They say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, and accordingly British Vogue editor Alex Shulman is currently feeling very flattered.
Both Harper’s Bazaar editor Lucy Yeomans and Lorraine Candy, editor of Hachette Filipacchi’s fashion monthly Elle, have said they are taking their titles into Vogue territory.
Shulman dismisses them both. Vogue is, after all, the fashion Bible.
‘It’s interesting at this point in time that everyone is making the decision that they want to become more of a fashion magazine. I feel very confident. I don’t actually think they can be any real competition to us,’says Shulman.
‘It sounds incredibly rude, but the fact is, it’s true. It’s hard for them to raise their game to this level. The question is – do you want to chase after the tag end of something, or do you want to do something on your own?”
The March issue of Vogue sees a price increase from £3.70 to £3.80, in a market where price slashing and cover-mounts are rife. Shulman points out that Vogue has never attached a pair of flip flops to the cover to boost sales, and the magazine has seen a consistent rise in circulation since 2001: From 195,167 to 220,084 for the first-half of 2007.
The March issue has 430 pages – 282 of those are advertising – and each page commanded a far higher rate than its rivals, she asserts.
Shulman’s sense of assurance perhaps reflects the fact that she has been in the editor’s chair since 1992 and can take a long view. But this doesn’t mean she is sitting on her laurels – this month’s issue has had a revamp. This includes Focus, a new section dealing with the fashion industry; Vogue Shots, looking at trends and the business of shopping; and Vogue Spy, looking at how real people are interpreting trends.
‘Every time somebody does what we’re doing I have to slightly move us along a bit,’she says.
Shulman started her career at Tatler, having sufficiently impressed then-editor Tina Brown with a freelance commission to get offered a job as a staff writer in 1982.
After five years Shulman made a brief switch to newspapers to edit the women’s page on the Sunday Telegraph, but was tempted back to CondÃ© Nast to work as features editor of Vogue in 1988, before taking the helm at GQ for two years prior to her current role at Vogue.
From Toby Young’s book How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, to Lauren Weisberger’s The Devil Wears Prada, in which the character Miranda Priestly is said to be based on legendary Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, the pretensions of the fashion industry have attracted a fair share of satire.
Shulman claims she hasn’t watched a single episode of Ugly Betty, the hit US series lampooning the fashion media industry, but this fascination is also a form of flattery she insists.
Although she seems far removed from the fashion editor stereotype there are aspects of the ultra-demanding Priestly – played by Meryl Streep – in the film that Shulman says she recognises in herself.
‘There’s so much in your head, you walk in the office in the morning and this stream of consciousness comes out and you’re just expecting them to catch it all in a net and turn it into order,’she says.
Even if the unforgiving media depiction of its shallowness is true, there is growing scrutiny of the fashion industry’s performance on ethical and green issues.
Shulman says it’s not Vogue’s role ‘to be the town crier’for the ethical movement that’s spreading through the fashion industry after the revelations of sweatshops in third-world countries, but says she tries to give editorial space to ethical brands.
The carbon footprint of Vogue is an issue not so easily dealt with. In March’s editor’s letter, Shulman boasts to her readers that the Vogue team has travelled around the world for the spring issue, and she doesn’t see a way that air miles can be reduced in producing Vogue.
But she does think there is scope for improvement when it comes to the looming London, Milan, Paris and New York fashion shows. ‘I really think there should be a way of stopping 500 people travelling around the world for four weeks to see them,’she says.
The fashion weeks also mean Shulman has to brace herself for another round of ‘size zero’debates.
Last February saw her cross swords with Evening Standard editor Veronica Wadley, who ran a debate in her paper against the use of overly skinny models.
Shulman says although she has a problem with the super-thin is beautiful ethos herself, she didn’t take too kindly to the Evening Standard’s overly critical approach to an event which benefits the capital. Nor does she have much time for British supermodel Naomi Campbell’s claims last year that the industry was sidelining black models.
‘We are a multicultural society here, but we are still predominantly Caucasian, so it’s not surprising that most magazines have white models on the covers,’she says. ‘I guess in fashion, people do sell to their territories; Japanese Vogue features Japanese girls on the cover. I don’t think it’s ideal, but I don’t think it’s illogical.”
Vogue was the first magazine to commission Kate Moss after The Daily Mirror printed pictures of her snorting cocaine last year. Shulman admits it posed a difficult question for her about how responsible she should feel over people she works with, and the impact their behaviour has on readers. ‘I think the jury is out, Kate sells a lot of copies for us,’she says.