Meet Michael Pondaag, Head of Stylist of Harper’s Bazaar Indonesia

Fashionesedaily has the privilege to meet with Michael Pondaag, the Head of Stylist of Indonesian Harper’s Bazaar in one of his many shooting trips to New York. Last time he was here, which was in 2007, I didn’t manage to get an in-depth conversation with him and this time I’d make sure I wouldn’t miss it again.

It was a great pleasure and honor to actually sit and talk with him again during his visit in New York. He showed me the last editorials he styled in New York, it was for the wedding edition of Indonesian Harper’s Bazaar. I’m loving all the fashion spread he did, the way he styled the male model as the groom with a cute bow tie and sneakers, and the bride with the teddy bear turban by HomeDeco Studio, how lovely! (see the photo spread after the jump!) And, there was another spread of an outdoor wedding story in Bali with model Mariana Renata, which was absolutely breathtaking, as it actually pictured the dream wedding that I wish I had ;( I am more than convinced that he is by far one of the most talented and influential Indonesian fashion editor of today. Yet, he’s still humble of his extraordinary journey.

“You, Me & The City”, Harper’s Bazaar Wedding Ideas, courtesy of Harper’s Bazaar Indonesia, Homedeco Studio, click on thumbnail for larger view

After catching up with our latest updates, I took him for a subway ride on our way to get dinner. Instead of heading to the restaurant, we decided to hunt for some vintage finds around the area in St. Marks and ended up an hour late =) While waiting for our food, I took the chance to ask him several questions;

FD: Could you please describe a little bit about your job?

MP: I’m the Head of Stylist for Harper’s Bazaar. I’m working full-time for Bazaar, and Cosmopolitan, basically the whole MRA group. Besides working on my own styling projects, I should be ready to help junior stylists within the group with their jobs and styling tasks. Sometimes, I have to personally supervise each styling project, from ideas, model’s poses, casting models, etc. There are times in my work, that I have to devote my time to help certain magazines within the group that need special care.

FD: How’s Indonesian Fashion today?

MP: Today, there’s a growing number of local designers who are fully committed, and understand fashion marketing. They also understand the importance of working with media as a partner to build their businesses and their clienteles. As we know, media plays an important role to promote the designers. In my case, in styling, we would be able to create their image in a fashion editorial.

FD: What about Indonesian fashion publishing, as I’m aware there are more and more new magazines both local and franchise?

MP: It’s definitely growing. Media is still booming whether it’s fashion-related or not, both franchise and local media, especially free magazines. Online shopping catalog is also booming, which is intriguing, as a good example how media and marketing work hand in hand.

FD: What are the main steps in order to build a successful magazine?

MP: It has to be all out in every way. A successful magazine with good quality requires the right team players from top to bottom line, knows its target market, provides great writings/articles, interesting visual, in all, it requires a total devotion.

FD: Would there be a saturation point of this media booming?

MP: Not yet at the moment. But as in every cycle, that could happen one day. You need to be smart enough to come out with new ideas, what to recycle and refresh.

FD: So Michael, how did you get your first foot in the door?

MP: My background is in fashion design. I studied fashion design at Susan Budihardjo, and worked with Ghea for 4 years. I learnt a lot about ethnic fashion from her. Then I won the competition of Concours International des Jeunes Créateurs de Mode (International Young Fashion Designers Competition) organized by Femina Group and went to Paris. Followed by another fashion design competition organized by UNESCO in 1995, and I was one out of 50 chosen finalists from all over the world. I was sent to Paris, and we did an exhibition at the Louvre museum, and later to Geneva, New York, Tokyo, Kobe, and Beijing. One of my highlight was when a friend of mine found my sketch printed on the New York museum magazine! I still keep that magazine with me till today! And in 1996, I also entered another design competition in Korea. My intention was to go international.

“I love New York”,courtesy of Harper’s Bazaar Indonesia, click on thumbnails or view the complete spread in pdf. here: spread_iloveny

FD: How did you transition from fashion design to fashion styling?

MP: After designing for ten years, I ended up working in Brussels, Belgium. And when my contract ended and I went back home for good. I was over experienced to be working for someone else’s label so I tried to open my very own collection in Indonesia. Then, I got another lucrative offer to design in Thailand, but it wasn’t for me. Out of the blue, I was offered a freelance fashion editor position in a magazine and I accepted. It all started from that, and I did some freelance with Rias magazine. I became full-time in 2002, six short months in Femina. Then, I became a fashion editor at Cosmopolitan (2002-present) and Harper’s Bazaar (2003-present). I’m currently putting my time into AMICA. Published in English, AMICA is a franchise Italian fashion magazine newly acquired by MRA group.

FD: What’s the main difference between designing and styling?

MP: Fashion design taught me how to be detail-oriented. Meanwhile, styling it’s more a total design from head to toe. When I do my storyboard for styling, I have to sketch the whole look, complete with its hair and makeup, the pose, the angles, the background and I also have to think about lighting, the mood, and every inch of details. Fashion styling always changes, every editorials have different storyboards. It’s more challenging to me. Whereas, as a fashion designer I had to stick to one style and image, which I found very boring. I enjoy more what I do now, although I tend to be really picky with any styling projects which come to my door.

FD: Do you have any memorable editorials?

MP: To me, the behind the scene moments are more memorable than the ones published in the magazine. When you shoot for an editorial, every steps you take are important because every mistake you’ve created, would definitely show in the final result.

But do I have a particular memorable one? I definitely do but every editorials have their own characteristics, so it’s hard to tell which editorial is my favorite one. But there’s one that is quite memorable, it was shot in Bali for Harper’s Bazaar May 2007 edition photographed by Davy Linggar with model Fahrani. The editorial was about Bali in the ancient time. I wanted for so long to capture a cockfight scene which is now considered illegal in Bali and anywhere around the world. One day, a friend of mine told me that they could get a permission to recreate that scene with lots of restrictions to follow, of course! Some traditional and religious rituals were performed prior to the shooting date, and the hotel we stayed was really resourceful and offered us such a tremendous help.

The editorials were shot in sephia color, I wanted to pay respect to our own cultural heritage in a fashion editorial. The main story was about a girl who was disguised as a man. I put the model’s hair into a bun, and styled her in a masculine look, mixed with ethnic Indonesian. A bit of androgyny flair with an ethnic twist. I also mixed Balinese Kebayas from several designers with up-to-date fashion, with short and mini skirt.

“Perspektif Budaya”, courtesy of Harper’s Bazaar Indonesia, click on thumbnails or view the complete spread in pdf. here: spread_perspektifbudaya

FD: Your editorials were shot in various places and exotic locations around the world, which places have you traveled for shooting your editorials?

MP: I’ve been to Cape Town in South Africa, India, Luzern (Switzerland), Prague (Checoslovakia), Croatia, Rome, Florence, Venice, Tokyo, Paris, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York, Barcelona (Spain), Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia.


“Grand Obsessions”, courtesy of Harper’s Bazaar Indonesia, click on thumbnails for larger view

FD: What are the biggest challenges to be a Fashion Editor in Indonesia?

MP: A fashion editor in Indonesia needs to be hands on and able to multitask. It’s more difficult as we have more tasks to perform. Besides styling the look, I had to be an art director, direct the model’s pose and create the whole mood. We usually have a small team and mostly without any assistants on location nor some fancy amenities** and yet we are expected to give maximum result.


[FD ~fancy amenities** such as production trailer, on location alteration tailor, assistants, catering buffet and all the perks that foreign fashion editors usually get.

In some Indonesian magazines, besides styling, fashion editors are required to write fashion articles and in some cases, have to write beauty articles. They’re mostly the ones who direct the model’s pose. Most of them still have to deal with gathering samples and doing returns on their own. And the samples are mostly not even Press Samples! So there’s a lot of restrictions and limits.

Compared to foreign publications, fashion stylists/editors could concentrate only on styling the look and photographers direct the model’s pose. In most foreign magazines, an editor title is something you have to climb from the very bottom for years, fresh graduates with no experience would less likely start with a Fashion Editor title. Usually you’d start from interning in several magazines just to get your foot in the door. Most internships in big publishing companies like Hearst or Conde Nast, are usually unpaid. Then, you would climb as an assistant, mostly starting in the fashion closet dealing with overflowing samples and editors’ run through. For writing fashion articles, they would have fashion feature writers who are backed with fashion journalism background. As for gathering samples, they would have Market Editors, assistants and interns to take care of all samples and returns. And most of the samples are Press Samples, so stylists/editors would have full access to play around and style the look. Like models and photographers, some editors/stylists are represented by agencies mostly for freelance projects, established agencies among others are: Art Partner, Chris Boals Artists, Jed Root, Tim Howard Management, etc. ]


FD: I heard that some of your editorials for Indonesian Bazaar have been bought by other magazines, which magazines were they?

MP: Russian and Spanish Cosmopolitan/Bazaar, among others, were said to have bought my editorials.

FD: Any inputs about the rise of “Celebrity Stylists” lately? Have you been offered to style for a celebrity or TV performances?

MP: It’s good that such profession now exists. I have been offered but I don’t have much time. Styling for TV requires a lot of commitments and takes plenty of time, compared to styling for magazine editorials, print ads, or ad campaigns. And, I am still working full-time.

FD: Any suggestions for those who want to pursue Fashion Styling?

MP: Education is important. Like it or not, fashion school is a must. In school you’d learn the basic stuff about fashion to the least. Fashion Styling major is not widely offered in many fashion schools, and it’s even more complicated than fashion design major. You need to consider a lot of things, all the tiny details and learn about makeup, photography, lighting, composition, body language, and many many more. Besides those, enrich yourself with books any kind, not only fashion books but everything from history, culture, civilizations, arts, movies, philosophy, even politics and any sort of visual art literatures.

Thank you so much Michael for your time answering all these questions!

“Emotional Closure”,courtesy of Harper’s Bazaar Indonesia, click on thumbnails or view complete spread in pdf. here: spread_emotionalclosure

It is still fresh in my head the first time I laid my eyes on his works. I was flipping through Rias magazine on my desk, when I used to work for a local woman magazine back in the days. It was the day when foreign franchise magazines and free magazines were hardly seen around. His work was an editiorial on Rias magazine with black & white fashion story in front of a cathedral with Davina as the model. I remember how stunned I was flipping through the pages.. it was rare at that time to see such beautiful editorial in an Indonesian publication and Rias wasn’t even a fashion magazine! Also, please keep it in mind, photoshop and retouching tool were minimal and weren’t widely used as today, let alone browsing through the net and fashion blogs *I wish the Sartorialist and FD existed before ;d ! And I glanced at the credits_as I always do whenever I look through the editorial pages, there it was.. his name, Michael Pondaag, printed on it. I said to myself, we need more editors like him for the sake of Indonesian fashion publishing. And that was about nine years ago, and I definitely was right.. Today, his mark are absolutely influential and inspirational to the Indonesian fashion.

Photos courtesy of Michael Pondaag, Harper’s Bazaar Indonesia,, ZA

.:. This is actually a long overdue post which was supposed to be published last year but postponed due to several circumstances. Big thanks to Michael for having the time to send us some of his great works for this article. Highly appreciated :.