1 Mar 2024

Former British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman on the state of fashion

From Nine To Noon, 9:35 am on 1 March 2024

Although she didn't feel like she could be a "secondhand rose" as the editor of British Vogue, Alexandra Shulman has now returned to shopping for vintage clothes as she did in her 20s.

The fashion icon talks to Kathryn Ryan about the pleasure of dressing well, the " incredible individual style" of today's young people and the pre-loved clothing sale she recently hosted in London.

Alexandra Shulman, former editor of British Vogue

Alexandra Shulman, former editor of British Vogue Photo: Chris Tubbs

After being approached by the local charity Lawrence's Larder, Schullman emailed friends asking for clothing donations for the pop-up store, which took place in January.

"We had tonnes of clothes from designer clothes, some vintage Dior, Jil Sander, Prada, Gucci, right down to lots of Zara... tonnes of Zara. I think people give away more Zara than they do anything else."

Schulman wasn't sure how many shoppers her pop-up sale would attract but women of all ages came along, she says, including quite a lot of mums and daughters.

"I would say that 90% of the people who arrived brought something which was very rewarding. They looked so happy as they toddled off with their buy."

In her 20s, before working at Vogue, Shulman says she bought all of her clothes secondhand, not because she had to but because you could find such "treasures".

"We have wonderful clothes markets like Portobello Road and Camden Market here.

"When I went to Vogue, I sort of realised I couldn't really sort of be 'secondhand rose' and it wasn't particularly fashionable then so I didn't buy anything secondhand for a long time. In recent years, I've bought quite a lot. I went to Los Angeles about two years ago and bought tonnes of vintage there."

Despite the plethora of pre-loved clothing we can shop for, Shulman believes there will always be a need for new clothing.

The boom of "fast fashion", which has made it too easy for people to cheap items they have little regard for, and the rise of rental clothing for special occasions are trends that she can't get behind.

"If it's a big party or a wedding or something like that, it's so lovely to choose something to buy for a special occasion and then have it hanging in your wardrobe and every time you look at it, you remember the event."

While the buying of clothes has a "utilitarian element", it should also be a pleasurable activity, Shulman says.

Obviously, it has to have a utilitarian element … but I think clothes should be about joy in a way."

Too much focus on building a "perfect wardrobe" of functional items takes away some of that pleasure, she says.

"I always advise people to if they see something that they love to buy it if they possibly can because although they may not need it there and then, some of my best, most lasting buys have been random.

"I was like 'When am I going to wear this?' and yet, 20 years later, they're still in my wardrobe. So I don't think one should think too much about building blocks, really."

Today's young people are dressing a lot better than ten years ago, Shulman says.

"It was very template, you know, everybody was wearing the same thing, They'd go to the High Street, whether it was Topshop or Gap or Zara or wherever, and buy a sort of uniform.

"Now it's absolutely wonderful to see how many of them have incredible individual style, much more like it used to be in the '70s and '60s."

The clothes we select for ourselves deliver "one of the loudest messages" to other people about who we are, Shulman says.

"You have to decide what to wear every day and you make choices and those choices say something about you as a person. It's a great way for people to kind of read you very quickly and a kind of shorthand."