SL Meets Alexandra Shulman

SL Meets Alexandra Shulman

Fashion heavyweight Alexandra Shulman was Editor-in-Chief of British Vogue from 1992–2017, the magazine’s longest serving editor. As she publishes ‘Clothes… And other things that matter’ – a moving mix of memoir, fashion history and social observation – she tells SL about life in lockdown, her career highlights and how she balances work and motherhood…
Photography: Christopher Floyd

When it comes to dressing during lockdown, I’ve tried not to give in to Sloppy Joes – oversized sweaters – and pyjamas, as it seems to suit me more to get dressed a little more formally – at least most of the time. However, on most days I have worn an apron for quite a few hours – there’s so much housework to do.

My favourite lockdown purchase has been some Alexa Chung jelly shoes with diamante decoration. I'm very happy with them. They strike me as perfect: they're rubber, so they can be rinsed if I suddenly feel paranoid about going outside. I also got lured into a virtual sample sale where I found myself buying an embroidered linen dress.

When it comes to the high street, I enjoy & Other Stories and Cos. And Marks & Spencer always has something excellent for a really good price.

There is no template for an ‘everywoman’ wardrobe. Nowadays, we all have such different attitudes to how we dress that it’s impossible to pick out a capsule collection of items we should all own.

I’m a big fan of Simone Rocha for her extraordinary and strange romanticism and also Jonathan Anderson for both his work at Loewe and his own label. Grace Wales Bonner is always doing something interesting, too.

I couldn’t be a cupcake mother and edit Vogue. There was no point losing sleep over that.

There is an attempt to portray a greater range of body diversity in fashion now compared to a decade ago, but I don’t think the industry has changed hugely when it comes to admiring people who are thin. I found it odd when I was at Vogue that my size was of any interest since it was always middling and unremarkable.

When it comes to my favourite collection, I always reference the Marc Jacobs for Perry Ellis collection in 1992 which ushered in grunge. I think it was because it was the first collection where I felt really interested in what I was seeing in front of me, beyond the clothes. It was clearly part of a cultural sea change.

Both fashion and journalism are wonderful industries to be involved in but you have to be prepared to push yourself and realise the path isn’t always straightforward. Perseverance is important but I would also say take any opportunities that come your way even if at first they don’t look as if they are taking you in the right direction.

That said, don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s better to try, rather than to be too scared. Also, do the job you are asked to do, not the job you want to be doing.

I would urge any mother who is trying to balance home and work life to accept things won't be perfect. There is no such thing as having it all – at the same time. If you are lucky enough to have a job and a family, just try and be the best you can when you’re in the different spaces. I always found it relatively easy to compartmentalise, but I was also pragmatic. I couldn’t be a cupcake mother and edit Vogue. There was no point losing sleep over that.

We all have to fit into various places and roles to some extent. And sometimes that can go against how you personally feel. You have to find a balance which shows some understanding of the environment you are operating in, while also keeping your own sense of self.

I’ve suffered from panic attacks in the past. I thoroughly recommend medication to help deal with them and get them under control. If they are mild, breathing exercises can help. You have to avoid getting trapped in a cycle of being fearful of the fear.

Since leaving Vogue, I’ve enjoyed being able to dress like Alexandra Shulman rather than Alexandra Shulman, Editor-in-Chief.

It’s no secret that I love print. For me the act of reading or looking at images on a physical page can’t be replicated by digital. But digital is fantastic in terms of reacting quickly and disseminating information widely. So, I’d say they are complimentary.

My career highlight was taking control of Vogue’s 100th birthday year. With a BBC documentary and exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, a Vogue Festival, two incredible books and a centenary issue with the Duchess of Cambridge on the cover, it was nonstop action and incredibly rewarding.

Since leaving Vogue, I’ve enjoyed being able to dress like Alexandra Shulman rather than Alexandra Shulman, Editor-in-Chief. Today I’m wearing a JW Anderson cardigan, a pair of black trousers and a Boden white t-shirt, which is pretty representative of how I dress. It’s not wildly different to what I would have worn before. But I’m also wearing an apron!

It’s difficult to think in terms of fashion trends when we are all in the midst of Covid-19. We all need to wear clothes and many of us will be lucky enough to still buy some clothes, but as for big trends – I'm honestly not sure how that pans out for the rest of the year.

It’s clear that fashion weeks will change after this pandemic. The industry was looking at how they structure fashion weeks before, but I feel that this kind of lockdown and the restrictions on travel will impact the way that we look at them in the future. That’s not to say they won’t exist, but I think they will be different and maybe for fewer people, or different people. It will be interesting.
Clothes… And other things that matter by Alexandra Shulman is out now

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