author. Lily Burford
Alexandra Shulman OBE
Straight away it is obvious that Alexandra Shulman's talk is going to be a popular one by the fact that the already huge Bowling Green tent is overflowing. Alexandra has been the editor of British Vogue for over twenty years and is often described as the 'normal' Vogue editor. I get the impression that this is perhaps why so many people are interested in what she has to say, because she comes across as such a 'normal' person, people can aspire to be like her as she is proof that high flying positions are indeed accessible.
Alexandra certainly came across as an inspirational woman of power. She is renowned for freely expressing her views on frequent media driven issues such as the size of models, maternity leave and working mothers, and talked about how she feels extremely lucky to be in a position where she is able to do this. For example, Alexandra passed comment about the near constant negativity surrounding body image in the media, where nearly every 'flaw' is highlighted but tiny models are often celebrated. And then in turn, they get criticised for being too thin and the cycle continues. Alexandra praises health and, whilst being careful to avoid offending anybody, hints towards the opinion that models should be celebrated as long as they promote a healthy mind and body image. In saying this, she supported the idea of free expression that Port Eliot readily promotes. "Women want to have careers, families, be perfect cooks, have perfect bodies and run 10K every morning. Nobody can do that. I think women would be better off if they chose a few things that they're good at - but I guess there's no harm in trying" Alexandra remarked, which roused a spectacular round of applause from the audience. In current society where people are often expected to be almost superhuman, it was encouraging to see somebody who's so high up in the media circle with such refreshingly 'normal' views.
Another thing to add to the list of Alexandra's talents is that she has published two books. Her second book 'The Parrot' led much of her discussion at Port Eliot, beginning with an extract from the prologue being read out. "I thought I had better read because that's what real writers do" Alex remarked, perhaps slyly directing a jibe towards critics who think she should stay within the magazine world. The audience was gripped as she read, highlighted by the communal sigh of dissatisfaction when she stopped on a cliffhanger. When asked why she didn't write a book about fashion as many might have expected, Alexandra answered that "Writing isn't relaxing, it's another kind of work, but writing about fashion would just be an extension of my day job, and I didn't want to do that". She came across as a woman of many talents who clearly has a strong work ethic, and I respected her so much for this. Those of us who were lucky enough to be there got to see the many different sides of Alexandra, other than just run of the mill Vogue facts. This very much links to something else that Alexandra said, about how journalism is hard now because everything is so shrouded by PR, meaning you only ever get to know the outline of a person. Although she was talking from an editors point of view, I'm of the opinion that this links to her also. Before last Saturday I knew her purely as the editor of British Vogue, but after the intimate chat at Port Eliot, I got to know about the many other aspects of her life.
Alexandra stated in a tone which made it fact. When asked about why she has maintained an interest in journalism for so long, something I was particularly interested in seeing as I'm considering it for a career option, her answer was...because of the digital universe. Journalism for her is no longer just publishing twelve issues of Vogue per year, it's ever changing. She can envision a future where due to the evolving digital age, people will be their own 'everything' and there will no longer be a need for secretaries or PR managers because everyone will be self sufficient. This revelation I saw as an exciting prospect. Who knows? Perhaps one day I will be the first ever person to single handedly run a magazine. Thanks for the encouragement, Alex.