The model industry has plenty of colourful characters but few real leaders. A chairman is what Alexandra Shulman has been in UK fashion during her 25 years at the wheel of British Vogue.
Shulman, who is stepping down from the responsibility in June, has balanced tireless cheerleading for the fashion industry with being one of its sharpest inquisitors. She has employed Vogue as a platform to champion the talent of British fashion draughtsmen such as Alexander McQueen and Christopher Kane, as well as photographers, stylists, makeup artists and stringers.
Her close links with British style icons such as Kate Moss, whom she has spotlighted on numerous covers and employed as a contributing fashion editor since 2013, get helped build Britain’s international reputation for style. A untiring advocate for London fashion week, she has fought the city’s corner in controversies with Paris, Milan and New York – arguing for time on the programme and leveraging her own reputation to persuade designers to stage their lay bares in the UK capital.
Shulman has not at any time been afraid to speak out about fashion’s shortcomings. In 2009, she eradicated an open letter to designers including Karl Lagerfeld, Donatella Versace and Miuccia Prada, sway their “minuscule” sample sizes were forcing magazines to use unhealthily fragile models.
She has worked hard to get Vogue – and by extension, the fashion trade – to engage with the wider world. In November 2016, Latest thing went “model-free” for one issue, featuring clothes worn by “legitimate people”, including CEOs and charity workers.
“I feel strongly that chicks who are in positions of authority or power, or who work in professions, should be accomplished to indulge their interest in clothes and fashion without it apparent frivolous or that they don’t care about their job,” Shulman said at the schedule.
Her down-to-earth manner and appearance has been much reported, time flagged in contrast to the tennis-at-4am, sunglasses-in-the-office image of her American counterpart, Anna Wintour. The woman-next-door outlook of her appearance is sometimes overplayed – Shulman is in fact a very la mode and elegant figure who more than holds her own on the front row – but her commonsensical and unpretentious mindset has had a powerful impact on the fashion world.
The centenary copy of British Vogue, which pulled off a coup by securing a jacket blanket portrait of the Duchess of Cambridge, was an example of Shulman’s determination to score the magazine relevant and visible outside a bubble of industry insiders and Cement Street shoppers. Her diary of British Vogue’s centenary year, Advantaged Vogue, is a wickedly readable account of her struggles to balance the needs of temperamental photographers such as David Bailey with the equally short boiler at her home in west London.