Fashion is...

"Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening." - Coco Chanel.

This blog looks at fashion in its many incarnations, from the haute designers to the high street and from the trend-setters to the avid fashion followers. For this blogger, fashion is far more than the shirt on your back; it is communication, art, culture, anti-fashion, gender, revolution and resistance. It can instantly define or defy your identity. It is one of the most personal and unique things about you...

Sunday, 11 April 2010

The Devil Drives a Toyota

How do you imagine the editor of Vogue magazine to look? Skin so hard and shiny it looks impenetrable, long lacquered talons all the better for drumming impatiently on the boardroom table, a sleek mane of hair in a colour that is unachievable by any conventional means, permanently swathed in fur and towering above other mere mortals in ten-inch Manolo Blahnik’s? Is she just as Meryl Streep portrayed; formidable, callus, cold and overbearing? With this common preconception in mind I decided to take a proper look at the editor of the UK’s most prominent style bible. Namely, Vogue's Alexandra Shulman.

Shulman is quite a shock. Once rather unceremoniously described as a “chain-smoking 50-year-old Toyota-driving divorcee” she is indeed not quite how you would expect the editor of the glossiest of all the monthlies to look. In reality, yes, she is in her early fifties, has a personal style that could best be described as ‘dishevelled boho chic’, she regularly cycles to work and attends most Queens Park Rangers football matches—but the woman is far from frumpy or ordinary. Although she is decidedly curvier than her American and European counterparts, Shulman concedes that she is confident in herself and relatively unfazed by body woes: “there are more interesting things that one can offer than a flat stomach.” It is surprising that a woman so immersed in a world that equates a diminutive waist with success, is so unashamedly at ease with her voluptuous proportions. Her resistance to figure fascism is perhaps down to her parents, not for their unsuperficial outlook on life but for their regular attempts at coercing her to lose wight. Her father frequently berated her regarding her size and told her she would never find a husband unless she slimmed down and her headmistress once unceremoniously announced in front of her schoolmates: "Alexandra Shulman's mother has said she is not to have potatoes". Shulman has turned these negative experiences into something positive and is now an avid campaigner against the use of underweight models in fashion shows and photshoots. In fact, last year she wrote a letter to leading designers, asking them to increase their sample sizes. She received zero replies.

Shulman aged 10 with her father

Other issues that Shulman has spoken out on are the contradictory opinions’ on wearing fur in the fashion industry and maternity leave. She is a woman who’s thoughts extend much further than what shoes will match her new Birkin. She studied social anthropology at Sussex University and has a varied journalistic background, having worked for a record company, the Sunday Telegraph and as editor of GQ. Remarkably, she manages to separate her working life from her personal life and unlike most Vogue editors is not personally acquainted with any fashion designers. She is completely focused when she's at work, and immediately switches off when she leaves. She's chic, but refuses to dress as though she's providing any kind of fashion leadership: “I think, particularly in this industry, where image is so important – if you try and be something that isn't what you really are, it can be terribly damaging.” It is these qualities that have made her the perfect editor for a magazine of such Godlike revere. She is dedicated to her work but she doesn’t let it overwhelm or consume her. Having taken the helm at Vogue way back in 1992, Alexandra Shulman continues to make it the UK’s most aspirational magazine, despite her candid aversion to many of fashion’s frivolous tendencies.

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