If you’ve watched The September Issue before, you’ll probably agree that seeing the inner-workings of a fashion magazine is pretty fascinating but, let’s face it, you’re probably not going to really get an insiders’ perspective unless you’re actually working there. Case in point: the recently released BBC documentary, Absolutely Fashion: Inside British Vogue, which, as the name suggests, gave the general public another opportunity to be a fly-on-the-wall in Vogue’s London offices and beyond. Reviews of the documentary were mixed, with much of the critique directed towards its star, Vogue editor-in-chief Alexandra Shulman. Some thought Shulman was brilliantly professional, while others said she came across as distant and cold.
Thankfully, Shulman is able to come across entirely differently – as well as reveal what really went on while the BBC documentary was being filmed – notably warmer and more personable, in her latest book (and first foray into non-fiction), Inside Vogue: A Diary of my 100th Year. Written in a diary-style chronicling the year leading up to the release of the magazines’ centenary issue, it is a must-read for everyone, regardless of their stance on the business of fashion.
Here are some wonderful things we’ve learnt about Shulman from Inside Vogue – some may surprise you!
She isn’t afraid to criticise her peers in fashion and journalism
From commenting on a “slightly sniffy piece” by Jess Cartner-Molney in the Guardian to ripping in to an “absolutely pathetic piece” in the Mail on Sunday by Liz Jones, Shulman has no qualms about being honest regarding her contemporaries’ work. “We spend nine years working on an exhibition of 100 years of culture and Liz’s double-page spread is about how the pictures make her feel inadequate,” she continues in her disdain for Jones’s journalism.
We also must bring up this corker related to iconic photographer David Bailey: “[He] makes no bones about how much he hates fashion magazines now. Which reminds me that I must call him and make a date. It’s been too long since I’ve had my dose of Bailey verbal abuse. For the first five years I was at Vogue he called me Rebecca.”
She was once assaulted while out running – but she didn’t let it beat her
She was once assaulted in a park shortly after Christmas, during her daily run – an encounter she initially put down to “post-Christmas bonhomie” before realising it was something more sinister. After getting away from the man, Shulman’s reaction is sadly typical of an assault victim’s tendency to self-blame. She questions: “Why hadn’t I shouted at him to get away? Why wasn’t I furious with him, rather than feeling furious now with myself for not reacting?”
However, she didn’t let the experience define her and she continues to go running solo. “I don’t want consideration of his presence to become a part of whether I run there or not,” she states impressively.
She isn’t scared to state why she thinks certain brands are failing
Discussing a flying visit to Marks & Spencer, Shulman says: “I watched women shopping, mainly but not exclusively over fifty, short, size fourteen plus, almost all wearing padded jackets and black trousers. I can’t believe they relate much to the high-fashion pieces highlighted at the elaborate press events that target us.”
She acknowledges that working with celebrities is a total nightmare
Towards the beginning of the book, there’s a lot of back-and-forth about the issues the Vogue team have with getting Rihanna confirmed for a cover shoot. Shulman describes that “every aspect of the organisation is like pulling teeth,” adding that, “Her ‘people’ want all the pictures to be in black and white and there is a specific pair of thigh-high denim boots they want featured on the cover,” despite the fact that this is logistically impossible. Urgh. Stick to models!
Finally, she has a brilliant take on people don’t ‘get’ fashion
Simply put: “It’s always easy to criticise what other people do. From the outside, solutions appear obvious and mistakes incomprehensible. People outside my business can never understand why the magazine features impossibly beautiful, thin models and clothes relatively few can afford. Or why we don’t photograph the clothes on women of more diverse ages.”