you create 'want'.  And I think that's how we work together with the fashion fraternity.  I know that people want to think that fashion should be really esoteric and about a dream, but unless you create an appetizer for retail and satisfy immediately; the industry is not going to grow.  We work with the industry being practical yet in an inspirational way.  I get a lot of young people who tell me that, 'I want to only work in your shopping guide pages'.”  Nonita says; “because if you open up ELLE it will tell you what you need to be fashionable, this is how much it will cost you and this is where you can get it, and many young people just tell me, ‘I really want to work on that page'.  I tell them you just can't work for that page.” Nontia laughs.  “It makes me realize that in the magazine, it's the most important part of what we give you, 'How to get it, Where to get it'.” 

 

Since ELLE India launched in 1996 it has become the number one fashion read in India.  “It is actually,” she says; “there are several other magazines.”  (It has been clarified, we have certified figures).  “If someone says that their circulation is greater than ours, we don't argue, we've been in the business for 14 years.”  Nonita laughs and says, 'we just don't get into that'.  “But you will find some people who exclusively advertise with us and understand that we are the largest fashion magazine in the country.”  She continues; “Globally if you look at the 41 editions and the number of pages and the advertising that we get, we do use top line, the world’s biggest selling fashion magazine, and it has been verified.”

 

ELLE India is one of the first fashion magazines in India.  I asked Nonita if she thinks that ELLE India has to stay on top of fashion trends and stories.  “Cosmopolitan and ELLE India launched the same year. We all know that Cosmopolitan is a woman's magazine with the focus on relationships. We are a fashion magazine.

You know I don't want anybody to be a victim.  I like to give them a choice, so I don't feel that we have to stay on top of the trend.  We have to understand that a lot of the trends don’t make it into ELLE, because they don’t make any sense to us, so we give you the trends that we feel works best for India, in the most contemporary scenario.  We feel that it's very, very fashionable to be intelligent.  I trust that my reader wants the same discernment from me.  I will never tell them to be head-to-toe in a brand or wear a trend because the rest of the world is wearing it.  I will give them the option to choose and to look their best.”

 

Being an Editor in Chief you will always have some sort of pressure to stay on top and current. I would imagine that ELLE India experience the same pressure of being the number one magazine in India.  “We all do.  Of course in some degree you have the “pressure” of being number one.  That's what pays your bills. Let’s not be unrealistic about it on how important the commercial aspect on running a magazine can be, as well.  You need the advertising to keep you going.  So far we have been lucky because we understood that you don't conquer an Indian market in one day.  So we're very, very slow in our growth.  We've also been lucky that almost 25 percent of our circulation comes from our subscriptions, so that gives us a huge reach.  We don't have to fight month to month on newsstands.  Nonita also mentions; that ELLE is world-wide and they never see themselves as a luxury brand, but see ELLE India as a premium brand.  “Premium brand is still growing, we've been very lucky to maintain our number one circulation, because ELLE has been a mix of high, low, affordable fashion and I think that has worked for us.”  Nonita says; “You can't be exclusive, you need to be inclusive.”

 

ELLE India fashion message to their readers; “It's the young, really smart girl.  We actually do a feature in ELLE called 'My wonderful life' where we feature young women who run their own businesses, or have their own careers.  It could be from someone who makes just sushi and delivers it around the city of Bombay, or it's a woman who's a Dog Psychologist, Kite Maker or a Puppeteer.  That's the ELLE Motto. Women who I feel lives a wonderful life.  Indian women are in an extraordinary place right now; we have independence, financial freedom, we're doing what our hearts wants us to do, ELLE readers are every one of these women.”  I could have given you an answer and tell you that it's 18 to 35, but I don't want to talk in demographics because I feel very emotionally involved with the women who I bring the magazine out for and for me every issue is a celebration of them.”

 

Fashion magazine sites are expanding and excelling. ELLE India plans to make more changes by stating; “We cannot ignore it anymore, with it just being supplement to the magazine.  We're getting about 200,000 hits a month, so we will be working on it.  First, we will be focusing on the online presence and we are redesigning the magazine to be as contemporary as the internet.  Because I think for a fashion format you still love the magazine, looking at the pictures and enjoy. While we don't plan to ignore the net, we do plan to look at it as a magazine group as a whole.  There are many things that we do in the magazine, which we would like to take into the website.  ELLE has been doing a lot of stuff to promote young writers in India. We also do a lot of work on breast cancer.  I would like to help people deal with cancer on the internet because it's an easier way to do it. Things that are smaller in the magazine, I like to take it to the internet to enhance them.  We will possibly do it next year. We never lose focus on the fact that the heart of our job is the magazine.  Our focus is still the magazine, the product that you hold in your hand.”  She says to me; “Rochell, there are people like you who do all of this fabulous stuff on the net, you make us relevant.”

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