Alexandra Shulman has edited the highly praised pages of British Vogue for more years than I have been alive. In the past 25 years, she has become as much an icon of modern fashion as the magazine itself has, seeing the publication through digital rebranding, increased diversity and artistic innovation. In honour of the ground-breaking work she has done, I thought it only appropriate to pay homage to the most influential of this work:
Any avid Vogue reader is likely to have their favourite pick of distinct covers, and some of the most iconic ones can be attributed to Shulman’s keen eye; her October 1997 issue memorialised the late Diana, Princess of Wales, in a way that became emblematic of British history. This is one of many steps Shulman took towards capturing the essence of Britain, and ultimately her target readership, and securing British Vogue’s status as a historical artefact.
Another personal favourite of mine was the unusual December 1999 issue that uncharacteristically featured no cover girl, instead opting for a reflective mirror-like cover that readers would see themselves in. Here Shulman not only demonstrated rebelliousness when it came to artistic tradition, but also her ability to mould to the ever-changing needs of Vogue’s readership; the new millennium was an historic event that brought a lot of uncertainty and self-reflection with it and the cover really reflects this.
A more recent example of how Shulman matured into her role as Editor-in-Chief was the November 2016 issue, otherwise known as The Real Issue, the first model free magazine. This encompassed a positive change in the industry that meant fashion, and Vogue, no longer belonged to an archetype. Instead Vogue began to unite different body types, genders and races in a celebration of diversity and style for all. Shulman acted as somewhat of a pioneer for model diversity, all the while including British Vogue’s everyday readers within the pages.
This consciousness of diversity is also admirable in her most recent cover, the last of her tenure, which featured model Ashley Graham. The cover celebrated Graham’s plus-sized figure, an attribute the fashion industry has frequently dismissed and ignored. It was Shulman who advocated for increased acceptance of diverse body shapes, writing to fashion houses such as Prada and Versace and asking them to change their sample sizes, which were ‘miniscule’ and drove magazines to cast smaller models than they wanted to. Her dedication to fighting for the ‘normal’ woman has inspired a generation of Vogue readers to accept and love their natural body, instead of aspiring for the unachievable ideal set by some.
She has been a pioneering change in the effort to diversify the industry, striving for more representation for women of colour and those with different body shapes. Shulman has had to face intense criticism throughout her whole career for how she looks and dresses, which was seen by some as disappointing from a Vogue editor. By dismissing these claims and embracing her own style, she has become a beacon of hope to women across the world who have felt as if they did not ‘fit in’ to an industry that has shunned them from the beginning.
Personally, the standout issue of Shulman’s career has to be the centenary issue that used Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge to be the face of British Vogue’s 100th anniversary. This wasn’t my favourite because it was visually daring or unusual but because it really played homage to Britishness of the publication, in a way that showed Vogue was less about just fashion and more about uniting a society through the medium of art and culture. The centenary was also celebrated in a highly unique way with a Vogue 100: A Century of Style exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, a gala dinner, and pop up Cafés serving traditional English tea. This vision summarises why Shulman has been such an incredible editor, she took Vogue from being a gendered fashion magazine with socially problematic tendencies, and made it into an inclusive, British lifestyle brand.
In light of this, it is hard to see why such a young editor would retire when she is in the height of her success. Shulman said that “It has been very hard to find a rational reason to leave what is unquestionably a fascinating and rewarding role but last autumn I realised that I very much wanted to experience a different life and look forward to a future separate to Vogue’. She also thanked Nicholas Coleridge and Jonathan Newhouse for ‘trusting [her] to take care of the precious cargo that is Vogue’. Whilst we know that there are certainly some big, no doubt designer, shoes to fill, what remains to be seen is who Shulman’s successor for Editor-in- Chief will be this summer.