With Vogue wrapping up its centennial celebrations, the latest literary foray from the woman at the helm of the British fashion bible blends the boundaries between the professional and the personal with effortless charm and wit.
Reporter: James Brookes | Sub-Editor: Yasmin Jeffery
As anniversary years go, 2016 hasn’t been short on talking points. While the world lost some of its greatest musical and acting talents, Team GB managed to capitalise on its London 2012 success, bringing back an envious medal haul from Rio de Janeiro as the country continued the fervent flag-waving from The Queen’s 90th birthday celebrations. All the while, one magazine beavered away towards a milestone of its own; 100 years of British Vogue.
Having brought fame and fortune to numerous designers, models, photographers and journalists, Vogue has a lot to be proud of. And, justifiably, its centenary was never going to be a small shindig. Coordinated largely by Alexandra Shulman, the magazine’s editor of 25 years, the celebrations began with its impressively curated exhibition Vogue 100: A Century of Style at the National Portrait Gallery – an extraordinary tribute to the creativity and freedom of expression that has put the magazine on the pedestal it now finds itself.
With the two-day Vogue Festival in May bringing together a smorgasbord of fashion royalty, not to mention the actual royalty of the 100th issue itself (the Duchess of Cambridge made the issue her debut magazine cover appearance), you could be forgiven for preparing to pack up the bunting with a smile and a hearty round of applause.
The latest – and surely final – celebratory firework though comes in the form of a diary. Penned by Shulman herself, Inside Vogue: A Diary of My 100th Year is an insightful, honest yet humorous look into the nuts and bolts of such an iconic magazine. You would have to have been very sheltered to have never seen even a glimpse of an issue but Shulman’s diary serves up bite-sized “moments” that only a woman who has been an editor for a quarter of the magazine’s history could tell.
As Shulman and her team fight to keep costs low and circulation high, the annual rigmarole of the fashion shows and the expected gossip of the couture brigade, her account of life at the bastion of fashion is no mere a “Dear Diary” cop-out. Having already written two books – Can We Still Be Friends and The Parrots – it reminds you of Shulman’s literary prowess and proves both a compelling and engaging read.
Importantly, the glamour is countered with the mundane: the chaos of photo shoots, the continual search for a good feature and the antics of meeting with supermodels (“Arrange to meet Kate Moss for coffee at 3. She eventually turns up five days later. Time-keeping is not her strong point”) mix with the relatable domestic demons of broken boilers and leaky showers.
Page after page, Shulman’s casual cynicism comes into its own and her recall of people and personality is refreshingly unmoderated and unfiltered. But if you look further, deeper, you begin to see how the contemporaneous nature of the book gives way to Shulman’s own insecurities.
Occasionally, flashes of her psychological niggles burst through: “Everyone loves my Duchess of Cambridge cover, though I get a bit annoyed when I see someone looking at it in the hairdressers for free.”, “Am beginning to feel a bit guilty about fooling Richard and my team about the Duchess of Cambridge cover.”
Fundamentally, Shulman’s third book reveals how proud she is of Vogue’s continued worldwide renown and the respect she holds not just for the team she works with, the title she has long-steered or even the company that pays her salary, but for the industry that has given Vogue its foundation and its future.
As 2016 enters its final months, Shulman has ensured Vogue’s centenary won’t be forgotten any time soon.