Alexandra Shulman’s Clothes… And Other Things That Matter is a wry and candid part-memoir, part-fashion history, part-social commentary
Clothes… And Other Things That Matter
Alexandra Shulman Cassell £16.99
Alexandra Shulman is British Vogue’s longest-serving editor. Between 1992 and 2017 she oversaw the magazine’s rise to a record circulation while negotiating her way through the Kate Moss ‘waif’ years of the early 1990s, the fast-fashion frenzy, the obsession with ‘it-bags’ and the recent dominance of trainers for all ages.
She attended thousands of fashion shows, met celebrities and heads of state, advised the Duchess of Cambridge on her choice of wedding dress, co-ordinated a spot for Vogue at the London Olympics closing ceremony and took the title to its 100th anniversary issue.
It seems obvious that Shulman might write a book about clothes then. But this is no frivolous parade of fancy frocks, mwah-mwahs and catwalk gossip. Rather it’s a thoughtful, wry and often candid part-memoir, part-fashion history, part-social commentary, told through the contents of her own wardrobe.
Alexandra Shulman is British Vogue’s longest-serving editor who oversaw the magazine’s rise to a record circulation during her tenure between 1992 and 2017
In each chapter, Shulman takes a garment or theme for discussion, White Shirts, say, or The Little Black Dress and reflects on what they mean to her. These peeps into her wardrobe also allow a tantalising glimpse into her career and personal life, not getting too close (as she says in the introduction, she had no desire to write an autobiography) before the wardrobe is firmly closed again and she moves the reader on to her next item.
Nevertheless, it is a personal work that opens in the 1960s with a young Alexandra, the daughter of the esteemed critic Milton Shulman and journalist Drusilla Beyfus, walking from their flat in Belgravia through the leafy squares of West London to buy her red Start-Rite shoes from Harrods.
The following chapters stick to a rough chronology of her life, dropping in both a light history of dress and a commentary on the times, such as the international fall-out from putting a skinny young Kate Moss in Vogue (Bill Clinton termed it ‘heroin chic’). In Handbags she laughs at the ludicrous reverence given to luxury bags, ‘as if they represented anything more than a money-spinner for a fashion house’.
Covering trends such as the Kate Moss ‘waif’ years, ‘it-bags’ and fast fashion, her book is a thoughtful, wry and often candid part-memoir, part-fashion history & part-social commentary
In Bikinis she remembers how an innocent selfie she took on a beach holiday embarrassingly ended up all over the papers. Over the course of the book, she also reveals herself to be a dreamy but anxious person who has suffered from bouts of claustrophobia, agoraphobia and panic attacks.
Shulman loves clothes but she is not obsessed with fashion. She almost didn’t get the Vogue job because her exaggerated claim that she spent £4,000 a year on her wardrobe (the reality, she says, was at most a third of that) was deemed somewhat paltry.
In her home life, she revels in ‘geography teacher’ dresses and sloppy jumpers and her drawstring ‘happy pants’ – which she wore to make herself feel better on the day Boris Johnson became Prime Minister.
The appeal of this book lies not in Shulman’s revelling in the fashion world’s fabulousness, but in her matter-of-factness about it all. Yes, she may have had white high heels custom-made for her by Manolo Blahnik and handfuls of free Chanel jackets, but even while being a linchpin in the industry she remained fashion’s quiet observer. Doubtless this is what made her such a good and long-standing editor. So many in fashion affect nonchalance, Shulman just has bags of it.