Headliner: Vogue’s reformer flourishes beyond fashion’s ivory tower

Alex Shulman’s common touch is winning plaudits. Harriet Green investigates.

Alex Shulman’s common touch is winning plaudits. Harriet Green

investigates.



In the chic kingdom of Vogue, the editor’s throne is surrounded by

flowers. Today the floral tributes are especially plentiful. PRs across

the fashion industry have dispatched bouquets - every one in tasteful

white - to commemorate a new crown for Alexandra Shulman.



Last week, the Periodical Publishers Association voted her consumer

magazine editor of the year (Campaign, 9 May).



Shulman entered the PPA Awards this year because, she explains, the

product was right. In 1996, Vogue attracted valuable coverage in the

media with a high-street fashion issue which pictured Kate Moss dressed

by Debenhams (shock horror); and the temporary withdrawal of ads by

Omega, which felt the magazine used too many too-skinny models.

Circulation reached a new peak.



Few predicted this success when she took over in 1992. Never having

worked as a fashion editor, Shulman was regarded as an outsider. (Not

that she exactly came from a different planet. Shulman had previously

edited GQ, and been features editor of Tatler and Vogue. Her parents,

the theatre critic, Milton Shulman, and the etiquette expert, Drusilla

Beyfus, have worked for Vogue. Her husband, Paul Spike, edits

Punch.)



After five years, she’s smartened up. Former colleagues recall Shulman

dressing to these rules: 1) chuck anything together and 2) hope for the

best. Now, at 39, she sports grey and well, grey; not for Shulman the

latest see-through dresses and big knickers. In interview, she’s polite,

though not effusive. She combines the drawl of a St Paul’s girl with a

modish hint of Estuary English.



Her predecessor, Liz Tilberis, was a fashion purist, a fragrant honey

who filled the magazine with stunning pictures of outfits that sold for

ludicrous sums. Shulman has kept these, but nowadays the fashion spread

must share its home with a new and robust sibling - the Vogue

feature.



Compare this month’s issue with a Tilberis Vogue from 1992. On old

Vogue, Linda Evangelista stares coolly from below the iconic logo, with

nothing to distract the eye. New Vogue introduces coverlines that crawl

over the same model’s face (one about politics, another on marrying

millionaires).



Even the logo is defaced: a red slash proclaims ’Designer labels for

less’.



’It’s meant to be more accessible,’ Shulman says. ’Vogue’s not just a

magazine about a fashion world ’out there’. It’s about a fashion world

that relates to you. The features are down to earth - but well written

and appropriate.’



In February, Shulman took its sales beyond 200,000. But media experts

express caution. Does Shulman want aspirational C2s to read Vogue? Does

Rolls-Royce want Del Boy drivers?



Fiona Smedley, Universal McCann’s media planning director, asks: ’How do

you grow and retain your cachet in the market? People feel they work

hard to achieve the standards in Vogue. They want to see outfits that

cost pounds 5,000.’ Nigel Conway, planning director at the Media Centre,

agrees: ’They could take it to 250,000 tomorrow but they’d compromise

brand values.’ Shulman says: ’We aim to maintain our position as a

special magazine while moving the circulation slowly forward.’



Nicholas Coleridge, managing director of Vogue’s owner, Conde Nast,

supports Shulman’s less rarefied approach: ’She’s managed to take it out

of its ivory tower without losing its feel. There are a lot of editors

in London who would have loved to grow their own magazine without using

the sex card.’ Shulman too nods at rivals such as Cosmopolitan and Marie

Claire, adding with a smirk: ’You have to do a lot of trashy things to

sell 500,000 copies.’



But is Vogue so pure? Consider the infamous shots of a childlike Kate

Moss. ’I had no idea they’d be controversial - they’re still one of my

favourite fashion spreads,’ Shulman insists. ’In 20 years they’ll be in

any fashion anthology.’



So much for editorial. Shulman also scrutinises advertising. Her current

bug-bear is oddly shaped ads. ’There’s a fine balance between allowing a

kind of adventurous approach and losing what Vogue is about. We don’t

want to be fuddy-duddy - but people buy the magazine to see glamorous

ads. They don’t want a little box in the middle of a page.’



As someone who claims she could have done anything in journalism (apart

from sport) how does Shulman manage to get worked up about brown being

the new black? Only yesterday, she admits, a front-page picture in the

Daily Mail induced a trivia attack: ’It was Blair’s babes, the new women

MPs. I realised I was looking at them to see what they were wearing -

and I thought ’Help! what’s going on!’’



She needn’t worry. Whatever’s going on, readers, advertisers and the PPA

remain impressed.



The Shulman file



1982: Tatler, writer



1985: Tatler, assistant editor



1987: Sunday Telegraph, woman’s page editor



1988: Vogue, features editor



1990: GQ, editor



1992: Vogue, editor.



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