Until June this year, Alexandra Shulman was the editor-in-chief of British Vogue, a position she had held for 25 years. She announced that she was stepping down in January, and has since started a new role as a columnist at fashion industry bible Business of Fashion. But despite being one of the most high-profile and respected figures in British fashion, she says that she is still not immune to having her area of expertise mansplained to her.
Shulman recently appeared on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 to discuss 60 years of change in the fashion industry with presenter John Humphrys. But while the interview began well, she says it quickly descended into “a denigration of the fashion industry and magazines”.
Writing for Mail Online, Shulman says that she had “all sorts of interesting things to say” about how fashion history had empowered women over the past six decades, such as “the emergence of nylon, acrylic and polyester, and how they helped to release women from the drudgery of the kitchen sink and ironing board”.
However, she says that Humphrys only wanted to discuss two things: the negative side of the fashion industry, and how Shulman had been complicit in promoting an unhealthy body image.
“Suddenly I was confronted by a grey-haired guy in chinos hectoring me on the business I had worked in for a quarter of a century and which he neither knew, nor cared, much about,” the ex-editor writes.
The Radio 4 presenter levelled various “ludicrous” accusations at Shulman regarding the “cruelty” of fashion, she says, including the suggestion that “women were forced to wear painfully high heels. As if we were promoting ancient Chinese foot-binding!”
Humphrys also argued that while “hourglass” figures were once in fashion, women now “have to be skinny as a rake” to succeed in fashion – and challenged Shulman for not including “reasonably cosy, comfortably shaped women” on the cover of Vogue.
Shulman has previously acknowledged the responsibility of designers and fashion editors to represent a diverse range of body types, although she has always maintained that thin models do not “give” girls eating disorders. In her conversation with Humphrys, she pointed out that she had featured women such as Rihanna, Adele and Ashley Graham in Vogue, “among others who are hardly rake-like”.
However, she says that she is tired of having “the same old limited, repetitious and banal conversation” about fashion with people who aren’t really interested in listening to her.
“It is frustrating that fashion, a business that contributes a staggering £28 billion to this country’s GDP, which employs just short of a million people, which is a part of everybody’s daily life and which combines creativity and commerce in a uniquely fascinating way, is so often portrayed as a negative,” she writes.
“Fashion is not some weird and evil conspiracy that lures the unsuspecting into spending their hard-earned cash on things they don’t need. Nor is it some malign social force which encourages eating disorders, slave labour and narcissism.”
Shulman concludes: “Fashion is fun. It makes us feel good and adds to the whole richness and beauty of the world we live in. And I for one say hurrah for that.”
Images: Rex Features