Still in 'Vogue' after all these years

Alexandra Shulman took over as editor of the iconic magazine 16 years ago, and still has a point to prove. Yet she doesn't like being a high-flier, she tells Ciar Byrne

Flying is the one thing the editor of Vogue hates most in the world, so two days before she is due to jet off to New York fashion week, Alexandra Shulman is on edge. But, sitting in her office in Vogue House – a mixture of sleek white furniture and homely touches, including a hand-drawn birthday card from her 12-year-old son – Shulman has plenty to celebrate. When ABC reveals twice-yearly magazine circulation data later this week, Vogue will show off a figure to be proud of. Being leader of the fashion pack is not a position Shulman takes for granted though, and the March issue has undergone a revamp to differentiate it from imitators.

"You've got both Elle and Harper's Bazaar brazenly saying that they want to chase the Vogue territory. It makes you think, well, you're not getting any of my pie," she says.

"I don't particularly want to slag off the other magazines, but I don't think they're doing what we do," she adds, with the confidence that comes from editing the UK's leading fashion magazine since 1992.

This is particularly true when it comes to the world's top fashion photographers.

"Mario Testino, Craig McDean, Nick Knight, Bruce Weber, I can go on. The other magazines don't have the access to them. There isn't anybody on any of the other magazines who Mario wants to style with. There are only certain people on this magazine he wants to work with."

Shulman's response is to "man the barricades". The front of the magazine has been divided into three new sections: Focus, purist pages devoted to trends and designers – this month featuring the return of the trophy jacket and a debate on whether spindly or clumpy heels are best; Shops, a more practical buying guide; and Spy – a name from the magazine's archive into which Shulman has breathed new life.

"When I came to the magazine, Spy was all the front pages. Then I shrunk it down to a page and it was just about new designers. Now I've bought the name back again to be a section about how real people wear clothes," says Shulman.

The new back page has also revived a name from the Vogue of the 1960s, "A Certain Style", a feature in which one woman shows off her favourite fashion items and is given suggestions.

"If you've got good names, it's nice to use them, and although these are little things, if you put the wrong tag on something, it just doesn't look like Vogue."

At 50, the editor of Vogue is more relaxed than her US counterpart Anna Wintour is reputed to be. Her dress is fashionable but understated, and her long hair worn loose makes her look younger than her years. "I continue to be surprised at observations people might make about how I look and what I wear, because I really do feel like I'm 50 and I have a really nice life and I do a really good job and I wear the clothes I like to wear and I look very deliberately the way that I look, which is somebody that doesn't have any kind of cosmetic intervention and, as you can see, who has not been to the hairdresser today."

As a woman, Shulman would like people to be judged on other criteria than their appearance, but as editor of Vogue, she accepts the rules of the fashion industry. "I think we have a very unhealthy relationship with how people really look and I have to marry my personal feelings about it, which is that people should relax a bit and concentrate a bit more on other aspects of themselves, with the fact that I edit Vogue, which is a magazine which is all about creating that idealised image for people."

The pressure on young women to look a certain way is a major issue for the fashion industry. When booking models for the magazine, Shulman avoids girls with eating disorders, but it is not always so simple. "I try very hard to make sure that the girls that we use do look healthy, but I'm not out there on the shoot. There have been times when we've booked a girl, it's four months since I last saw her, she's lost a stack load of weight and I've only realised it once the pictures have come in."

She blames designers for "a lot of the rot", because they make such small sample sizes and prefer angular girls who will show off their clothes to best advantage. Vogue is quite strict that if an established model has been booked for a shoot and the samples do not fit her, then the clothes will not get in the magazine – they would never bring in a thinner girl. Last year, Naomi Campbell hit out at British Vogue for not putting her on the cover. In fact, Campbell has appeared on the front of Vogue at least six times. Shulman dismisses the comments as "a PR thing" – "she was just trying to get publicity for the event she was doing".

But she adds: "What I think is an absolutely valid criticism is there aren't enough black people in all areas of successful life."

Putting black models on the cover of Vogue will not in itself make them successful, she insists. "I have to be realistic about these things. If you look at the black population in this country and you look at the amount of black women featured in the magazine throughout, we're absolutely on a par with the whole population, but what we're not doing is overcompensating.

"I happen to think she [Naomi] really likes being one of the few really successful black models, because it gives her a huge advantage and she's had an incredibly long career."

Although she inhabits a world of high fashion, Shulman sees herself first and foremost as a journalist. Both her parents were journalists and, after graduating in social anthropology from Sussex University, she started work on Over 21 magazine, before joining Tatler, where she had impressed the then editor Tina Brown with a freelance article. At Tatler she rose to become features editor, before joining The Sunday Telegraph in 1987.

The following year, she returned to Condé Nast, first as features editor on Vogue and then as editor of the men's magazine GQ, which she oversaw for two years.

I ask her whether there is any job she would rather do, expecting her to answer 'no, this is the best job in the world'. Instead, she replies: "To me it would be hugely exciting to spend some time writing at home and to get up and walk out into the park at three o'clock in the afternoon, having sat at a typewriter all morning. That's a lot of freelancers' everyday lives and for me that seems rather an appealing option."

But she is not ready to throw in the Prada towel just yet. "I ping-pong, some days I think I'm the luckiest person in the world, I have the most amazing job and a wonderful life. And then I'll wake up on a bad day when I've got to get on an airplane, because that's the thing I most hate in the world, and I just wish I was a potato farmer."

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
i100
Sport
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
boxing
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Head of Marketing - London

£60000 - £85000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Interim Head of Marketing / Marketin...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Digital Project Manager

£25 - 30k: Guru Careers: A Digital Project Manager is needed to join an exciti...

Paid Search Analyst / PPC Analyst

£24 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Paid Search Analyst / PPC...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments