This story also ran in Sunday magazine
When Megha Kapoor takes to the stage at Semi Permanent Aotearoa in Poneke next month, it will be a homecoming of sorts. The Indian-born, New Zealand-raised editor, creative director, writer and stylist moved to Australia to attend university - and it's there her career took flight.
After stints at Vogue Australia and Oyster Magazine, Kapoor started her own publication, Inprint. It was driven, she's said previously, by a desire to tell "more diverse stories and explore the intersectionality of fashion more without being beholden to someone else's agenda".
In September 2021, Kapoor took on her most ambitious role to date when she was approached by Anna Wintour, global editorial director of Vogue, to become head of editorial content at Vogue India. Like many regional Vogue mastheads, the Indian magazine was in a period of rapid expansion and transformation, but Kapoor insists she wasn't simply a figurehead beholden to a global strategy.
Vogue India is "very much part of the mothership", but the editor had her own agenda, one she says was supported by Wintour: to shift the editorial direction of the publication, in a way she says was "quite aggressive", to re-balance the mix of global and local content in the magazine, grow their digital footprint and “find validity in the storytelling”.
In many ways Kapoor was successful in achieving her goals. The digital audience grew by 300% across her tenure, an achievement she jokes has earned her a quasi "MBA in digital".
The gains were not, she says, because she is a digital maverick, but rather achieved through a tightly maintained focus on storytelling and an ability presenting content in a form fit for purpose. "Social media, quite frankly, is the most important medium now," Kapoor says. "Websites are almost becoming irrelevant."
While print magazines will always be important "as a flagship product", Kapoor says her success comes from "trying not to bifurcate the approach”.
"It's more, how do we make this content, this story, this imagery, be seen the most by whatever medium that we're utilising to tell the story."
The stories Kapoor and her team were telling were staunchly local, "about 80%," and this was a luxurious anomaly amongst Conde Nast’s global strategy.
"Content is borderless in a lot of ways, but at the same time there's also the reality that people need local content. Especially with a market like India, there's such strong local industries.
“I think while there's definitely this ambition for a very global product, that's evident with... the sharing of covers and the same fashion shoots being in every single edition, which is wonderful because it means you have content to pull from as sort of budgets get thinner. It is a balancing act and I think we're still sort of trying to figure out the equilibrium."
That search for balance came during something of a baptism of fire; one that burned fast and hot. In August this year, Kapoor announced she was moving on from her role, saying she was "excited to be transitioning to an editor-at-large position" that would allow her "to spend time between India and abroad, as well as the flexibility to explore other creative projects while still remaining a part of the Vogue family."
"In hindsight, I think maybe it was a bit too aggressive, maybe I needed to move a bit more slowly," Kapoor says in reflection on her approach. "I wanted to go and implement change and I don't think I could have done it any other way because that's not the person that I am. I always sort of work for myself and I'm quite myopic in that sense."
A laser focus on local talent is something Kapoor thinks the creative realms in Australia and New Zealand could do a better job of embracing. "I think one of the biggest lost opportunities is the fact that we do not lean into what we have at our disposal enough," she says.
"Whether it's the natural world, or the amazing indigenous cultural heritage that we have or examining our own histories. There's just this real tendency, I feel, to look out and in a bad way, sort of replicate trends people are seeing in Europe or, or New York or whatever it is, rather than actually creating original identities here.”
The lack of originality and diversity of voice is something that troubles Kapoor across the fashion industry. Kapoor says a lot of the diversity seen in the industry feels "performative", particularly across the luxury fashion groups at the creative director level.
"It's one thing to have one bigger girl on the runway or to have a person of colour front and centre, but then the systems behind that don't reflect true diversity,” she says.
“One of the things I was really drawn to about the fashion industry is that strength in collaboration and calling on these different perspectives. It's really disappointing that we see a back slide back to something very safe. It's a little bit disheartening when people go back to a safe business model that basically means white men, you know. There is a lot of work to do and substantive work to do, not just performative work."
Kapoor won't be drawn on specifics about her own next steps, except to say she's taking her own advice and slowing down a bit. Myopic and ambitious, she is taking her time and focusing her vision on the long term.
"I'm transitioning out of my role with Vogue and moving more into more of a freelance space. Back to what I am, back to having that freedom.
"I look forward to working in a way that some of the values that I hold really important can come to the fore and take centre stage. I think for me it's just about authenticity."
Megha Kapoor will reflect more on her editorial practice when she appears at Semi Permanent Aotearoa, the festival of creativity and design that returns to Wellington from Wednesday November 8 until Friday November 10.