Strictly Business — Women of Influence
Kelly Talamas - Editor-in-Chief Vogue Mexico & Latin America
We are running late.
And not just running late for meeting a friend for coffee, or late to get home. We are late for our phone interview with the Editor-In-Chief of Vogue Mexico/Latin America, Kelly Talamas. As we run across the park to get to the conference room, the tension rises, knowing that we cannot turn back the clock and regain the lost time.
One of the girls tentatively asks, “This is the type of thing that people get fired for, right?” Choosing not to dwell on finding the answer, we scurry into the air-conditioned room and take a deep breath.
The moment we first realized that not only had the Editor-In-Chief not only responded to our email, but that she also agreed to be interviewed, the young women of the “Strictly Business — Women of Influence” team were elated and nervous. A few of them dreamed of pursuing careers as editors or fashion photographers, making this interview even more than just an incredible opportunity. There was no shortage of questions; in fact the sheer number was so numerous and interesting, that it proved difficult to edit them down.
The phone rings loudly over the conference room speaker system and a sweet voice, speaking in rapid fire Spanish, states “Condé Nast” announcing that it is show time. We are connected to Ms. Talamas’ extension and the reality that the current EIC has graciously devoted time to have a conversation with us sinks in. A few beeps later, a warm voice fills the room:
The girls look at each other giddily, and we begin the interview.
What interested you to study Journalism and Economics? Did you envision a career in the business side of media?
I was always more interested in the editorial side. Since a very young age I’ve always loved fashion. My family on my mother’s side tended to be more creative, so my sister and I were always really interested in fashion more as a hobby, something that we enjoyed on the side. I also loved collecting magazines and I loved writing. So when I started University, I immediately knew I wanted to go into the communications field, definitely into journalism. I used to collect all of the fashion magazines I loved and read the articles from the beginning to end, more than just looking at the images, so I decided the best field for me was fashion journalism. At the university where I studied they had a requirement to do double majors and I’m very happy about this requirement. I was always very interested in business and economics, because I feel like the skills that you learn in that career can help you in anything that you do.
As Editor-In-Chief I have to keep budgets, plan strategies for the magazine in all of our platforms, deal with clients, so having a knowledge of the current economics and business is always a plus in whatever field you are in. So that’s why I chose to go down that route to compliment my journalism degree.
What is one of the hardest experiences you have had to overcome to reach the position of Editor-in-Chief that you now hold as a woman?
There’s not one particular moment in mind that stands out as something that I had to overcome. I think to get to this position it’s a lot of hard work and sacrifice on your personal life to be able to move up.
I am originally from Miami and I started in the Vogue Mexico and Latin America office in Miam, however five years ago, I was offered the opportunity to move to Mexico because they were moving the editorial office here. That was definitely a big decision to make. I absolutely loved my job, but it was never really my plan to move to Mexico.
Given this opportunity, I really had nothing to lose, and I decided to take it not knowing truthfully that eventually I would be promoted to Editor-In-Chief. I was Fashion Editor at the time. That was an important lesson for me because I think sometimes you take risks and you think “Well you know, I would really like to stay in the U.S industry and focus more on the U.S industry.” But you never know, sometimes there are benefits that can come from taking certain risks that you didn’t have in your plan. At the same time
I think it’s important to have a vision of what you want to do with your career, but also be open to the unexpected because you never know how different opportunities present themselves. I would say that it was an important step in my career, which eventually led to me becoming Editor-In-Chief.
You also have to be willing to understand that sometimes it’s difficult. Sometimes you can have it all and sometimes you can’t have it all.
There are certain times in your life where you have to dedicate more to your career and there are certain times where you dedicate more to your personal life.
There are times, as women, we want to do everything and we feel guilty if we can’t achieve everything in the time that we’ve placed upon ourselves. It all boils down to giving yourself those moments in your life to dedicate to your career and understand that you have to make certain sacrifices in both your career and your personal life to be able to achieve everything that you want. We do a lot of articles about this in Vogue because we know this is a predicament and issue many women struggle with.
At this age, I thought that I would have kids already or I would be married but, you know, you have to learn to dedicate your attention and your time to what you need at the moment.
As Editor-in-Chief, you dictate the magazine’s direction. Have you ever made any decisions that you regret, such as featuring or not featuring someone on the cover?
I think I wouldn’t necessarily say regret. It can all be taken as a learning experience. Not necessarily to say that everything happens for a reason, but when we choose the people that we put on our cover we clearly and carefully meditate on them. It’s not just on a whim that we decide to put people there.
Each Vogue — each magazine in the world — also always has in mind the title we represent in order to maintain the quality and know what people look for in our magazine. Do they look for fashion? Do they look for celebrities? Do they look for…you know what exactly are they looking for in Vogue?
In our case we’ve learned to focus mostly on top models because in our market people look to Vogue for fashion and they want fashion figures. We don’t do as many celebrities as Vogue US does, for example, because the US is a very entertainment-based market. The celebrities that are in the US are known for their fashion sense. This is not necessarily the case in Vogue Mexico or Latin America. We do feature them from time to time but they have to have some sort of link to fashion and they have to be relevant to the market also in terms of — Is it a Latin actress? Is it an American actress? Is it an American actress that speaks to the foreign market?
These are all things that we take into consideration when we are choosing our covers. In choosing the local content for the magazine, the person also has to match. If it’s a Mother’s Day issue maybe we will put a model that’s a mother on the cover. We carefully think about it. So we don’t necessarily regret the people that we put [on our cover], but there are times that we’ve said no to a certain model or a certain celebrity that later comes out with a really interesting project that we had the opportunity to shoot with and we missed them.
Of course you always learn those things and again it goes back to not being able to please everybody or do everything.
You do learn maybe to, next time, not make a decision so quickly or to consider it for the future. There will always be those instances; you never know 100%.
I’m also a very picky person with very high standards, who is always looking to improve on how to do better and present exclusive materials. We are always looking to be one step ahead of the game, ahead of the market. I think that’s what drives us everyday, always looking to improve. If we were just comfortable with everything we put into the magazine we wouldn’t be challenging ourselves every day. I wouldn’t say that I’ve regretted putting anyone in the magazine per se because we do carefully decide each person, each article, each time — but maybe yes, not picking up opportunities that have been presented to us and then later not having that opportunity presented again. I guess that happens with everything in life.
Vogue Mexico & Latin America sets the precedent for fashion in Latin America. What does the modern Latin woman consumer embody? How do you view and possibly reject typical Latina stereotypes?
In terms of Vogue Mexico & Latin America, people who are familiar with the region know that each country is a world of it’s own. Each culture is completely different and even within that culture, there are a ton of differences. From the outside, people tend to group Latin America, thinking that everyone is the same and that’s just not so. Sometimes a really big challenge for us is to correctly represent the Latin American woman and include things in the magazine that are interesting to someone in Colombia versus somebody in Mexico versus somebody in Chile, which truthfully are all completely different.
People love to put us in certain categories, and so we try to include a variety of women and always have features on local people.
For example, in our April issue, which was the “Body Issue”, we had a special that portrayed women from different countries with different body types. We always try to feature the variety that we have in Latin America. Our fashion designers are also unique, each one with their own viewpoint.
The only way to disprove certain stereotypes, is to show all of the different varieties in people and cultures.
We have invited brilliant international fashion designers, models and celebrities to Mexico for events. Showing them around helps break down certain misconceptions.
Just yesterday, I was having dinner with a New York based client of ours who is getting to know the market, and they are always surprised by what they see here because they ultimately came with certain opinions and expectations of Latin American women.
For example: “a Latin woman likes colors or a Latin woman likes this or that.” The most important thing is to expose them to everything we have so that they can understand that it’s not just one type of person.
I’m from Miami, so I know first hand about horrible stereotypes and how they can stick to you. It happens with every city. Today, Miami is “cool” again, but it used to be known for “spring break.” You have to educate people and choose to show them another side in order to prove that Miami isn’t just big raves and that Latin women are not just curvy women who like to wear super tight dresses, high heels, and a ton of make-up.
One common factor that could be said of Latin women in general is that they take a lot of pride in their appearance. So regardless of whether they wear more make up than others, they typically do not leave their house without being somewhat put together.
There tends to be a more laid back style in the U.S. Here [in Mexico], they definitely go to the salon, they get their hair and nails done, and generally pay more attention to the details of their appearance, more so than you see in some other cultures.
You have said that “Colombians are very fashion forward and they wear local designers’ clothes.” How can you, in your position, help to promote local designers in each Latin American country, especially when the competition from the US and Europe is so strong?
This is something that we’re really involved in and that we try to promote. We do different initiatives for Latin America, in Colombia we have a project called Vogue Talents Corner, which happens in July during Colombiamoda, Colombia’s Fashion Week in Medellin. This is one of the most important fairs in Latin America that presents Latin American Talent.
Every year, we offer a space to 10–15 designers. We give them exposure in our space so that the buyers, the editors and everybody who comes from abroad can see their pieces and see that Vogue is backing up these designers. It has been very successful. It gives them very good exposure and brings the designers business, both national and international.
For Mexico, we have an initiative called Who’s On Next where we promote local designers. Each year, we reward a winner with editorial support and economic support, which helps them grow their businesses. With the support we’ve given the past two designers, they have been able to find investors to invest in their brand and to eventually open up stores in Mexico and grow internationally. Additionally, we do stories within the magazine and on our website, where we promote these designers and work to include them in our photo shoots.
I personally love to wear Latin American talent. I have to travel a lot for work, from Paris to New York, where I am around a lot of people from the fashion industry, so I am always happy to wear and promote the Latin American designers so that people can see what we have. Our editors serve as ambassadors for the talent we have in our region. We are always looking for different designers and reaching out to them.
When I travel to Colombia or Peru or Chile or Panama, I always try to see local designers, visit their showrooms, get to know them a bit, and give them feedback. Vogue is known for its quality and our high standards, which means that sometimes not all designers are necessarily ready to be featured in Vogue just yet, but we do give them our feedback on how they can grow and improve their brand and become more recognized both nationally and internationally.
What do you consider a power suit? What do you wear when you want to feel your most confident/powerful?
Ah well, the typical power suit that I love that is both chic and elegant, is pants with a blazer, in any color truthfully, not necessarily black although people do tend to like it in that color. That’s always a very chic option to turn to. However, I do think it depends on each person. Sometimes if you don’t feel comfortable in a power suit or you don’t feel comfortable wearing pants or a blazer, or even your climate doesn’t allow that to be comfortable, the most important thing is finding those outfits or that “look for work” that makes you feel confident.
If you are uncomfortable it reflects on how you present yourself. Obviously, you must know when you can or can’t wear jeans, or when there are certain dress codes.
A powerful look is anything that makes you feel confident and makes you feel fabulous, which in turn affects how you interact with others.
There is nothing worse than feeling uncomfortable and adjusting your outfit; it shows insecurity automatically. It’s all about finding what makes you feel confident and what works best for your body and your style.
What is it like to be an American woman working for a major international company abroad? Do you have any advice for young American women interested in working outside of the US?
Working in Mexico has been an amazing opportunity. Moving to another country is a learning experience that allows you to grow, not only professionally but also personally.
I’ve been really inspired by this experience as well because it’s a new culture. You have the opportunity to learn about new things and be inspired by new places. I think being a foreigner here in Mexico has helped me because I see things that the people who grew up here have seen all their lives and have not appreciated or seen the beauty in. As tourists we see places that we absolutely fall in love with, that the people who see it on a day-to-day basis take for granted.
Sometimes there are challenges. When you move you have to adjust to the culture and it takes a while to become accustomed to certain things. Also you have people who may think, “Well why is there a foreigner in this position? Why don’t they have a Mexican Editor-In-Chief or any other Latin American nationality in this position?” The most important thing here is to feel confident in why you are in that position. Know that you have the qualities and the talent and the skills that your company feels are needed to have this position. There are also different work ethics. Latin America has different work ethics than the US; they criticize the US because they are workaholics.
You have to learn to understand the culture and that you need to adapt to them because you are the foreigner and you need to adapt to that culture.
But at the same token, understand that, like you’ve mentioned, we are a major international company. For example I report to London, and our standards are the same worldwide, in any market we’re in. Whether it be Mexico, US, UK, Europe or any country, we have to uphold the same standards. We have to reach the same goals and follow the same guidelines. It’s also a combination of understanding the market, knowing your team well, knowing the culture well and knowing how to work with them so that they can help you achieve what your company needs of you.
It’s not always easy. Luckily I work in a culture that is definitely very open, very warm and friendly, which is of great help. People are always happy to receive you, to meet you, to welcome you, but you do always have to respect that culture and the country that you’re in and understand it well in order to be able to present it well.
We are ending all of our interviews by asking if you had one piece of advice for young women, what would it be?
Usually young people are not thinking about their careers and their futures, they are just enjoying life and actually dreading school. People ask me, “How did you get to your position at such a young age?” I think that the key reason was knowing what I wanted to do from an early age which not everyone is lucky to figure out so quickly.
Sometimes it takes certain people a long time and they go through college, take different courses to figure out exactly what they want and in the end, get a degree that they’re not necessarily happy with, but they do it just to graduate. An important key is to know from the beginning what it is you want, or generally what fields you are interested in because that way you can work towards that. Or you can get experience, summer jobs, internships or what not, where you can try them out. I think that’s the best way. I did internships and it definitely helped me realize exactly what I wanted to do.
Sometimes what you thought you wanted to do your whole life, you try it and then realize it’s not for you at all.
When you get to the university, you have four years, and it seems like a lot of time, but it goes by really quickly and you have to decide your future. I know very well how stressful that can be.
Knowing exactly what, or trying to figure out, little by little — doing research, talking to different people and seeing if maybe that’s what you want to do is helpful. For example, through research you might find out about a job you never even knew existed, which might be the perfect fit for you. Also, following your gut and knowing that if you believe you want to do something, never be scared to follow through.
From the get go people often want to grow too quickly — you can’t go to a magazine and say, “I want to be an Editor-In-Chief.” You have to be willing to start as an assistant who goes to get coffee and makes photocopies, for example.
Never feel like you are above anything because truthfully, I started as an assistant and so I know what it’s like. It’s a huge advantage because I know what I can ask of my team. I know what goes into doing every step of the process of making a magazine. It’s also important to be willing to roll up your sleeves and do whatever is asked of you, starting from the bottom. Believe in yourself and know that you never know where life may take you and what opportunities may present them selves. It’s up to you.
Do you remember what you wore when you first interviewed for Vogue?
Yes — it’s very scary because you know it’s a fashion magazine and you’re like “What do I wear to impress them?” I mean you always want to look professional. I had always been given tips where people said “Don’t wear too much, it’s better to look minimal, yet chic and professional.” I wore a black Theory dress with a collar, it was kind of a wrap around, very polished. Some small earrings and I can’t remember what kind of shoes, but I’m pretty sure they were probably black. I went very minimal but sharp.
You have everything ahead of you, and I hope I have been of help.