The centenary year of British Vogue saw numerous celebratory events, from a bumper June issue covered by the Duchess of Cambridge to a retrospective exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, a BBC2 documentary punnily titled Absolutely Fashion and a Vogue Festival featuring Grace Coddington, Gucci’s Alessandro Michele, Kim Kardashian and Charlotte Tilbury as speakers. Inside Vogue – the final treat of this momentous year for the magazine established in 1916 – is a personal account of the hard work that went into these events, the pressure, frustrations, and challenges faced in doing justice to Vogue’s legacy.
A rich picture is painted by Inside Vogue’s author, editor-in-chief Alexandra Shulman. What could have easily have hit shelves as a puffed-up piece of marketing is in fact peppered by nuanced criticisms. Absolutely Fashion’s narrator is rightly a cause for concern, as is rogue photographer David Bailey, though real indignation is reserved for the hypocritical jabs at Vogue’s portrayal of women made by The Daily Mail’s Liz Jones and Sarah Vine. Beauty confessions (‘I can only stick so far to “Il faut souffrir pour être belle”. The less souffrir going on the better, I feel.’) and reminiscences about growing up as the daughter of features writer Drusilla Beyfus and theatre critic Milton Shulman are interrupted – as even the most fabulous working lives are – by domestic chaos, spontaneously combusting bins and failing boilers.
Structured as a diary, Inside Vogue also provides a valuable first-hand account of what is takes to produce a contemporary record such as Vogue magazine. How best to showcase Vogue’s contribution to readers’ awareness of contemporary conversations, culture and styles, and determine which faces from the worlds of fashion, art and music most deserve places in Tim Walker’s ‘hall of fame’ shoot? How to do this in the face of a digital revolution, with new challenges for print publishing; how to fight for a gold foil-embossed logo on instinct alone? Shulman’s accounts of her meetings with the Duchess of Cambridge will likely prove an essential source for our understanding of (and indeed future studies on) the representation and role of the royal family in these times. That the palace is easier to deal with than Naomi Campbell and David Beckham is just one takeaway.
Although Shulman makes clear the account is somewhat polished, not unlike Instagram – ‘everything we put out about ourselves is edited’ – there is plenty here to delight, intrigue, and learn about what life is like at the helm of Vogue, that powerful force in documenting fashion.