Alexandra Shulman: ex-Vogue editor and author

Former Editor of British Vogue (and our old boss), Shulman has just published her fourth book, the bestselling Clothes…And Other Things that Matter. A memoir/history of fashion, Shulman writes about the meaning of clothes (through some of the 556 pieces in her wardrobe) and how they become the story of our lives. It’s funny, honest and in typical Shulman style mixes high and low effortlessly.  We don’t know many people who can write about bras, Donald Tusk and Madeleine Albright all in the same sentence. Here Shulman tells us what she’s been reading in lockdown, looking forward to chips at The Wolseley and why she’ll always have a pair of white shoes.

1) What was the inspiration for Clothes…And Other Things that Matter?

When I left Vogue after 25 years as Editor I wanted to write a book but I wasn’t sure exactly what that would be. Alison Starling, the publisher of this book, wrote to me to suggest I write something on Ageless Style.  I knew I didn’t want to write that at that point but there was something in the idea of what clothes mean to us through time that it triggered.  I didn’t want to write a book that was solely about Vogue but of course people are interested in Vogue so what I came up with is a hybrid – part memoir and part social observation and part fashion history.

2) When and where do you do all your writing?

I write in the mornings.  I am useless after about 2pm until around 5pm when I can tinker with what I’ve written for an hour or so.  I usually write at my desk in what is now my office but I can write anywhere if need be.  I have learnt through writing my two novels, Can We Still Be Friends and The Parrots that the key thing is to sit down and say you are going to write.  Even if it’s only ten words.  Even if you redo it all again.  Waiting to feel like writing is hopeless.

3) Which books have you been reading and which films/tv have you been watching during Lockdown?

During lockdown I’ve read American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins, Trollope’s Can you Forgive Her?, Hadley Freeman’s House of Glass and I’m reading Naoise Dolan’s Exciting Times.  I also listened to The Godfather on Audible and I’m dipping in and out of E.H. Delafield’s The Diary of a Provincial Lady, also on Audible.  The original diary is one of my favourite books.  I’ve adored the TV adaptation of Normal People, a book I didn’t enjoy, and I’m bereft over the end of Homeland. I’m one of the few people who loved Belgravia too.   I’ve joined Curzon Home Cinema and watched Who You think I Am with Juliette Binoche looking beautiful through that and the old Joseph Losey The Servant.   But in general I find TV series suit my mood more.

4) Who are your top 3 favourite people/accounts to follow on Instagram?

I’m not an enormous Instagram follower.  I like magazine accounts like @House&Garden and @WorldofInteriors, @NewYorkerCartoons, and @BenPentreath and @JasperConran who both show lovely pictures of privileged rural life and in particular landscapes.  But mainly I follow friends.

5) Which are the London bars/coffee shops and restaurants you are most looking forward to visiting again?

I’m missing restaurants a lot. I much look forward to: chips at The Wolseley and going to Jeremy King and Chris Corbin’s Le Soutine which is their St John’s Wood brasserie (below), The River Cafe will be an amazing treat, our local Italian Ida which is tiny and has the best pasta, Kateh a very good Iranian in Maida Vale.

6) Which is your favourite bookshop and why?

I love Daunt’s on the Marylebone Road which is so beautiful and has great displays but I heard it was closing which would be a tragedy.  I like Hatchards in Piccadilly and in particular their art and fashion department run by Richard Bucht which is really very good.  But I go into any bookshop I see and almost always buy something.  Books are my addiction.

7) Which 3 items do you always have in your handbag (not including a phone)?

I always have something to read in my handbag. Either a book or often a copy of the London Review of Books. I carry a small notebook to make notes of thoughts or observations and things that I overhear. And there is usually a Lip colour of some kind – probably Terry’s Baume de Rose in Cherry Bomb.

8) Of all the clothing covered in your book, which is the one ultimate keepsake item?

In the book I write about many items and their associated memories and many of them no longer actually exist in my wardrobe.  Of the one’s that do I love a pink Marni silk coat that I have worn for at least twelve years and which I use in the book to write about how some clothes are companions in our lives.  And then white shoes.  I will always have a pair of white shoes.

9) Where do you shop online for clothes?

Online I shop at Net-a-porter, Atterley which sells mid-priced brands from independent boutiques and then, really whatever catches my eye.  I prefer shopping in real life as I don’t get the same pleasure from scrolling on-line but in this lockdown I have become adept.

10) Have you started working on your next book already?  If so, can you tell us anything about it?
I haven’t yet started on my next book but I have decided there will be a next book.  Publishing a book is a bit like giving birth and you have to get over it!  But I would like to build on the success of Clothes and other things that matter to write something of some kind in a similar vein.
— Francesca
6th May 2020