January 29, 2013 00:00
By Kupluthai Pungkanon
Kullawit Laosuksri has a hot seller |on his hands, but he's staying humble so far
Vogue, arguably the world’s most influential fashion magazine, put its Thai edition on news stands last week, and within a few days every copy was gone.
Quite a feather in the cap for Kullawit Laosuksri, Vogue’s first male editor-in-chief anywhere in the world, and that now includes 21 editions, and for the publishers, Conde Nast Asia-Pacific and Serendipity Media.
But Kullawit came to the magazine with the commitment that, apart from maintaining the parent company’s high standards, Vogue Thailand would not follow the global template. He wants it to reflect the character of Thai women even as it retains its international appeal.
We checked in with Kullawit to see if he was snoozing on a bed of laurels after such a successful launch. Not a chance.
Tell us all about the debut issue.
Well, I thought my 15 years in the fashion-magazine business would help, and in a way it does, but the start-up was really intense.
Just the same, I’m glad that, at this age [he’s 46], I still have a lot to learn every day. This is the challenge of my life, and I guarantee that the second, third and fourth issues will be even better. My team has already finished the covers for the next two issues.
How would you describe the Thai edition’s identity?
Vogue in each country has a very high standard, but one of the core principles is that it must reflect the women of each country. Paris Vogue is about Parisian chic, American Vogue is American style, British Vogue is punk and rebellious, and Italian and Japanese Vogue have their own styles too.
For the Thai edition, we also want to present Thai women’s cheerful attitude and lifestyle. For the first issue we wanted a chada [the traditional tall coronet], which is internationally recognised and has a sophisticated design. We searched the archives of the master of the craft, Chakrabhan Posayakrit, and then asked Phillip Treacy, a world-renowned maker of headdresses, to create a chada we could display on our cover.
It’s working with these kinds of foreign connections that also enhances the magazine’s exclusivity and persona.
How would you compare your work at Vogue with that at other magazines?
I don’t look back, only to the future. That’s because I believe in what I do – promoting local designers and the Thai fashion industry overall. I don’t think anyone else can do what we’re doing here. It’s a delicate, complicated job, involving a lot of networking and so on.
How does the magazine regard the many fashion bloggers who are so influential today, especially among the younger generation?
We can’t overlook the bloggers and others who prefer to communicate through the social networks, but they should be knowledgeable and not just dress up and get a front-row seat at a fashion show and then post their opinion online.
Their information goes out fast, so it becomes “today in, tomorrow gone”. Magazines are dealing with that same information for a whole month, and our approach is subtler and more sophisticated. A fashion spread can cover 12 pages, which blogs can’t do.
Ultimately, fashion blogging is good in that it’s not just a monologue – it’s interactive. But I just think the brand is the most important thing. The function of a fashion magazine is to inspire.
What do you think of the Thai fashion industry today?
I have a strong determination to promote it and I always have. We organise photo spreads using foreign photographers, stylists and makeup artists along with Thai models and Thai designs, and vice versa.
We believe the magazine isn’t just for Thai readers but also foreign readers, people involved in the fashion industry around the world. And by carrying so much local content, Vogue Thailand supports the talented designers here, gaining them global recognition.
How does the rest of the world perceive Thai fashion?
The Thai market is relatively small compared to Japan, China and the United States, and we know we’re one of the smallest magazines in Vogue’s family in terms of budget and bargaining power. So despite being Vogue, we have to be prepared to be ignored. That’s among the lessons we’ve learned getting the first three issues ready. We can’t be arrogant.
But the charm of our country is that, when any foreign contributors get to know us or come to Thailand, they love us!
How can the industry be sustained? Is government support essential?
The industry has high potential to grow and become globally famous, but to make it sustainable, the government has to provide support. Paris Fashion Week couldn’t continue without government support.
The Thai textile business and industry overall also need government help that’s tangible, not subjective like it is used to. I think Vogue is quite a good indicator in showing that our country is ready for great expansion in the fashion business, whether it’s in the luxury market or not. The industry is growing strongly.
With the Asean Economic Community’s inauguration in 2015, will Vogue be covering more Southeast Asian designers and models, etc?
The Thai edition is the only Vogue in Southeast Asia, but of course it’s published in Thai. For now, at least, I’d rather just concentrate on our own industry.
Sophisticated readers here no longer have to buy a Vogue from overseas because the Thai edition gives them all the information and styles they want.
Vogue Thailand is the parent magazine’s 21st edition in the world.
Each monthly issue costs Bt100 and runs between 250 and 300 pages.
More than 70 per cent of the content is locally produced.
The edition represents an investment of Bt150 million.
Subscription sales are anticipated to bring in Bt150 million to Bt200 million per year.
Vogue’s readership for all editions is 23 million.
The parent company encourages its various editions to put the local clothing industry to good use in supporting the community. Annual events such as “Fashion’s Night Out”, which Bangkok will soon also have, raise money for selected charities.