If you live in Notting Hill, you should be no stranger to St Peter’s Notting Hill - an iconic architectural landmark, a pillar of the local community since 1857 and a lively hub for a variety of cultural and social groups. It’s also the subject of a major conservation bid to restore its imposing façade to its former glory. To help with its fundraising appeal, St Peter’s hosted an evening with Editor-in-Chief of British Vogue, Alexandra Shulman. Alexandra partook in an interview with journalist Lisa Markwell before taking questions from the audience and signing copies of the new book.
Building on our support for the St Peter’s appeal, Domus Nova not only sponsored the event but we also had a chance to delight the event goers at the Domus Bar. A very intimate yet lively atmosphere overall, the event drew together a crowd of 300 and raised over £6,000 towards the appeal.
It was an incredible privilege to be part of the experience and to have gained insight from the UK’s most influential woman in fashion and trailblazing powerhouse. Alexandra’s new book – Inside Vogue: a Diary of my 100th Year – is a ‘behind the scenes’ glimpse into her life as an editor, and indeed also as a mother and partner. Speaking to this, Lisa was keen to go behind the scenes into the process of writing it: had Alexandra always kept a diary?
“Well sort of on and off. I kept a diary when I was a teenager – 17 or so. And actually one of the most mortifying things that ever happened to me was when I discovered that my mother had read my diary and I vowed that if I ever had a child I would NEVER read their diary. I kept a sort of ‘dear diary’ diary for a lot of my life and then when I came to Vogue I was always really aware that there was a rather interesting juxtaposition of my regular life and my Vogue life. I had also just had Sam, and there was that idea of being a mother with a young child whilst also heading up a magazine, so I tried to keep a diary, with the thought that one day it might make an interesting book, but I just didn’t have the discipline to keep it up. This book was only over the course of a year and it had a very precise parameter so I could be disciplined about it.”
Alexandra’s reflected on her career with the gift of hindsight. She speaks in her book about looking back at moments in her life at which she might have considered stepping down in order to pursue adolescent interests that had fallen by the wayside. Writing poetry, painting, taking photos, all were described as the pursuits of the person Alexandra wanted to be as a teenager, so Lisa asked who this person was.
“A person who does all those things! And a person that I hope I’m going to be able to be when I finish doing my job. But I think that one of the interesting things is that you go through a phase of building your career and sacrificing quite a lot. Although I’ve noticed now – at the point that I’m at – a lot of people are reconnecting with things that perhaps they couldn’t give over that much time to whilst they were focused on their careers or raising children, or in my case – both!”
Inevitably, the big question – the one people LOVE to speculate about – Alexandra Shulman’s ‘Vogue Persona’. Anna Wntour’s got the bob and the glasses. What’s Alexandra’s ‘thing’?
“Well my Vogue persona is being Miss Normal. It’s a kind of non-persona persona. It wasn’t something I’d ever planned to have but very early on, people started writing about me as the person who was not at all like the person who should be editor of Vogue. So I guess I started to turn that to my advantage a little – and became more aware of the fact that that was something that was defining me. Instead of trying to change myself I though, well, maybe I’ll just go along with that.”
Lisa then pointed out how shocked the audience must have been to discover that the Vogue editor actually went shopping in… SHOPS. As opposed the scenario we’ve all imagined in which she snaps her fingers and a clothing rail just appears out of thin air.
“Well, technically I COULD do that. I could say I want pink and I want navy and, voila! And there have been periods where there have been rails, but in fact, I actually just really like going to shops. It’s a much more interesting way to buy clothes. And trying on clothes in the office is HELL. Having to manoeuvre in a little office bathroom, where the lighting is seriously terrible is really not as glamorous as it initially seems!”
Speaking about the past, present and future of Vogue magazine, Alexandra was humble about her hand in its continued and burgeoning success over the last couple of decades.
“I think that the magazine hasn’t really changed that much in 25 years – in the subject matter, the core has been the same for 100 years in terms of the contemporary style, the celebrities, the fashion and social observation.
It really was fascinating to hear Alexandra speak. She did not miss a beat, and filled the room with expressive pauses as she took the time to really consider every question asked of her. It was as though she was making absolute certain that her response would be thoughtful, and most importantly, candid for the sake of the audience (Alexandra’s warm candour is one of her most endearing qualities). This was perhaps not only for our benefit; each answer was so genuinely delivered – the wit so tangible – it must surely be intrinsic to Alexandra’s nature to answer to herself with total honesty, whether in response to a trivial query or a controversial interrogation. No questions dodged; no opinions stifled. Alexandra bears it all.
This came across most particularly during the Q&A with members of the audience. When asked to divulge her favourite shoe, Alexandra frowned for a moment and then, smiling, reached down to slide her black Manolo Blahnik pump off her foot and raise it high above her head with a ceremonious wiggle: “This one!” Apparently she owns ‘more than a few’ in this particular style.
We are incredibly excited to hear, without a doubt, much more from this triumphant icon. She may be stepping down from her position at Vogue, but there was something about her wonderfully fierce disposition, and the twinkle in her eye that say she is certainly not winding down any time soon.
If you would like to make a donation to the appeal please visit stpetersnottinghill.org.uk