Editor’s Notes: Sujata Assomull of Harper’s Bazaar

March 19, 2012 8:34 am by

Sujata Assomull, 38, has been the editor of Harper’s Bazaar since it launched in India in 2009. Before that, the London-born Assomull, who has a masters in political journalism, worked with Business India, the Indian Express, Elle, Lakme Fashion Week, the Murjani Group (where she became communications director overseeing brands like Bottega Veneta, Gucci and La Perla), in addition to starting her own consultancy called Style Smith. Last week, Assomull told us that she has officially resigned from her post, and will hand over the reigns of editorship to an as-yet unannounced successor. This interview transpired during Lakme Fashion Week, which concluded its summer showing earlier this month. Edited excerpts:

What’s the circulation of Harper’s Bazaar?
We’re doing very well. We’re about 30,000 to 40,000 [copies] a month.

How would you rate the competition—Vogue, Elle, Grazia?
I think they have their own personalities which is really, really important, so in a way they all complement each other. I think Elle has been here for 15 years, they started everyone off. If you look at us, we’re all ex-Elle. So it’s great, it’s got a great personality, great high street mixed with affordable luxury.

Would you say Vogue is your strongest competitor?
I guess it would be because we’re in the same type of fashion but we’re more about personal style and they’re more about inspirational fashion. We say we’re where fashion meets personal style.

How much does advertising influence editorial content?
Well, we’re all in this market together. We’re a new market and I’ve been on both sides and we’ve got to grow this market together. So there are times when we have to work together but of course, if you’re an advertiser and you’re coming to Harper’s Bazaar, it’s because of the look and feel and the way we Bazaarise you.

You almost never put models on the cover.
We have actually. We put Lisa Haydon on the cover, before she was an actress. We’ve had Jyothsna [Chakravarthy] and Nethra [Raghuraman] on the cover.

But across the board, you’ve had more Bollywood actresses than models.
You have to.

Is it because Bollywood sells?
It’s also what people recognise and people know that. And the cover still matters for any new magazine. Any new magazine is about newsstands sales.

Does a cover with Deepika Padukone sell more than a cover with Lisa Haydon?
You know you’d be surprised. Sometimes they just work. The Jyothsna cover did really, really well. We do it and we make a point of doing it a few times a year. But you know, we’re a magazine about style and today, anyone will tell you, all the fashion stylists are doing Bollywood.

Is that disheartening?
I think there’s a line that’s blurring. Look at the kind of stylists working in Indian films.

There aren’t so many A-list Bollywood actresses. So in a matter of a month or two, several magazines will have the same actress on the cover. Is that a problem?
I think that’s where the personality of the magazine comes out because we all do it in our own space and style. We’re quite careful—in the first year, we made a point of not repeating any actress and we’ve never done a lift. We’ve never taken a lift from the UK or US so far, not one.

But sometimes, a fashion mag will have Kareena Kapoor in January and back again in December.
I think you work on it season to season, we don’t think yearly. Once one season is over, it’s over, so we think spring/summer and then winter.

Does Harper’s Bazaar have a digital plan?
We’re quite active on Twitter. I’m very active on Twitter. Bazaar India is working hard on our Facebook page. We’re part of a larger group [the India Today Group] so we do a lot of stuff on Wonder Woman, which is an India Today site. Some stuff goes up on the India Today site. These are two platforms that have worked really, really well for us. In fact,the Facebook page launched before the magazine launched and helped build us a lot of lead-up to the magazine.

Are you going to have a stand-alone website?
Not right now, but I’m sure they will in the future.

You’ve worked for Lakme Fashion Week. One of the complaints you often hear is that our fashion weeks don’t tend to be up to scratch.
I think you have to remember, Fashion Week is young, and the market is relatively new here. And so it’s really easy to be critical and that’s one thing I do find with a lot of fashion journalists is that they do criticise and the easiest thing is to knock the fashion. I think what we’ve done in the span of a decade deserves some kind of accolade. I do think we don’t have enough content for two fashion weeks.

So as an editor, do you favour a particular one?
I think they’re both different, they both have a different raison d’être, and they both serve their purposes.

Do you find audiences are becoming more body conscious?
I think size zero had peaked at one point and now it’s going. And the curvy woman is coming back and do look at our next cover. I do always tell my stylists and I’ve always said this: when you’re putting something on a model, always think of the Indian figure and would you wear that piece because what works on a figure in Europe would not necessarily work here.

Price on request. Every magazine uses it, all the time. Please explain.
I don’t like price on request. I think a lot of brands rather put price on request. Sometimes, we try and do an approximate price but you have to respect the brand.

Editor’s Notes: Nonita Kalra, Manu Joseph, Mayank Shekhar