I remember the day I realised Vogue Magazine was more than fashion, and more than a magazine to have situated strategically in your room to make you look cool (sorry Vogue). I was on a train coming back from a weekend in Manchester, scoffing Nobby’s Nuts and drinking Dr Pepper, so pretty much the ideal Vogue reader.
I had bought a copy along for the three hour trip, and after skipping through the glossy advertorials, came across a six page spread detailing the life of 1920’s Flapper Zelda Fitzgerald. I was absorbed into her fabulous life in a feature of such detail, knowledge, and imagery so striking I momentarily forgot I was hungover. From then, I was suckered in, and every month escaped via Vogue to a world of gorgeous photography, insightful articles, and almost forgot my student debt and crippling addiction to sweet chilli peanuts (almost. some things never change).
Therefore, I can be forgiven for stating that the recent BBC documentary ‘Absolutely Fashion’, did not offer the insight into the illusive magazine that I desired. Instead, it reinforced the dreadful stereotypes presented by ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ (SORRY I LOVE IT but seriously) about the fashion world. The documentary focused on the Editor in Chief, Alexandra Shulman, as she geared up for their 100 Years Celebrations. The edit presented Alexandra as conniving, cold, tough, and willing to make decisions that made others look bad, or even cry. The Twitter comments that followed described her as a ‘bitch…cold-hearted…smug…frozen,’ and I wondered if the same comments were said about Alan Sugar when The Apprentice airs. The beauty editors were ironically stood discussing a facemask, as the voiceover stated that they ‘assured him it was more than just blusher and mascara being a beauty editor’, and the satire dripped from his voice as he questioned the fashion editor about how many pairs of jeans she owns. The answer was 82.
Women in fashion, in my experience, are some of the most dedicated, career-driven women I’ve met. They do not stand around (often, anyway) discussing their Chanel boots, or sparkly new midi dress. They wear jeans, trainers, white shirts, hair scraped back to concentrate and barely any make up, not masking the bags under their eyes as they worked all night. They not only know the newest trends, but the history behind them, and the art that inspired them. They do not bull shit. They do not cuddle, and they certainly will not take nonsense. But they are considered, creative, and care immensely about the work they are putting out there. Fashion is not a game, it is a multi-million pound industry generating work for thousands, and allowing young creatives to have a voice. Vogue is not creating life saving medicines, agreed - but it is writing about the women who do, and raising awareness for issues such as HIV, cancer, LGBT awareness. It has its faults, and of course as an institution has some work to do to represent all diversities, but it is trying.
There was a moment when Alexandra Shulman was asked to take the BBC documentary maker somewhere personal to her, and she obliged, taking him to Hyde Park where she played as a child. She recounted an aeroplane journey where she saw a beautiful young woman sat with a sports star, and conjured up an elaborate picture story about the young couple. Only to then realise, with sadness, that her looks would fade, and what would this young woman then be left with, merely her looks? She recognised that looks are not enough, and urged young women to have more than this to fall back on in the world. This may seem ironic to some, coming from a woman who features pretty young things in beautiful clothes monthly, however to me it showed a resilience from a woman who knows her worth, and knows that for her, the best is yet to come. The narrator commented that Shulman was 'on top of her game, far from retirement', alluding that due to her age it is surprising she is still relevant in the ever changing world o fashion. And what a laugh Shulman has with the man's expectation, completely fooling him into fake meetings for the 100 year cover, when in actuality she had Kate Middleton lined up. Her intelligence and superiroity reign supreme over the narrators expectations, as she throws them in his face and smirks. Women need to recognise that they are worth more than their face, and this generation of supermodels are in fact great examples. Cara Delevinge has more personality in her little finger than many, and with the rise of social media stars like Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner, the beautiful world of fashion has been given a face, name, and interests.
The documentary makers most definitely took a leaf out of ‘The September Issue’ book, and presented Shulman as the destroyer of dreams (for instance, going against popular opinion for a cover image), and an evil dictator, and presented her team as over-worked staff just trying to pursue their passions. Lucinda Chambers came off particularly well, with her wide eyed view on the world of fashion that she clearly drinks in daily. Her way of working was truly remarkable, and cements why she is the icon she is in the fashion world. However. It must be noted, Vogue is a
business. Alexandra Shulman must sell copies, or she’ll have the investors to answer to. Her concern is with consumer happiness, and must often have to leave her own thoughts on the fantastical photography at the door. This world is cut throat, you must wear a thick skin as well as your chic overcoat to survive - but such is life. This is not news, simply insight.
The documentary did nothing to cement sincerity into a world of hard work and culture, however the closing scene of Shulman staring at a room of her peers, celebrating 25 years as editor in chief was one of immense emotion. Her eyes glazed over, and she paced to keep a hold of her emotions. She cares. She cares more than this hour let you see. She is a woman on a mission to bring the girls who drink Dr Pepper on trains a moment to escape, and for that I thank her.
For a world of fashion, fantasy and frivolous moments captured on film, I urge you to keep your doors closed, your world a mystery. After all, it’s clear not everyone understands the magic.