Alexandra Shulman: UK fashion’s chief advocate – and its vocal critic
In 25 years editing British Vogue before stepping down on Wednesday, she has championed UK designers and challenged industry failings
The fashion industry has plenty of colourful characters but few real leaders. A leader is what Alexandra Shulman has been in UK fashion during her 25 years at the helm of British Vogue.
Shulman, who is stepping down from the role in June, has balanced tireless cheerleading for the fashion industry with being one of its sharpest inquisitors. She has used Vogue as a platform to champion the talent of British fashion designers such as Alexander McQueen and Christopher Kane, as well as photographers, stylists, makeup artists and writers.Her close links with British style icons such as Kate Moss, whom she has featured on numerous covers and employed as a contributing fashion editor since 2013, have helped build Britain’s international reputation for style. A tireless advocate for London fashion week, she has fought the city’s corner in rivalries with Paris, Milan and New York – arguing for time on the schedule and leveraging her own reputation to persuade designers to stage their shows in the UK capital.Shulman has never been afraid to speak out about fashion’s shortcomings. In 2009, she wrote an open letter to designers including Karl Lagerfeld, Donatella Versace and Miuccia Prada, saying their “minuscule” sample sizes were forcing magazines to use unhealthily thin models.
She has worked hard to get Vogue – and by extension, the fashion industry – to engage with the wider world. In November 2016, Vogue went “model-free” for one issue, featuring clothes worn by “real people”, including CEOs and charity workers.
“I feel strongly that women who are in positions of authority or power, or who work in professions, should be able to indulge their interest in clothes and fashion without it seeming frivolous or that they don’t care about their job,” Shulman said at the time.
Her down-to-earth manner and appearance has been much reported, often flagged in contrast to the tennis-at-4am, sunglasses-in-the-office image of her American counterpart, Anna Wintour. The woman-next-door aspect of her appearance is sometimes overplayed – Shulman is in fact a very stylish and elegant figure who more than holds her own on the front row – but her level-headed and unpretentious mindset has had a powerful impact on the fashion world.
The centenary issue of British Vogue, which pulled off a coup by securing a cover portrait of the Duchess of Cambridge, was an example of Shulman’s determination to make the magazine relevant and visible outside a bubble of industry insiders and Bond Street shoppers. Her diary of British Vogue’s centenary year, Inside Vogue, is a wickedly readable account of her struggles to balance the demands of temperamental photographers such as David Bailey with the equally temperamental boiler at her home in west London.