Passage to India part 3

So nearly three weeks into my big Indian adventure and how has it been? Bloody hard work! I’m a bit hesitant to really let rip as I don’t want to go off on a negative one (and it wouldn’t be very professional, even though most readers won’t know
which magazine I’m working on) but let’s just say everything is so different here to what I’m used to, much more so than I ever expected. I’ve been on the verge of quitting a couple of times because I’m simply not getting much enjoyment out of being here but decided to take this experience for what I can, and see what I can learn from it, plus I thought it can only get easier.

On my arrival I had to complete a ten-page fashion shoot in two weeks. Just little old me on my own with no team in a foreign country (and not forgetting I don’t speak the language). Also it’s the tricky in-between-seasons time of year when the spring/summer samples haven’t arrived yet and most of the shop stock is on sale (the sales here start mid-January). Cue much begging of every PR from Mumbai to Delhi on the scrounge for a dress here and a shoe there. Thankfully I pulled it off but not without a lot of luck and no small amount of panicking.

India is so excited to be enjoying a booming economy that it’s eager to join in the fun and games that comprise the luxury goods and international magazine markets. However, it doesn’t have the infrastructure yet to support these challenges fully. This means for all the newbies (i.e. me) helping it in its quest for success, there is a certain amount of fumbling in the dark and hoping for the best. It’s common for Indian publications to invite British journalists to coach their editors on how to put a magazine together. This includes everything from using a flatplan (the page-by-page plan which shows the running order of the pages including advertisements so everyone knows how the magazine is going to flow) as opposed to just memorising the pages, to sticking to deadlines. In the UK, if the magazine doesn’t come out on time it has to pay a hefty fine. Here, they just keep moving the deadline back so as long as the ‘March’ issue comes out some time in March it’s kind of OK. Insane, no?

There are certain things you just don’t start a fashion magazine without taking into account. Like the fashion cupboard. This is usually a lockable room, rather than literally a wardrobe, but in my case even a wardrobe would do. We don’t have a fashion cupboard on our magazine. So where am I putting the clothes? In my own wardrobe in my guesthouse. Yep, all the Moschino, Gucci, Bottega Veneta and Fendi samples are snuggled up against towels, pillowcases and an assortment of my socks and underwear. Also key to the process of launching a fashion magazine are the PR companies. These are the essential personnel who organise events, launches and store openings as well as supplying the merchandise for shoots. As the international brands have only been in India for about two minutes, this bit is still in its early stages, and boy is there a way to go. Imagine my shock when I turned up to one PR agency to collect some premium brand handbag samples for my shoot (oh yeah, no bike couriers here, I have to pick everything up myself) to find them squashed higgledy piggledy in a cupboard no bigger than a desk drawer! As if that wasn’t bad enough, two dresses that I doubt retail for less than £1000 each were tossed in a supermarket carrier bag “like a couple of vegetables!” (as my mother exclaimed when I told her).

The thing that takes the most getting used to is the ultra laid-back attitude of some of the so-called professionals I’ve come across. Model agencies who ring at 9pm the evening before a shoot to say their model “can’t come tomorrow because she’s just remembered something else she has to do” to the freelancer who promised to do a shoot then texted the day before the deadline “I don’t have time to do it now so I’m not sure what you’re going to do about that”.

On the flip side, the casual, last-minute culture does have its benefits. Business contacts don’t mind you calling them at all hours and give out their mobile numbers as a matter of course. And as the PR machine isn’t quite running smoothly yet, a lot of brands let you loan stock from the shop floor at the eleventh hour. In a last-minute flap I ran into a hotel shop in a quest to borrow some bling for a shoot. If I’d swanned into a shop on Sloane Street out of the blue with an apologetic “you don’t know me but I’ve got a shoot tomorrow, can you please give me some expensive jewels” I’d have been laughed out of Knightsbridge. In this case the PR wasn’t fazed at all and marched me over to her sales associate demanding he look after me.

I think overall, I do tend to have very exacting standards and high expectations of events and people so I’m feeling the shock of the new rather more than another person might. Equally I’m surprising myself at how adaptable I can be when I put my mind to it. The bottom line is I’ve managed to pull a lot off at very short notice and with minimal resources and to fairly high standards. It’s all about being determined to make things happen whatever it takes. My next challenge is to continue making things happen but learning to enjoy the adventure in the process.