Soraya Wattanajiamwong talks about her work _ making a magazine _ as if she's talking about love, or actually men, albeit with a strikingly nonchalant tone that betrays the kind of wording which resembles something you hear from a loved-up teenager.
PHOTO: WASAN PEUNGPRASERT
``It was my first ever job,'' she recalled of her arrival at Elle Thailand 14 years ago as an intern, working mainly with the then beauty editor and now editor-in-chief of L'Officiel Thailand Kusuma Chaiyaporn.
``It's strange, but I never really thought of doing anything else after. As a language student, you don't have much career choice that's directly related your studies. Doing magazines is something that allows you to expand into other areas. You learn about lifestyle, and there's an amount of creative work. You can create your own story.''
As the fifth editor of Elle in the magazine's 18-year history, Soraya steps up amidst a whirlwind change that involves the departure of key management figures of Post International Media, a subsidiary of Post Publishing Plc, namely former managing director Siri Udomritthiruj and former Elle editor-in-chief Kullawit Laosuksri to launch the Thai edition of the international fashion bible, Vogue.
Siri and Kullawit aside, Elle will also lose vital contributors with the arrival of Vogue _ super-stylist Jirat Subpisankul and the consummate fashion critic Watcharin Phongsai, who has played a crucial part in shaping the ``fashion insider's voice'' of Elle as well as its sharp, bold layout.
This is not to mention the fact that a few top fashion photographers will also be signed exclusively to Vogue, leaving them incapable of shooting for other publications deemed ``direct competitors'', namely Harper's Bazaar , L'Officiel and also Elle.
No doubt Elle is bound for a change, although it will only be minor in the near future.
Fortunately, it's not Soraya's first experience in pouring out ideas in an attempt to shape the direction of Elle.
Eight years ago when Kullawit was first appointed editor-in-chief, Soraya was summoned back from Australia, where she was finishing a degree in linguistics, to work full-time as executive editor.
She was extensively involved in the process that solidified the heart and the look of what has become the Kingdom's best fashion magazine.
``We thought about what we wanted Elle to be, especially in the beauty and features section,'' said Soraya.
``Back then, our features were...senile. It's how-to stories like, `What will become of my love life when he bla bla bla?', and the solution was usually spiritual.
``We tried to instead offer content that's fun for the readers. We basically tried to push a local product to international standard. Not that we favoured a Western approach, but the magazine needed to have a modern look. We aimed to be a `Window to the World'.''
In this regard, you can say that the Elle Thailand we have seen in the past eight years is a unique formula blended from the best ingredients from Kullawit, Soraya and Watcharin.
As Kullawit shaped the magazine's visionary fashion perspective and Watcharin strengthened the in-depth fashion content as well as art direction, Soraya's role was to keep the editorial content practical and relevant to the readers. In a way, she balanced out the fanciful dreams of luxury and the intangible exclusivity of the fashion content.
``We can't assume that all our readers are already stylish. We also need content that guides those who are `not there yet'. Not all our readers are fashionistas,'' she said, admitting she's probably closer to the readers than Watcharin and Kullawit.
``That's down to the simple fact that I'm also a woman, and I had been reader of Elle before I came to work here. I know what readers need. Back in those days especially when they were not yet a fashion and beauty authority, we needed to tell them how to be one.''
As Soraya has taken office, it's presumable that readers will see more practical fashion content that relates to everyday life, such as interviews with stylish working women, and a practical deconstruction of their style for everyday use.
However, she has no plans to change what has long endeared Elle to the hardcore fashion readers, whether the savvy fashion news or the in-depth fashion features.
As she explains, the three main fashion sections in the magazine _ fashion spreads, features and style/shopping guides _ don't function independently. Instead, they're closely interrelated and reflect the three main aspects people perceive concerning fashion. As the spreads reflect the artistic side of fashion that inspires viewers, and the in-depth features look at fashion as part of contemporary culture, the style/shopping guide is the most practical part of fashion _ the lifestyle part which readers can grasp and put into real use.
``We extract the style guide part from the first two. It's like an industrial factory _ you give them visuals and content, which is the materials, and then digest them into an instant, ready-to-use product. All the readers need to do is to season it to their own liking.''
As if having her hands full with navigating Elle through a tumultuous transition period that takes in the bulky September issue and the attached supplement Elle Men isn't enough, Soraya will also have to step into the shoes left by Kullawit as the host of Thailand's longest-running fashion event _ Elle Fashion Week _ amid rising anxiety among designers.
But she approaches her first responsibility as the heart and soul of Elle Fashion Week in the same way she approaches producing the magazine _ ``If it ain't broke, don't fix it''.
She has assured designers everything will remain the same, from the scale of the event to all the key partners like Bobbi Brown and CentralWorld, as well as the show producer and backstage team led by Sombatsara Teerasaroch.
What will be different is the spin Soraya puts on the event, just like the spin she puts on the magazine _ to bring Elle Fashion Week closer to people who may not yet be ``exclusive insiders''.
To be incorporated extensively into the marketing strategy of the event is a digital platform that will bring participating designers and their work to the public _ from realtime updates on Facebook and the Elle Thailand website, and fashion tabloids that will be distributed during the event, to video footage featuring behind-the-scenes and interviews with designers.
``As the goal of Elle Fashion Week is to promote the work of local talent, it'd be no use if it's only viewed by 1,000 people at the event,'' she said.
``We want to do something that people can relate to, especially those who are still on the way towards becoming a fashion authority. We also want them to also have direct access. We don't want a boundary between fashion insiders who those who are not.''
And once the fashion week, scheduled for October, is over, it's the real showtime, when all the glossies will have to step up their editorials in anticipation of Vogue's arrival in February.
Soraya, however, doesn't seem too worried. She believes that, despite all the marketing hearsay, Vogue is an exclusively fashion magazine and in a way isn't a direct competitor of Elle, which still has the advantage of being a long-established publication that needs no introduction.
``That's what comes with being in the market for a long time,'' she said. ``We already have a fan base and identity and core values that we don't need to announce. People already know what we are. Vogue is a fashion bible, but that's not what I want Elle to be.
``The word bible is too intimidating for me. It feels like something religious that you can't contradict. I'd rather Elle be your style guide, something you can follow, and adapt to suit your own character.''
About the author
- Writer: Samila Wenin
Position: Muse Editor