Editor’s Notes: Priya Tanna of Vogue

May 21, 2012 12:40 am by

When Priya Tanna was appointed editor of Vogue India in 2007, she was, at 32, one of the youngest editors to helm an edition of the storied fashion magazine. At the time, few knew anything about Tanna, who had in fact helped launch an impressive array of publications, including Femina Girl, a fashion portal called Styletantra, and DNA’s entertainment supplement After Hours. It was during her stint at the newspaper that she got a call from a headhunter asking her if she’d be interested in joining an international publication house that was launching in India. “I said no,” says Tanna, now 38. “And she literally stalked me for a month, and I kept saying no repeatedly. Then I said you have to tell me which publication house it is and she said Condé Nast, and that kinda raised all the antennaes.” A series of interviews later, Tanna had landed the one editorship coveted by just about every fashion journalist in the country. We asked Tanna about her job, the competition, the Bollywood obsession and keeping out of the spotlight. Edited excerpts:

Did you go through a training process?
Absolutely. I was sent to the UK for three weeks of training, and Alex Shulman, who is my counterpart in Britain, and my editorial director Anna Harvey very graciously set up an intensive training programme for me. One sat through every department—editorial, marketing, sales, all kinds of meetings. I attended photo shoots just to assimilate and understand what the Vogue culture was all about. Then there was a party to announce the launch of Vogue India in Milan during the subsequent fashion week that every member of the international fashion community attended, and I still remember being fairly doe-eyed as someone who had just been hired.

Who do you think is your strongest competition in India?
I think everybody and nobody. To be honest, our magazine industry is small and it’s incestuous enough. And why only magazines? We’re competing with everybody. I’m competing for a woman’s attention; I’m fighting digital, I’m fighting television, I’m fighting all her space dedicated to reading and media to get even some amount of her time, so in that sense, I view everybody as competition.

Do you read the competition like Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, etc?
I read everything. It has nothing to do with the fact that they’re competition. I’ve been reading all of this way before I became the editor.

In terms of circulation, where do you stand?
Despite a couple of tough years with the economy and for the magazine industry, our circulation has actually grown. Our paid-for circulation is 52,000 copies. Our readership is 2,75,000. And actually we’re the only magazine that pays a foreign company to come and audit our print run. So there’s no fudging.

You guys often put Bollywood stars on the cover…
Not often, all the time…unapologetically so.

Sometimes you put the same star on the cover twice in the period of a year. Is that because there are only a handful of Bollywood stars?
No. For me, it’s very, very simple. You know how customer is king? For me, my reader is the queen. I work backwards—it’s never really who I want on a magazine and who my three friends want on a magazine. It really is who my buyer wants to see on a magazine and my numbers are the cleverest and easiest indicator of that. Every time I’ve had an Aishwarya, a Kareena, a Deepika, even if I repeat them twice in a year they are lapped up. So I know clearly it’s working. Secondly I do feel that the rise of celebrity in this country has been fascinating. From being just mere matinee and cine idols, these women have steadily grown into fashion figures in their own merit. They are women who epitomise a certain look even off screen.

What kind of editor are you?
I’m a very, very, very hands-on editor. I am an editor who loves being in her office, I’m an editor who loves working with her team and I’m an editor who gets her hands all dirty and messy in production. I mean there are certain editors who are far more social, and they like being the face of the brand, and like doing the circuit, and that’s fine, all respect to them, that’s their face, that’s just not my personality. I would be very happy to spend all those nights in my office, making sure my pages look kick-ass, the product is as foolproof as possible, as error free as possible, on time, on budget.

You’re a very low key person and almost never in the media spotlight. Has that been a deliberate choice?
That’s just who I am.

But you could be a celebrity editor.
I could. But that’s not just my philosophy. We’re all doing a job. I don’t think we need to confuse what we do with who we are. As long as my work doesn’t suffer, as long as I deliver, as long as my product looks like a Vogue, feels like a Vogue, reads like a Vogue, it is a great Vogue that I’m proud to represent in India and internationally, I’ve done my job. My personal life and what I do beyond my work hours, I don’t really see how that benefits my magazine. If it does, I will do it. If there’s a great event that I know I have to be seen at, I will go. I don’t shy away from it, but I don’t see an unnecessary need to have my face everywhere, I’d rather have my magazine cover everywhere.

How much does advertising influence edit content?
Again as I told you customer is the king, reader is the king, it’s really not about how much advertising influences content or how much editorial influences content or how much marketing influences content. If a story makes sense for me from a reader’s point of view, I will do it. I must agree—we’re one of the few magazines where the advertising, marketing and editorial work beautifully well together and it’s a great collaboration. No one person influences the other as far as the product is concerned because for us, at end of the day, the product is sacrosanct. So there are lots of collaborations we will have with advertisers on stories, provided those stories benefit the reader. I will not do all brand stories, I am not a magazine that allows a brand to pay for me to go do a shoot in Europe, and do seven pages just with their clothes. I won’t do that.

Where do you see your role in directing Indian fashion?
I know a lot of people had apprehensions when we launched, will Vogue only be about international fashion, but how can you? I would be alienating 80 per cent of my readers. So from year one, our first issue was BollyVogue—how much more Indian can you get? Which is why in our fifth year, we’ve launched a couple of initiatives, the biggest initiative being the Vogue Fashion Fund. We’ve been tying up with a couple of fashion colleges over the past couple of years and doing the Vogue Honours Program, where we go out and run a contest across all fashion colleges. This year, we’re taking the Vogue Fashion Fund which is the Council of Fashion Designers of America format and bringing it to India.

Do you ever get fashion fatigue? Vogue UK editor Alexandra Shulman recently wrote a novel. Is there a side project you’d like to do?
Actually I do, which is why I’m low-key because my life after 6pm is equally rich as my life before 6pm. I have so many interests, like I’m a movie buff, I have an eight-month-old baby. You don’t need anything else. That pretty much takes up all my time. I travel a lot. Is there a book in me? I think there is. Is this the right time? Absolutely not. Like any other working person, you get work fatigue. But I don’t really get fashion fatigue because I love doing what I do.

Who is your favourite Vogue editor of all time?
I think one of my favourite Vogue editors is Alex Shulman of British Vogue. Simply because she is, like me, a features person. I can completely relate to the philosophy of her magazine, I completely love how her magazine marries eye candy with mind candy. She takes fashion and extends it to different appendages like art, culture. For me, any editor who knows who she is talking to and has a very good handle on who her reader is is a hero for me.

Tarun Tahiliani has been in almost every single issue of Vogue India for the last few years. Explain.
What can I say? We love Tarun.

And Frida Giannini too. Not just in Vogue, but in almost every fashion magazine. Do they have the best PR in the whole world?
It’s a combination of everything—they have great PR, great marketing, and they work very closely with us. [They are] constantly bouncing off ideas. If you look at the two of them, as different as they are, one thing they have in common is that they are super driven and always up to something. It’s normally not without a reason at all, it’s never just because I wanna show Tarun is my friend or I have access to Frida Giannini.

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