In Conversation with: Rosana Lai
In the dynamic and ever-evolving landscape of fashion, there are a select few who possess the remarkable ability to shape trends and make an indelible mark on the industry. Rosana Lai, the former Fashion Director at Tatler Asia, stands out as one such individual. With her innate sense of style and graceful presence, Rosana has captivated the hearts of designers, enthusiasts, and readers alike.
Rosana’s journey into the world of fashion began after her graduation, when she joined a personal styling firm in the bustling metropolis of New York City. Working as a content manager, her talent caught their attention, seeing potential in other avenues, including as a stylist. Though when speaking to Rosana, she says this isn’t where her
With unwavering determination and a commitment to her craft, she steadily climbed the ranks over four years to assume the coveted position of Fashion Director at Tatler Asia. Recently relocating to the vibrant city of London, Rosana continues to contribute to various esteemed publications while also lending her expertise as a brand consultant.
Join us as we explore her unique perspective, celebrating her artistic vision and dedication to her craft.
What approach do you take to writing fashion stories?
I approach fashion writing with a deep fascination for people and their contexts. My favourite pieces to write and explore are those that delve into the lives and inspirations of individuals. During my time at Tatler, I found immense joy in crafting designer profiles, which eventually became my specialty. I don’t perceive these individuals as merely “special” people; rather, they are talented individuals whose minds and creative processes intrigue me. Understanding what drives them, their dedication to their craft, and unravelling the inner workings of their minds is what truly fascinates me.
I’m drawn to a particular style of writing that goes beyond trend pieces. I find it more fulfilling to provide societal, cultural, or socio-economic context to fashion, linking it to human behaviour. While my major is in journalism, I also pursued minors in English literature and Russian literature. Russian literature captivated me because it often explores the depths of human psychology in fascinating and sometimes eccentric ways. Understanding the complexities of human psychology and how it shapes our motivations and actions within society has always been a passion of mine.
Influential writers like Vanessa Friedman, whose work I greatly admire, excel at connecting seemingly disparate ideas and thoughts, weaving them into a coherent narrative. I strive to emulate this approach in my writing. Another writer I look up to is Malcolm Gladwell, who skill-fully brings together various concepts to shed light on societal phenomena. These writers inspire me to dig deeper, make unexpected connections, and offer readers a more profound understanding of the fashion world and its impact on our lives.
Who are some of the favourite people you’ve profiled?
There have been some truly unforgettable individuals I’ve had the pleasure of profiling. Among my favourites are Pierpaolo, whose collaboration with artists for his Couture collection left a lasting impression. Meeting him in Paris, he walked me through the collection, even staging a mini fashion show. Pierpaolo’s warmth, talent, and poetic way of speaking made it a truly special experience.
And, of course, there’s the legendary Paul Smith. His office, adorned with fan-sent objects and their stories, offered a glimpse into his captivating journey. Paul Smith’s charisma and storytelling ability made the encounter truly memorable. These individuals not only possess immense talent, but they also radiate warmth and leave a lasting impact. As a profiler, it’s an honour to document their incredible stories and contributions to the fashion world.
What has your experience navigating the industry?
In the industry, my experience has been a mix of uplifting and challenging moments. One incident that stood out was when I faced dismissal from a group who seemed dismissive towards me. I realised I was the only non-Caucasian person in the room, causing discomfort for everyone. Despite the awkwardness, I chose to address it by speaking with the person in charge and expressing my feelings. This led to a conversation that made others aware of the situation. It reminded me of the importance of turning negative experiences into positive change. I also discovered that dismissive behaviour can occur within minority communities as well. It’s crucial to foster conversations and approach these topics with kindness and humility. By sharing our stories and promoting understanding, we can create a more inclusive industry and society.
Moving to a new country has shifted my perspective on the industry, and it’s been an interesting journey of self-reflection. In Asia, I never thought of myself as an “Asian person” – I was simply me. However, living in Europe has made me more aware of my foreignness, especially during moments when I wonder if I’m the only minority at a table or event. While there have been visible changes regarding diversity, I question the invisible aspects of hiring practices. Are companies truly committed to diverse hiring, or is it just about filling a quota? The idea of being a “diversity hire” bothers me. I believe in colorblind hiring and genuine inclusivity. Additionally, I’ve noticed that my successful career in Asia doesn’t always translate in the West. It’s disheartening to see friends who had to start from lower positions when they moved countries, while Western expats are often placed in higher roles in Asia. It raises questions about why this discrepancy exists. These are new challenges I’ve faced since relocating, where my identity has shifted from just being a person to being a foreign person. While I don’t have all the answers, these thoughts have been on my mind since my move.
What was it like working as Fashion Director at Tatler Asia?
It was super interesting. One thing that struck me was the vibrant appetite for print in Asia. Unlike the saturated Western market, there’s still ample opportunity and excitement in the region. While the publishing industry in the West may be shrinking, Asia is seeing new magazines emerge, which is quite thrilling.
However, being in a regional publication like Tatler Asia meant navigating the complexities of handling eight different markets, each with its own unique culture. It was essential to ensure that the content we produced was respectful and mindful of each country’s specific values. For example, when organising photo shoots, we had to be considerate of modesty requirements in certain regions like Malaysia. It was eye-opening to witness the diversity within Asia and how people often overlook its complexity, viewing it as a singular entity.
It was an enriching journey that exposed me to the intricacies of diverse cultures and the ever-evolving landscape of the publishing industry in Asia.
What advice would you give those looking to enter brand consulting?
In the industry, it’s crucial to understand your unique strengths and what you can offer. My experience in both Asian and Western markets has positioned me as a valuable bridge for brands seeking to enter different regions. Storytelling plays a significant role in selling products, and I believe in fostering authentic relationships with brands whose vision aligns with mine. It’s important to be selective about the brands you work with, dedicating time and effort to nurture those relationships for long-term partnerships. Balancing workload is key as a freelancer, ensuring you don’t compromise quality or limit your time for other projects. By choosing brands wisely and investing in genuine connections, you can create a fulfilling and successful career.
What advice would you give emerging professionals in the industry?
The way you present yourself is crucial, and it goes beyond mere appearances. Throughout my career, I’ve learned that your presentation matters in interviews, events, and everyday work. As a stylist, I realised that putting effort into my appearance every day helped me project confidence. When you dress well, people take notice, and it leaves a lasting impression. As minorities, we often have to make that extra effort, and I’ve always been mindful of that. It’s not just about looks; it’s about showing your capabilities and professionalism. Dressing for the job you want has been a powerful strategy for me. Presentation matters, so never underestimate its impact.