Vogue, the Not-So-Secret Diary
“I was aware from the age of 3 that I was hefty,” Alex Shulman, editor of UK Vogue, writes in her diary. Always picked to be “a thundercloud not a raindrop.”
Self-deprecating people are often needy bores, but Shulman cleverly satirizes herself and the world she works in. Her diary, Inside Vogue: A Diary of My 100th Year (Penguin/Fig Tree), is worth reading — and not just for celebrity Schadenfreude.
Her father told her “no man will marry you if you don’t lose weight.” But Shulman, a 58-year-old with thighs, is living proof that “hefty” girls can stay on top. Her bum has been in the big seat at Vogue House in Mayfair since the last century.
A published diary is essentially a performance, yet the faux intimacy is seductive. Shulman gives the reader a glimpse of her world, both personal and professional.
When she wakes up feeling fat and “furious with herself for eating pizza,” she still has to face thinsters in the front row. She scolds herself for looking like “a sequinned sausage” as she flies between fashion weeks, being filmed for a documentary celebrating British Vogue’s 100th year and giving in to a Toblerone from the hotel mini bar.
Looking “beyond hideous” while standing next to Vogue centenary cover girl, the Duchess of Cambridge, at the National Portrait Gallery, she doesn’t buy into the myth that fashion magazines cause anorexia.
Fashion is a business, not a therapy. Though for Alex Shulman, her job is possibly somewhere between a vocation and a burden she carries to prove her worth. “It’s much more difficult,” she writes,” for low-key normal looking people to become famous than those with a trademark look.”
Fashion magazines are a visual seduction, the words upstaged by the pictures. But she exercises none of that bland caution here, describing her boss Nicholas Coleridge as having “no compunction to be factually accurate,” her deputy Emily Sheffield (who doubles as David Cameron’s sinlaw) as “a glamorous bluebottle,” and big-haired Diane von Furstenberg reminds her of Bill Clinton.
John Kerry, who “stares into the room instead of the person he’s talking to,” corners Victoria Beckham at the American Ambassador’s house and says, “We gotta talk about Syria.” Victoria pulls a surprised face, proving she’s not a botox junkie. Conde Nast’s chairman Jonathan Newhouse “gives a speech like a character from the Godfather…as with Mafia families some members have always disappeared from the picture in mysterious circumstances.”
Is Shulman planning to leave the Conde Nast stage and become a full-time novelist? Maybe that’s why she has allowed herself to be hilariously indiscreet? However, sales of her two novels are not going well, and her Instagram posts don’t get many likes. I can’t imagine Anna Wintour admitting that, even in a private diary.
Sometimes it takes confidence to share failure and Shulman’s diary contains a glimpse of the ruthless eye essential for good fiction. Her description of being sexually assaulted by a strange man in a park is priceless.
It’s all go on Planet Alex. She finds time between glamorous parties and “cliched” nightmares to view a lock of Lucrezia Borgia’s hair; visit the dog track where David Beckham worked before he was Mr. Victoria; host parties for her ex-husband and thin sister; and have a garden hut erected, which becomes a metaphor for the control she seeks in her life.
She imagines going to live in Berlin, “writing poems and painting,” but then she wouldn’t be able to afford the Balenciaga coat she has her eye on. And the print edition of Vogue, a “dinosaur” in a digital world, is as much her baby as her grown-up son Sam, who catches the eye of predatory Kate Moss at a party.
“I always feel maddened when I see someone reading Vogue at the hairdresser’s. ‘Why don’t you buy your own copy?’ I want to say as I glower at them from my hideously unflattering gown.”
You have to admire a size 14 who has survived a size zero world since the last century.
Carole Morin is the author of Dead Glamorous and Spying on Strange Men