Shulman steel beneath Vogue’s nice girl veneer

Ferguson portrait of Alexandra Shulman in the FT

Ferguson portrait of Alexandra Shulman in the FT

Next weekend marks the first Vogue festival at the Royal Geographical Society in Kensington with the likes of Stella McCartney, Diane Von Furstenberg, Tom Ford, Nigella Lawson and Kirsty Young chatting before the magazine masses.

It’s an idea led by the fashion magazine’s editor Alexander Shulman, who also has a book coming out.

That’s why there have been profiles of Shulman in the Observer Magazine last Sunday and today’s FT, where Carola Long, the FT’s deputy fashion editor, has lunch with the Vogue editor.

Shulman is portrayed as down to earth, almost girl next door, with both profiles putting across the image of a woman ‘happy in Vogue’.

‘…her hair is an untamed mishmash of outgrown highlights. Her clothes are discreetly fashionable but unintimidating: a navy-blue cardigan, a knee-length patterned skirt and comfortable-looking Anya Hindmarch heels. And – shock, horror! – she eats’ gushes Elizabeth Day in the Observer mag

But the articles are so similar that you wonder whether the interviewers have just swallowed the PR line.

There are hints, though, that more is afoot. The FT piece starts talking about the choice of restaurant:

Alexandra Shulman was also expecting a little privacy but the editor of British Vogue is scarcely going undercover by nipping round the corner from her Hanover Square office to this smart new steakhouse. In bounces well-connected foodie Tom Parker Bowles (‘Is this your new haunt?’ he asks), followed by restaurant critic AA Gill (‘Hi Adrian’, ‘Hi darling’). ‘Rather more people here than I expected,’ Shulman says, jaw tense, voice dropping to a near-whisper

But does it look like a navy-blue cardigan below? She leaves the Observer interviewer and seems to change into a grey cardigan that looks, to my non-fashionista eye, like a designer job.

Alexandra Shulman. Photograph: Julian Broad for the Observer

Alexandra Shulman. Photograph: Julian Broad for the Observer

She tells the FT:

‘I’ve got to the point where I don’t judge myself [on my appearance] because that way madness lies,’ she says, convincingly. ‘I know so many people who are upset about not looking as good as they used to but you’ve got to realise that’s what happens and find something else to be interested in.’

All very nice and reasonable. She does have a go at someone, however. In the Observer:

In fact, the most pronounced change she has noticed during her time at Vogue is … the increased control exerted by PRs and celebrities. ‘Somebody like Jennifer Aniston will only do an interview with copy approval and picture approval,’ she says. ‘I’ve never had anybody on the cover, ever, who’s had copy approval and picture approval. I just don’t think it’s a proper thing if you do.

‘It’s this thing of people just basically treating you as if you’re bound to be doing something that is in some way going to be insulting to their client. I just find that so offensive.’

Who could disagree with that. But then why pick on Aniston? Could it be that the Friends actor was the preview launch cover choice of weekly fashion rival Grazia?

After reading these two pieces, I’d be wary of the PR gloss and cut to the FT quote:

If she could have her time again, she says, ‘I would have got rid of the people who didn’t want to work with me, sooner.’ It’s a hint of the steeliness that must have helped keep her at the top in a fickle industry.

What I do like, though, is the FT  portrait by James Ferguson. His cartoons always have an edge to them. In this one, she’s got her heart not just on her sleeve but all over her top. The drink is the £5.50 Virgin Mary she has at 34 Restaurant. And there’s no attempt to flatter. It’s as if he’s taken her words to heart: ‘I’ve got to the point where I don’t judge myself [on my appearance].’

Vogue profile

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One Response to “Shulman steel beneath Vogue’s nice girl veneer”

  1. The week in magazines: in and outs at Vogue | Magforum blog Says:

    […] of Edward Enninful at British Vogue is seen as marking a switch to a more digital focus, with Alexander Schulman having wrung as much from print as there is to find. It is also the start of the change of the old […]

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