On the 25th of January Alexandra Shulman, editor-in-chief of British Vogue, announced that she is stepping down from her position, leaving possibly the greatest legacy in Vogue history. Despite the fact that she led British Vogue to unprecedented soaring of sales and her unarguable contribution to the world of fashion, her personality is still polarising opinions throughout the industry.
So who is she?
She is a smart, stern and a masterful leader of an international brand but she is never associated with a particularly striking style, she is normal, probably too normal for an Editor-in-chief of Vogue. Alexandra does not have a uniform or a distinct style, she does not dress to be a fashion icon, but she gets her job done.
Too many people want to see a rivalry between her and Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of American Vogue, but they are too different to be even slightly comparable. Yes, they are professionals but they do their work in quite a different style.
Let’s be frank. When Anna Wintour came to the British Vogue, she later confessed, that she wanted to bring the American spirit and she was wrong. Over time Anna Wintour has understood that every magazine should praise its own cultural identity. And it is exactly what Alexandra Shulman did; she turned British culture into a brand.
She put Kate Moss on the cover 37 times, probably an unbeatable number, and she is the person who has probably contributed the most to Kate’s image and her global success. Kate herself has admitted when asked a question ‘What has Vogue done for your career?’ she has said ‘everything’. Indeed, one of Alexandra’s collegues has said that she was the person who ‘championed the Naomis and the Kates’. Truly so, she was one of the first people to grasp that the supermodels were turning into international celebrities, having a much wider influence on people.
Nevertheless, she is ruthless when it comes to sales. She knows what sells and what doesn’t. Sometimes the cover, however harsh it did not sound, is everything.
It was not always praises for Alexandra, she had to face a lot of criticism especially in the 1990s when she published a Calvin Klein photoshoot which people found to be portraying an unhealthy image to the point of glamourising heroin addiction, hence the term ‘heroin chic’.
Alexandra Shulman’s public personality is full of controversies, it seems that she is very good at seeing what are the market needs of the time but also being bold in following her instincts and broadening ideas.
In 2009 she had the guts to write to the most dominant designers of the time, eg Karl Lagerfeld, Donatella Versace and Miuccia Prada, and criticise them for creating clothes that only the girls with ‘jutting bones’ could wear.
She put Ashley Graham, a plus-size model, on the cover of this January’s cover. By doing so she has reflected her own thoughts on the matter of body image.
“What is an issue is to try to make young women feel more comfortable with how they look in general and not feel they have to look a cookie-cutter way to be a success in life. That’s really what I’m interested in.”
Under her watch in 2012, 19 Vogue editors have pledged only to use healthy models in their issues guided by the idea that ‘healthy is beautiful’.
To end this article, I think it would be appropriate to make a list of lessons I have learnt from her:
- Never define yourself by the way you look.
- Don’t be afraid to go against other people’s opinions (even if it’s the whole office).
- Fashion does not always have to be new.
- Always celebrate who you are.