Divyak D'Souza — Fashion Director Harper's Bazaar Bride
Divyak D'Souza, the man who never thought he would venture into fashion, took his plunge into the industry as a stylist at GQ India. Now working as the Deputy Fashion Editor of Femina, he played a significant part in bringing about not only the transformation of the magazine, but also its perception. Read more of his journey into the fashion industry, his work as an editor, and his unique approach to an often complex industry. *Divyak has become Fashion Director at Harper's Bazaar Bride India since the time of this interview.
You have extensive experience in fashion editorials, starting as a stylist at GQ and Elle, to now being the Deputy Fashion Editor at Femina. How have each of these experiences impacted your career, and was obtaining a job such as your own always your intentions?
Fashion was never on my radar. I was just another fat kid, very academically inclined, all set to study medicine and become a doctor. A very random turn of events made me switch to studying mass media. While studying in St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, I began interning with GQ (this was the time when Arjun Bhasin was the Fashion Director). I still remember my first day on the job as a production intern was on the sets of a Tarun Vishwa editorial shoot. I was so happy to be serving tea and taking food orders from a bunch of gorgeous male models! Over the course of the next few weeks, Arjun told me he thought I could do more than just serve tea, and that I should start assisting him. The rest, as they say, is history. Come to think of it, I owe my career to him. He’s a genius, I was very lucky to have worked with him.
After over 2 years at GQ, when the formidable Nonita Kalra (then Editor of ELLE) called me in to interview for the post of Senior Stylist, I don’t think I’ve ever been more nervous. Most of my friends who worked in the business told me that this would be the opportunity of a lifetime, and they were spot on. Working with Nonita was like going to fashion school. I learnt how to style, write, produce, and even how to write emails thanks to the amazing people I worked with (Mohan Neelakantan, Malini Banerji, Karuna Laungani) from theELLE team.
FEMINA has been a real eye opener for me, in the sense, I have my head firmly on my shoulders now when it comes to the reality of fashion in the Indian context. Understanding what the Indian woman wants out of the fashion pages in a magazine, and then curating content to be approachable and easy-to-palate, has been the real challenge. It has also taught me responsibility and integrity – we are the largest read magazine in the country, and 3.5 lakh readers won’t tolerate BS.
What was your original inspiration for pursuing your career path and working in the fashion industry?
I wish I had the ‘I used to read Vogue under the sheets’ sort of inspiring story, but I never gave fashion a lick of thought as a youngster. When you’re an obese teenager who needs to buy jeans at outlet stores, clothes really aren’t a priority. My first fashion memory would have to be cutting up my mothers sari borders at age 3, and stitching clothes for my sister’s Barbies. Needless to say, that habit wasn’t encouraged at home. Visual art has always fascinated me though. I remember collecting photographs and cut-outs from magazines where the visuals told a story. I guess you could link that to what I do today. And of course, Bollywood! There’s no denying how much of an influence that has been. Growing up in Mumbai in the Nineties, Hindi cinema was a major influencer, be it the music, the clothes or the theatrics. I credit my dramatic personality to Bollywood.
Describe what a ‘day-in-the-life’ looks like for you.
I work for a fortnightly magazine, so it’s pretty hectic. In a days work, my team and I are putting together runway looks for stories and then stalking designers to send them to us in time for our shoots. I also write text for my own stories, field several PR phone calls, reference and ideate for upcoming shoots and features. I’m at a shoot almost every week. I can’t imagine being strapped down to a desk constantly. It’s a scary thought.
What do you consider the most integral aspect to working and succeeding in the Indian fashion industry?
I’ll stick to talking about what I know best, which is styling. Never underestimate the value of assisting a stylist whose work you admire and follow. Assisting teaches you discipline, how to handle logistics, and how to get the job done within deadlines and budgets. Anyone can be creative and have an eye for fashion, but not everyone can do this for a living. Even today, when we hire people for the team, your outfit, foreign degree, and brands you wear, are of no significance. A willingness to learn and work your butt off are the only tools to succeed.
Since joining Femina, you’ve assisted in bringing about change to the perception of the magazine through your edgy editorials and covers. How did you go about making your vision a reality?
Thank you for noticing. Change can’t happen in isolation. The entire FEMINA team and freelance contributors we work with deserve credit for the way the magazine looks today. The big revamp was always on the cards, even when I was approached for the job. I’m lucky to have had a chance to helm the fashion department. You see, we’re a women’s magazine, not a fashion magazine. So, our fashion content has to be relatable and localised, while not compromising on style and finesse. What to wear, how to wear it and wear to buy it. Think of the voice of the magazine as your better dressed best friend who won’t ever talk to down to you, but instead try to bring you up to her level. As Sujata Assomull Sippy once told me, “All women REALLY want is to look thin and/or glamorous. Show them how, and you’re in business.”
Analysing current and future trends, driving appropriate content, knowing what the reader wants, and being up to date on designers - these are all part of your job as a Deputy Fashion Editor. How do you ensure that you’re always at the head of the game?
I view the role of women’s magazines as chronicling a society’s desires, tastes, cultures, sub-cultures, preferences and issues of that time. If you see archival issues of FEMINA, you will see how a bikini cover from the Sixties caused a stir and was a major sign of evolution for the Indian reader at that time. Even today, there are households in India where jeans are considered subversive. It’s therefore very important to know the pulse on many more things than just clothes. Besides closely watching the bi-annual fashion weeks in India and abroad, it’s important to cultivate other interests like film, music, art and travel, as well as being updated on cultural and socio-political affairs. It’s my job to mirror what my reader wants, and perhaps even dare to give them what they don’t know they want just yet. There’s no science to it really; being instinctive doesn’t come with a handbook.
What do you think fashion means in India, and what has been the biggest change you’ve seen thus far?
Having worked in varying pecking orders of editorial – luxury, premium and now mass-premium - I feel fashion journalism in India tends to be a bit derived, with a disconnect from our market reality. There are pressures of course, to woo the big international players for advertising. But, there needs to be a way to meet the brands and your readers interests halfway. Very few Indians care about a three page story on the ‘it-bag’ of the season that costs most of us our monthly salaries. Content needs to be curated keeping in mind our consumption patterns, and even brands need to strategise keeping Indian mentalities in mind. We are not a Chinese or Arab market when it comes to retail – the same principles cannot be applied to us. Even a well earning Indian woman would probably wear a pair of Levi’s jeans, with a Ritu Kumar blouse, while carrying her mothers Chanel purse, without mindlessly following trends. Our malls are testimony to this, where you see a Zara facing a Burberry, and a Global Desi one level above that – all in one space. When a Bollywood actor wears a brand on a magazine cover, nobody cares what the brand is, they only care how good he or she looks. Slowly and surely, I think this inclusive pattern is being understood and adopted by leading fashion brands. Proof of this is some splendid collaborations we have worked out in the past year for FEMINA with luxury brands: exclusive covers with Christian Dior and Gucci, and one-on-one interviews with fashion biggies like Sylvia Fendi and Michael Kors.
Given the opportunity, describe what you would consider the dream editorial - What people, place, and designers, would you include?
I’m always fascinated by India, and how much it has to offer a creative mind. The colours, prints, textures, weaves, embroideries and indigenous craftsmanship that is born in India never ceases to amaze me. While our designers may not have the necessary funding and corporate handholding like those in a US or UK market, I feel some of the most outstanding original work still happens on Indian runways. My head is exploding with ideas!
Working in the fashion industry has become an increasingly prevalent dream. What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given and what advice would you give to others looking to get to where you are today?
Work very hard, keep an open mind and don’t fear insecurity. Use it as a tool to build on your strengths, and eliminate your weaknesses.