Friday 23 June 2017

Vogue editor leaves in her own fashion

Alexandra Shulman departs Vogue amid rumours of a Wintour plot. Maybe she's just seen it all before, writes Sophie Donaldson

Alexandra Shulman
Alexandra Shulman

Sophie Donaldson

Everyone loves a good fashion feud - regardless of whether it happens to be real or not. When editor of British Vogue Alexandra Shulman announced last week she was stepping down from the position she has held for 25 years, rumours swiftly began circulating that it was in fact the ongoing bitter rivalry with US Vogue's Anna Wintour at the root of her resignation.

Yes, the quarter century she has spent at the helm of one of the world's most influential magazines that she successfully navigated through the economic downturn as well as bringing the magazine to its highest ever circulation while overseeing some of the most memorable fashion imagery of the past century, has been reduced to a mythical tit-for-tat between her and a woman who doesn't even live in the same country.

Shulman has had a remarkable career in media, not only for her longevity, but for her creative vision and innovation. She tapped into the irresistible allure of Kate Moss, featuring her 37 times on the cover alone. Moss's first cover for the magazine was in 1993, one year after Schulman assumed editorship.

Since then, Shulman has championed a diverse line-up of cover girls from Naomi Campbell and Princess Diana to plus-size model Ashley Graham, whose January 2017 cover made history as the first time a plus-size model appeared on the front of Vogue.

Shulman has been an advocate for body diversity in the industry, penning an open letter in 2009 to designers imploring them to provide bigger sample sizes so magazines could use larger models. As she grew aware that the industry - of which she was a part - consistently delivered stick-thin girls to the pages of fashion magazines, she pushed back against it.

She is famously outspoken, speaking candidly about everything from her panic attacks and dependency on Xanax to the fact that many fashion houses refused to lend samples for Graham's cover.

One of her final fashion coups was securing the first and only editorial shoot with Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, for the magazine's centenary issue in June 2016. Since announcing her resignation her achievements at Vogue have been overshadowed by an imagined furore that spans the Atlantic and only piqued the public interest in 2016 via the BBC's documentary Absolutely Fashion.

In it, Shulman makes the executive decision to use pop star Rihanna on the cover despite knowing that Wintour intended to use the starlet the following month, thus robbing her of a lucrative cover star. What we saw was not Shulman the calculating fashion diva, but just a woman doing her job and doing it well. Okay, maybe a tiny bit calculating.

Both Shulman's parents worked for Vogue, her father Milton Shulman as film critic, and her mother Drusilla Beyfus was an associate editor, and she has said herself it was the last place she wanted to end up. She envisaged herself as a hairdresser instead (which is ironic, given that when she landed the Vogue job, The New York Times reported that it was said the slightly scruffy-looking Shulman could "become better acquainted with a hairbrush").

Despite working in fashion journalism for Tatler and The Sunday Telegraph she was apparently not deemed 'fashion' enough for Vogue, having come directly from editing GQ. So it seems vacuous speculation has surrounded Shulman's tenure from beginning to end.

But maybe, just maybe, the real reason she is leaving is that after 25 years there is just not that much more she has to say about fashion.

For an industry built on the premise of producing something new every six months, has fashion lost its ability to shock?

There, I said it.

But really, what has 21stcentury fashion produced so far that hasn't been seen before? Take, for instance, last week's couture shows in Paris. Vetements, the most talked about label of the moment, showed a typically eclectic collection that included both a flouncy lace wedding dress and a man dressed in a green denim suit with crimson hair gelled into long spikes that jutted vertically from his skull.

Sure, it was unexpected at a couture show, but cast your mind back to Vivienne Westwood's chicken bone T-shirt, a confection that truly did shock society at the time, and it's all a bit regurgitated.

But then this comes from the brand that takes utter delight in snatching corporate logos - last season it was DHL, this season it looks to be IKEA - and emblazoning them onto T-shirts that the fashion pack scrambles to pay triple figures for.

Actually, perhaps they have hit on something new. And after 25 years at Vogue seeing a courier's uniform hailed as the latest must-have, maybe Shulman feels she really has seen it all.

Sunday Independent

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