ach week, we present an influential woman whose career and style has inspired the Silkarmour team to aim higher and dress better. This week’s Silkarmour woman is author and Editor in Chief of British Vogue, Alexandra Shulman.
Among the mania of the unveiling of British Vogue’s centenary cover star, consumers failed to spot a striking resemblance between the famed model and the editor. Alexandra Shulman has long-been credited for retaining interest in an age-old publication that has had its fair share of turbulence in the storm that print journalism has faced. In turn, the Duchess of Cambridge is universally praised for bringing fresh blood (and brands) to the Royal Family, thus re-igniting interest in a declining institute. Somewhere along the way, Shulman saw the value of celebrating 100 years of an old fashion bible by featuring a newly recognised fashion icon and in the processes created an iconic centenary magazine cover. It’s this sort of approach to her work that has kept Shulman consistently at the top of Vogue’s masthead for the last 24 years. Attending fashion week without an entourage, being open about her panic attacks and publishing two novels on the side, Shulman is anything but the stereotypical fashion editor; rather she is considered the “antithesis of a hard-boiled fashion queen”.
What sets Shulman apart in her field is how she remains grounded in the turmoil of the fashion hype. Criticised for “not looking like a Vogue editor” due to her love of skirts and sensible cardigans, among the slew of comments was Alex Witchel of the New York Times. Witchel infamously refused to draw a comparison between the electric nature of British style and Shulman’s appearance and simply dismissed her as “a graduate student all dressed up to defend her thesis” who needed to become “better acquainted with a hair brush”. Yet fashion insiders have never seen anything more than a shrug or a cocked-eyebrow as a reaction from Shulman herself as she has never been willing to lower herself to the level of petty school-girl squabbles. As she tells it, her position in having one foot in the reality and one foot in the fantasy of fashion means her sense of self is almost a life-line; “In my mind I am a free spirit of about 25 wafting around in second-hand cocktail dresses; in reality I am a 47-year-old businesswoman and journalist. The pictures unfortunately, tell the whole story.”
Shulman’s business acumen has enabled British Vogue to endure the war that has been waging on print journalism for the past 5 years. Brand loyalty was strengthened before the storm broke as Shulman has never let Vogue’s content patronise her readers. “We’ve never published things on cosmetic surgery” she told The Evening Standard, “I really strongly believe in women being encouraged to be however they want to be, but I’m not there to sell them the idea that they have to do artificial things to themselves…because I don’t believe it.” Similarly, she turned up the business value of her magazine by tapping into the younger market when social media emerged as the new news outlet for any industry. Launching the widely popular Vogue Festival in 2012, Condé Nast saw thousands of young professionals and teenagers flock to see the likes of Tom Ford, Christopher Bailey and Dolce & Gabbana speak, later kindling the idea to launch teenage-biannual, Miss Vogue. Now with a huge strong online following to match the habits of its consumer, Vogue is no longer just a magazine but a multifaceted brand, with Shulman still standing atop the Condé Nast mountain, defending the fort in the face of a rapidly changing industry.
It’s no secret that journalism was a boozy Old Boys Club when Shulman first started at Tatler in 1982 and her own experiences have given her an admittedly “brutal” attitude toward women in the workplace. “The reality is, if you take time out and have children, it does damage your trajectory in some way” she says, “we have a lot of people who have been fantastic all through their pregnancy, then gone off, had the baby…and either come back pregnant or come back and become pregnant again very quickly.” Although she is a mother herself, as a business owner, she is frank in her opinion that she “can’t pretend to think that’s wonderful”. Unpopular as that view has made her in the past, Shulman has always stood her ground. When it comes to equal pay however, she wittily plays up on the irony of her industry; “a company that sells mainly women's magazines to women [yet] the men still run the company by quite a large factor…we ought to get paid absolutely equally for the work that we do…no question about it”.
As British Vogue reached its 100th birthday, Shulman’s recent bombshell of a cover featuring the Duchess of Cambridge shows she has no signs of slowing down. She has been questioned about the possibility of leaving Vogue in the past and one could forgive her for looking for a life beyond it after almost a quarter of a century; but she has shrugged the rumours off as nothing more than an afterthought she’s had when she’s “woken up in a bad mood.” In light of the new chapter for Vogue, does she consider herself a success? “I'm very happy. Yes, I'm sure I'm a success." One writer noted how she paused and then said; "but it doesn't feel that way to me." Record-breaking sales of Vogue’s 2016 March issue, a 2004 OBE and her recent WGSN Outstanding Achievement Hall of Fame award would beg to differ.
Career Golden NuggetsOn taking responsibility: "Don't let yourself become a victim. It's easy to blame others at work for what you are not happy about or not achieving."
On maintaining relationships: "Make friends with as many people as you can, both senior and junior to you, and don't take sides if possible."
On prioritising value over perfection: "It's more important to get a thing done one way or another than to aim for perfection and do nothing."
On being polite: "Good manners will get you a long way"
On staying humble: "Be prepared to do the most basic of tasks cheerfully when you start out and accept that it takes time to move on to the next step."