THE PODCAST,
my life in seven charms
THE PODCAST,
my life in seven charms
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Alexandra Shulman OBE

Author and former Editor In Chief of British Vogue

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Annoushka Ducas:
I'm Annoushka Ducas, and I've been designing jewelry for 30 years and collecting charms for as long as I can remember. In this new podcast, I'll be asking a series of extraordinary women to tell me their life story in seven charms.

This week's guest is an icon in the world of fashion journalism. She is British Vogue's longest-serving editor, Alexandra Shulman.

Alexandra Shulm...:
For me personally, having a child made doing my job much more possible, because I think if I hadn't had that alternative important thing in my life, then the difficulties that come up, which of course they do at work, would've taken much more of my head space. Then when I came home, I was with Sam. I felt it helped the balance, really.

Annoushka Ducas:
For me, there are so few things that can stand the test of time and evoke a memory like a tiny, detailed charm, a very special 18-karat gold biography. So it goes without saying that I'm very excited to welcome Alexandra Shulman to My Life in Seven Charms.

Alexandra Shulm...:
Oh, thank you, Annoushka.

Annoushka Ducas:
So I wanted to start by asking you about something you wrote about jewelry: "Jewelry is the link in our personal lifetime of memories and associations that make us the person that we are." I was so thrilled when I saw you'd written that.

Alexandra Shulm...:
Well, I was writing my recent book, which is called Clothes and Other Things That Matter, and I was doing a chapter about jewelry, so I did quite a lot of research on jewelry, which I'd never, in fact, done before, just to kind of get my head around the concept of actually what jewelry was. And it just made me realize how jewelry has always been with us; from the very earliest times, human beings have used some kind of adornment, so a kind of jewelry. And I think the fact that it's been so embedded in what it is to be human is one of the most interesting things about it. It's sort of more part of us than our clothes, really, in a way, because it's been around for longer.

Once I sort of started thinking about that, I then I realized how many events in our life get marked by jewelry, and how much ... because jewelry's something that's actually on our body, how much it sort of is part of the life we live. It comes along with us, whatever we do, wherever we go. So it's a very important thing, as well as being very beautiful.

Annoushka Ducas:
And it doesn't come just along with us, does it. When you have something that belonged to somebody, one of your relations, it's got so many memories. When my mother died when I was quite young, I inherited her jewelry box, which was not full of very expensive, gorgeous things, sadly. It was full of all sorts of stuff that she'd collected over the years, and it just has so many memories. A jumper or a pair of shoes ... maybe a pair of shoes is different, but a jumper or clothing just doesn't have that, and it doesn't have the longevity of jewelry, does it.

Alexandra Shulm...:
No, and jewelry gains more as the years go by. On the whole, jewelry, every generation it's handed down, it becomes more precious, and it's partially sort of, I suppose, the age it is. But it's also because it brings with it all those stories from the previous generation. Yeah, I often think about which of my jewelry I've got while actually go on to another generation, which will be the things that get handed on or haven't got broken or lost by the time I die.

Annoushka Ducas:
Well, exactly, but hopefully lots [crosstalk]-

Alexandra Shulm...:
I hope a reasonable amount.

Annoushka Ducas:
But if it's gold, I happen to love 18-karat yellow gold, and it gets this kind of patina that's better and better with age, and just that seems to tell the story of the wear and how much it's been loved. Even your wedding ring, it wears with age and bears whatever's gone on, so I kind of love that.

Without further ado, let's talk about your seven charms. So the first one was a vinyl, I think it's a single. I visualized this as a really beautiful, very slim piece of polished onyx, both sides with a center set in yellow gold, but with little pavé rubies in it. And it could even have, on the other side, because I like things to be both sides ... it could have whatever the name of the song, and I was going to, my first question to you was is there a song, and then I want you to tell me why you chose a vinyl?

Alexandra Shulm...:
Well, it's kind of tricky, that one, because the starting point of the vinyl, and for younger listeners, singles are quite small, 45 rpm, weren't they? I'm not sure whether you get them now. There's a huge resurgence in vinyl albums, but I'm not sure that so much in those small singles, or if at all. Anyway, my dad used to take us out on a Saturday morning, our treat of the week was to go out with him and he'd buy us comics and we'd be allowed to go and pick a little gift, and quite often we would go into W.H. Smith's. Our nearest one was in Sloan Square then.

Annoushka Ducas:
Oh god, I remember [crosstalk]-

Alexandra Shulm...:
And downstairs in the basement were these, there were booths where you could listen to whatever it was that you thought you might want to buy, so we'd go in and of course there'd be a certain amount of arguing, three of us, about which was going to be the single that we wanted to buy.

Annoushka Ducas:
It was one between three of you, was it? Or was it one each?

Alexandra Shulm...:
No, weren't one each, so I guess it must've been one between the three of us, and maybe some compensation present for those that didn't want the single. Anyway, I remember getting Marianne Faithfull, This Little Bird, it was called, and I always wonder whether that kind of ... well, I always loved music and I collected albums, and I wanted to work in the music industry, so music albums have always been a part of my life, and I love the idea of the, what did you say the center was going to be? [crosstalk] Onyx with the-

Annoushka Ducas:
Well, I think it should be pavé rubies.

Alexandra Shulm...:
Right, well, sounds amazing. Certainly more precious than the single was, but maybe not ... emotionally, that single was very important.

Annoushka Ducas:
Absolutely. So you were one of three. Your father was a renowned theater critic, your mother also was a writer. I mean, it strikes me it was, gosh, quite a literary and rather articulate household. Was it competitive?

Alexandra Shulm...:
Well, you know children live with the cards they're dealt with. The way you're brought up does seem to you to be the norm for a pretty long time, so it was a very, I wouldn't say competitive, I don't think, my siblings and I weren't particularly competitive between us, but our parents did have real ambitions.

Annoushka Ducas:
For you.

Alexandra Shulm...:
They were very ambitious themselves. My mum's still alive, yeah, they really wanted to succeed and they did, so they didn't want their children to drop the baton, I think, would be the way I'd put it. And there was an expectation that we were going to do stuff, whatever that stuff might be. So there was a quite a lot of noise, quite a lot of arguments about whether one was doing enough work, homework, school stuff. And always, always was this conversation, there was just talk all the time at dinner, at breakfast, wherever. We were never a family that sat there quietly.

And I think I was very lucky because it made me aware of the fact that you can disagree with people. I mean, I disagreed with particularly my father most of the time, and very noisily, but that doesn't mean to say that you don't love each other. And I think people often mistake disagreeing or arguments for thinking that it has to do with not liking somebody or something completely different. It's just a point of view. But it didn't seem to do me any harm, I have to say.

Annoushka Ducas:
Your second charm is a book, and you were quite specific that it should be a book with a green cover. I had seen a little pile of books, which I'd like to open and be a locket, but I'd seen them as a yellow gold book with green tsavorites all over the spine. I think it'll look really nice in a pile like that, and very polished yellow gold when you open the locket, because I love things to be as perfect inside as they are outside.

And I didn't put a title on it because I wasn't sure what title, but tell me whey you were very specific about these green books.

Alexandra Shulm...:
Well, I love the idea of the books being a locket, or a locket in the shape of books, because just seems so fitting somehow, you know, books are such depositories of so many kind of ideas and thoughts. The green books were actually to do with the Virago Imprint, which sort of started I guess when I was in my teens, and a group of women decided that, basically, there were a lot of women writers whose work hadn't really been recognized at the time it came out, and they reissued ... then all of Virago was reissues, and they had these wonderful green paperbacks with beautiful paintings on the cover, often by women artists or of women.

So many of my favorite writers like Elizabeth Taylor and Rosamund Lehman, E.H. Delafield, were republished by the Virago Imprint. But it also sort of coincided with a period of time, I guess, where I sort of began to realize how much I enjoyed reading and how much reading and writing meant to me.

Annoushka Ducas:
Did you read a lot as a child?

Alexandra Shulm...:
Yeah, we all read a lot, it's a huge pleasure. And I see here, I think that the charms got the female ...

Annoushka Ducas:
It has. I wasn't sure, [crosstalk] was that about the female, the feminist?

Alexandra Shulm...:
Well, that was because of Virago, but actually I do normally read female writers as well, still.

Annoushka Ducas:
Oh, do you?

Alexandra Shulm...:
Primarily.

Annoushka Ducas:
Out of preference?

Alexandra Shulm...:
Just out of preference.

Annoushka Ducas:
Why is that?

Alexandra Shulm...:
I don't know, I guess I identify more with what they're writing about. It's not always true, but-

Annoushka Ducas:
Novels, particularly?

Alexandra Shulm...:
I mainly read fiction. I mean, we're absolutely surrounded by books here.

Annoushka Ducas:
Out of interest, do you read on a Kindle ever?

Alexandra Shulm...:
No, I hate reading on a Kindle. I've tried it, and I totally get, when you go on holiday, it should be what you do, but most of my luggage is books, yes. No, I mean, I sort of slightly envy people who like reading on a Kindle, but to me, it so is only a tiny part of the experience. You can't pass the book onto somebody else after you've read it, you can't ... it's quite difficult to flick back. I don't know how you mark ... I quite often am making notes out of books for possibly something I might use to write something, and it's much harder if you haven't got a pencil.

Annoushka Ducas:
I completely get that. So I'm going to move on to charm three, it's a small camera, and again, you were quite specific that it was not a modern camera, and thrilled to know it was an iPhone camera. So more kind of Leica style, you said. Everyone's going to think I've got an obsession with lockets, but I do, actually, and three-dimensional, miniature version of a Leica, I think. And I think the back should open, almost like you're going to put the film in it. I think it should be yellow gold, but all gorgeous, light-brown diamonds that would kind of ... some of those Leicas got a leather ... not actual case, but the camera's in leather.

And I think the lens should have a little rose-cut diamond actually as the lens, and we're going to make the lens where it goes telescopic, so it actually is going to turn and get ... it might not get bigger, I think that's pushing it, but it is going to turn. And then all the little buttons will make it as perfect as miniature as we possible can.

Alexandra Shulm...:
It is exquisite, what you've drawn here. It's just most ... the jeweled camera is really the most wonderful piece of art, literally. In itself, we're looking at it.

Annoushka Ducas:
It would be absolutely, it would be just adorable. Anyway. Well, obviously some of this must be from Vogue and everything you did at Vogue, but tell me particularly why.

Alexandra Shulm...:
I've always loved photography, and as a young woman I quite wanted to be a photographer at one point, and indeed I did do a little bit of professional sort of portrait photography, but a very little bit.

Annoushka Ducas:
Before the music? Hang on a minute [crosstalk]-

Alexandra Shulm...:
This was before the music, oddly enough, and it just goes to show, in those days I was so lucky, really. It just was kind of much easier to just go into, I don't know, go and do the work you wanted to. I don't know how, but somehow I ended up doing portraits for NME, the music magazine. I didn't do many, but I did some, and I have no idea how that came to be now.

But anyway, I did, and I used to develop my own pictures, print and develop my own pictures, and actually it's a great sadness to me now that I'm using an iPhone, where I just think the pictures aren't nearly as good. It's not that the quality is particularly not good, it's that the way that I use it, the way I frame it just doesn't have anything like the same consideration as when I had a camera like this beautiful little camera you've designed.

But of course, being at Vogue, in terms of the camera, Vogue has the most wonderful fashion photography, so what a treat to work with all of that imagery for 25 years.

Annoushka Ducas:
You came across all the very best photographers in the world. Was there one that really stands out for you?

Alexandra Shulm...:
I think that photographers, obviously, are so different, and I was really lucky to work with some of the great names of the time. I mean, Tony Snowdon had a contract with Vogue, so I worked with him, and when he was on form, his portraits were absolutely extraordinary. In terms of fashion, Mario Testino was really one of the photographers we used the most, both for fashion and celebrity shoots. I was very fond of Mario, and he was a wonderful Vogue photographer, actually, because he had an idea, a kind of optimism and a sense of glamor and a sense of wanting things to be kind of uber, in a way. Which I think was very lovely for the magazine.

But at different times, when I joined the magazine it was 1992, and very shortly after that, the sort of grunge movement came into being, and with it a whole new cadre of creatives which were artists, photographers and models, which were much more pared back, much more downbeat, so you'd have photographers, for instance, like Juergen Teller started then, and photographers who, I think, sort of thought that what they were doing was portraying real life, albeit fashion, it was meant to have a kind of reality about it. But as time went by, of course they became, actually, all their work became as much a construct as those ones that were more obviously, glamorously artificial.

Annoushka Ducas:
People like Juergen Teller, Mario Testino, was Vogue responsible for their unbelievable success going forward? Did you find these young photographers at the time, or-

Alexandra Shulm...:
Yeah, I think Vogue was very important in the development of most of the photographers' careers that I worked with. I mean, there were some who were already very established, like Tony Snowdon, like Patrick Demarchelier, for instance, who'd also become very famous, taking portraits of the princess of Wales and lots of fashion photographs. And David Bailey, of course, being there since God was a boy.

So they were, I don't think that my Vogue was particularly formative for them, but there were a whole generation of photographers who I think we very much helped their career. The way that fashion photography works in magazines is that the magazine pays all the expenses on the shoot and often helps come up with a lot of the ideas and the concepts and everything, so in a way, it is a sort of collaboration. The photographer's not just going off and doing something on their own.

Fashion is also, you've got to get the clothes in somehow, so that does sort of affect what you're doing, yeah.

Annoushka Ducas:
Of course. Do you think that this kind of new digital world of iPhones and endless pictures, I don't know how many thousands of pictures I've got on my iPhone, but how are we going to create memories from this? Because I don't know about you, but I've got so many photographs, but how many have I ever printed off my phone? I don't know. How are we going to kind of make those lovely albums that you talked about?

Alexandra Shulm...:
I don't know, because I do print them.

Annoushka Ducas:
Do you?

Alexandra Shulm...:
For that reason, yes.

Annoushka Ducas:
From your phone, you print them?

Alexandra Shulm...:
Yeah.

Annoushka Ducas:
Do you?

Alexandra Shulm...:
Yeah. I happen to be eight years behind, but I do have the pictures. Not, obviously, every picture that I take, but I think what's quite interesting is, actually, the effect that Instagram has had on what you're talking about, because I'm quite a keen Instagrammer and I do post on Instagram, you know, once or twice a day most days. Doing that slightly, it's not the same as taking pictures for a photograph album. They're very much a kind of construct of something that you're trying to say something about, and sometimes, because you're doing that, you actually stop taking the pictures that are really just a record, a true record of your life, I think. [crosstalk]

Annoushka Ducas:
Just weird, because I used to spend ... when my children were, in fact, I've made an album for each of my children for the various stages. I gave up about six years, but I'm absolutely amazed at how much they really love it, they really, really love it.

Alexandra Shulm...:
I bet.

Annoushka Ducas:
But I also think that taking a photograph with a real film camera ... it was certainly before, the cost of the film, the developing and all of that, it made you kind of really look at the details-

Alexandra Shulm...:
Concentrate.

Annoushka Ducas:
-concentrate, so now we just snap, snap, snap, don't we.

Alexandra Shulm...:
I know. I just wonder whether a lot of people that's true of. I guess people will have different kinds of ways of their memories, won't they.

Annoushka Ducas:
So whilst we're talking about Vogue, we can talk about your fourth charm, which is a dress, and I love the fact you were really quite specific about a number of these charms, but particular this dress, which you said needs to be sleeveless with a waist and a pencil skirt, maybe pink and maybe with sparkle. I'm going to ask you why specifically that, so you can see what I've drawn is very much exactly that dress, sleeveless ... I've got it on a hanger because otherwise it's too, how's it going to work as a charm? I see it as in pink, gorgeous pink sapphires, little bow in yellow gold, it's three-dimensional, so it's got a little split up the front, show a bit of leg.

But why did you decide on this particular pink, sparkly, maybe, and sleeveless dress?

Alexandra Shulm...:
Well, when I thought about my life in seven charms, I realized that a dress had to be one of them, and I realized that ... and again, I write about this in my book, how often pink has played an important part in my life, and that many of my favorite clothes have been pink. Unintentionally, I had no idea until I started writing that book how many pink clothes I had, and I think that-

Annoushka Ducas:
All colors of pink.

Alexandra Shulm...:
All kinds of pink, yeah. Pale pink, cyclamen pink, Schiaparelli pink. So I thought for the dress, for the charm, I wanted to have a good-time dress, a dress that I knew I'd be having fun in, and very often my pink clothes are clothes that I have fun in. As for the shape, sleeveless, pencil skirt, waisted, I think that's a pretty favorite shape of mine. And I also thought it would make a nice shape for a charm, whereas the kind of dresses now those kind of prairie dresses, high necklines and huge tents would look a bit horrible as a charm. [crosstalk] It's a slightly old-fashioned style-

Annoushka Ducas:
Thanks for that, I was absolutely delighted, I think it'd be absolutely gorgeous. But when you were appointed editor of Vogue in 1992, you talk about an early photoshoot, as an editor, and you said that part of a set of publicity shots intended to show you the kind of person you thought you should look like as an editor. Well, I'm absolutely fascinated to know, do you remember what the photoshoot, what you did [crosstalk]-

Alexandra Shulm...:
I absolutely remember, because that was about when I was writing about white shirts for my book again. There was a publicity shot, the shot that I'm referring to, where I wear a white shirt and my hair's sort of up, and my art director at Vogue, who's called Robin Derrick, everybody gave me a 10th anniversary album, which was very sweet, with things ... one of the things he stuck in, well, was stuck in, and I always thought it was probably him who said it, but maybe it wasn't. It was captioned, this photograph, "The only time we've ever seen her in one." So I put on a white shirt because it was meant to be, I thought it made me look kind of efficient-

Annoushka Ducas:
Chic.

Alexandra Shulm...:
-kind of pared down and chic, but actually I never wear white shirts.

Annoushka Ducas:
Was it white shirt with trousers?

Alexandra Shulm...:
No, it was probably tucked into a skirt.

Annoushka Ducas:
It was a headshot.

Alexandra Shulm...:
But you couldn't see ... it was a headshot. But it was a way of sort of thinking about how we use clothes to send out messages about ourselves, really. What we want people to think about us.

Annoushka Ducas:
No, absolutely. I thought it was quite interesting because, actually, I was thinking about myself. What does someone in charge, what are they supposed to look like? Who knows what they're supposed to ... now, over COVID, you don't even have to worry about that bit anyway.

Alexandra Shulm...:
Table up.

Annoushka Ducas:
Table up. But tell me, you come from Tatler.

Alexandra Shulm...:
No, GQ, which had just launched at the first men's magazine, men's glossy magazine in the U.K.

Annoushka Ducas:
Had they had a female editor before?

Alexandra Shulm...:
No, they hadn't really had an editor. They had a launch editor, and the launch didn't go really according to plan, so then they were looking for another editor, and that was me. And it was slightly odd, obviously, because you're launching a men's magazine in the U.K., trying to introduce the idea of consumer glossy to the men's market, and then you've got a woman in charge of it. It was quite a brave thing-

Annoushka Ducas:
It was brave. Did you enjoy it?

Alexandra Shulm...:
Yeah, I loved it, absolutely loved it. It was daunting, of course to do, but I had really nice team and enjoyed it very much, and it was a lovely mixture of consumer journalism and really quite proper features journalism. When the editorship of Vogue came up two years later, it never really entered my head that that would be a job that I would go for. I was perfectly happy in the job that I had, but then people started kind of saying, well, are you going to go for the Vogue editorship? And then I'd start reading articles where they do, which they always do, who might be in the running for it or whatever, my name would come up.

And I started to think, well, am I being a bit wet by not applying for the Vogue job? Because actually, will I really want to spend years editing GQ? Vogue is a top job.

Annoushka Ducas:
The pinnacle, yeah.

Alexandra Shulm...:
And my publisher on GQ, wonderful man called Stephen Quinn, had been moved over to Vogue, and he was very keen that I applied. So then I thought, well, I can't really not, it just is too wet and limp.

Annoushka Ducas:
Too wet. You talked about daunting, going to GQ. God, what about daunting going to Vogue?

Alexandra Shulm...:
It was daunting going to Vogue. I guess I knew by that time that I could edit a magazine because I had edited GQ, so I sort of knew how it worked, and I knew that I could edit a magazine when I didn't really know anything about the subject matter as well.

My recollection of it, and again, as I say, I have no memory, but my recollection is that I wasn't so much daunted by the task of editing it, but I was quite daunted by the number of people that I was going to have to meet and work with and establish a relationship with, that was pretty terrifying.

Annoushka Ducas:
I should think that was terrifying. You said when you got there, you were clear about what you wanted it to be, wanted it to be beautiful, accessible and relevant. I can't really remember, but was it none of those things at that point?

Alexandra Shulm...:
It's a very good question, and any new editor that comes in, as I've discovered, having left Vogue now myself, any new editor that comes in basically positions themselves as something different to the editor that was there before.

Annoushka Ducas:
Who was there before?

Alexandra Shulm...:
Liz Tilberis was the editor who left to relaunch Harper's Bazaar. And she was very successful, people liked her, photographers liked working with her, the advertisers liked her, but the magazine was slipping in circulation because she wasn't really interested in things outside of fashion. The marketplace was changing at that point, and suddenly you had all these new newspapers that were launching, and they were all launching fashion supplements as well, or even the established papers like the Times and the Telegraph were starting to put together these big weekend packages where you'd get fashion magazines.

Then there were other new magazines like Marie Claire, was becoming hugely successful with a kind of mixture of fashion and, I wouldn't exactly call it journalism, but it was features, it wasn't all about fashion, so that was why I got the job. I got the job not because I was a fashion editor, but because I could bring the other things into it. I felt quite confident about that, it was something I really felt I wanted to do, and that it was going to be good.

But it's always difficult to change things, and turning Vogue, changing Vogue was really, I did it very, very slowly. I didn't go in, it wasn't revolution at all. In fact, if I had my time again, I would've done it much quicker.

Annoushka Ducas:
Would you?

Alexandra Shulm...:
Yeah.

Annoushka Ducas:
Was it easy to bring the team along with you? Did you change the team-

Alexandra Shulm...:
No, no, my team mainly left.

Annoushka Ducas:
Oh, did they? But that's quite normal with a new editor, isn't it?

Alexandra Shulm...:
Yes, quite often the new editor fires them. I didn't actually fire them, they just left me.

Annoushka Ducas:
Did you take huge offense? [crosstalk]

Alexandra Shulm...:
It did give me the opportunity to bring in, yeah, my gang.

Annoushka Ducas:
And then on the U.S. side, your counterpart Anna Wintour, I think quite often referred to as Nuclear Winter. I found out.

Alexandra Shulm...:
Yes, yes. That's apparently one of her nicknames.

Annoushka Ducas:
How was your relationship with her? Or was there one?

Alexandra Shulm...:
With Anna? We see each other, or saw each other, at the shows, and often there were Vogue dinners, and every now and again we'd sort of be somewhere together. But we weren't particularly friends, but we ... curiously, her father was the editor of the Evening Standard when my father was the drama critic there, so there was this kind of strange link. She was a London girl, a bit older than me, but still a London girl, so we had quite a lot of acquaintances in common and things. So I have a lot of time for Anna.

Annoushka Ducas:
But there's not discussion, it is totally-

Alexandra Shulm...:
They're totally independent.

Annoushka Ducas:
-totally independent.

Alexandra Shulm...:
I'm not so sure whether that's true now, but during my time, it was completely independent.

Annoushka Ducas:
I guess the other thing about becoming editor of Vogue is, my God, you've put yourself right in the public eye, I suppose. I know that people weren't always terribly kind. I was rather horrified to read a quote that I saw in The New York Times: "The British press has made much of the fact that when it comes to personal wardrobe, Ms. Shulman could learn a thing or two from trademark Chanel, and that she could also become better acquainted with a hairbrush." [crosstalk] For God's sake.

Alexandra Shulm...:
That's still the case, the old hairbrush business.

Annoushka Ducas:
But the scrutiny, did it bother you or not really?

Alexandra Shulm...:
It's lovely not to have it now.

Annoushka Ducas:
Yeah.

Alexandra Shulm...:
I thought it was just part of the job, it's not a part of the job that I particularly enjoyed. I loved people asking me my opinion, I loved being able to influence things, I liked having a voice. Did I enjoy people paying attention to what I looked like? Not particularly. That wasn't really my thing. But the hair thing's quite a funny thing, because when I was, my mum always used to be really furious with me. I hated having my hair brushed, and we'd go to school, like lots of schoolchildren, and I remember outside the school, her trying to tug in this hair ... because I've always had this thick hair. Tugging a hairbrush through my hair.

I still don't brush my hair, as you can see, so nobody's been able to do anything much about it.

Annoushka Ducas:
But you did have a nightmare scenario more recently with, do I say, bikini-gate.

Alexandra Shulm...:
Oh, bikini-gate, yeah, marvelous bikini-gate.

Annoushka Ducas:
So how do you feel about that? Tell us what happened, actually, because-

Alexandra Shulm...:
Well, that was a weird moment in time, when I'd just left the magazine and I'd planned a summer of holidays. I left in June, and we went to Greece to stay with a great friend of ours who as a wonderful house there. Every day we'd go out and have a picnic on the boat, and he'd be like, everyone, we're leaving in five minutes, sort of rallying the troops because we're quite a big house with quite a lot of people.

Anyway, so I'm running upstairs into our bedroom to grab whatever it was I wanted to take on the boat, and I just kind of had this moment of thinking, oh, it's so lovely, I'm so happy, I don't have to go to work, I'm about to go out on this lovely boat, it's a beautiful day, it's all kind of wonderful, and there was a mirror on the dressing table, and actually, I'm short-sighted, I didn't have my glasses on. To me, the reflection in the mirror, I was wearing a bikini, just sort of looked like a happy holiday picture, so I snapped it and said, so great to be going out on the boat.

Go out on the boat, and then when we get back about five hours later, David, who's my boyfriend, had got an email from somebody on the Daily Mail saying Alex's bikini ... oh yes, I'd posted it on Instagram. Bikini Instagram is news, so we were like, what? Anyway, it just kind of went crazy, and I really don't know why. For some reason, this image of a woman taking a picture of herself in a bikini that wasn't a particularly flattering picture, that clearly hadn't been, had any filter-

Annoushka Ducas:
Edited.

Alexandra Shulm...:
Or retouched or anything on it, who had just left Vogue, I guess it was a very, very slow news week is all I can say. But it literally, it sort of was in the Mail one day, then in the Mail the next day, and then it's interesting how this news cycle works, then everyone else takes it up, then everyone comments, and it rolled on for about a week. I wasn't in the U.K., luckily.

Annoushka Ducas:
[crosstalk] But did it make you miserable?

Alexandra Shulm...:
No, not at all, it was highly amusing. My particular favorite comment was, I think it was Amanda Platell in the Daily Mail who basically wrote that the only reason she could think why a woman like me would post a picture showing off all her wobbly bits was to do penance for the fact ... now I'd left Vogue, of inflicting 25 years of unrealistic body expectation on people.

Annoushka Ducas:
God's sake.

Alexandra Shulm...:
Really, we shrieked. It was so funny.

Annoushka Ducas:
Oh, God.

So your fifth charm is a typewriter. Again, I wasn't surprised by this charm, but I love the fact that you said you thought it needed to be a metal typewriter. I think you meant instead of black. Was that because you didn't ...

Alexandra Shulm...:
Well, I didn't like the idea of having, on a charm bracelet, something sort of dense and black, really. But I thought the typewriter was really important, because although most of my career, actually, I've used computers now, I think the point at where I started writing journalism, I was definitely working on typewriters. I just loved the feeling of the typewriter key, still prefer the feeling of a typewriter guy to the computer key.

Annoushka Ducas:
But it must've been kind of ... just thinking about your upbringing-

Alexandra Shulm...:
Yeah, it was the soundtrack-

Annoushka Ducas:
-soundtrack to your ... wasn't it?

Alexandra Shulm...:
It was. I'd come home and Dad would be, often be typing. Actually, he'd often be typing in the morning and typing late at night, and then my mum would often be typing on the weekends. Everyone was typing, tap-tap-tapping away. That still, just talking about it now, in my mind I can hear that thing where the carriage gets to the end and it went, ping.

Annoushka Ducas:
Ping.

Alexandra Shulm...:
And you whizzed it back. That was such a lovely feeling, so I thought that, although it's kind of so old-fashioned, in a way, to have a typewriter, it's just terribly-

Annoushka Ducas:
Evocative, is it.

Alexandra Shulm...:
Yes.

Annoushka Ducas:
Totally.

Alexandra Shulm...:
Evocative.

Annoushka Ducas:
Again, I want to make it as perfect a miniature as I can, this typewriter, so I really want white gold with black rhodium on it, so it is gray, kind of gunmetal gray.

Alexandra Shulm...:
Great.

Annoushka Ducas:
Three-dimensional, and the little-

Alexandra Shulm...:
Carriage.

Annoushka Ducas:
Thank you, carriage, will turn, and it will actually turn as if the paper, so that it-

Alexandra Shulm...:
As if you're rolling in the paper, how lovely.

Annoushka Ducas:
Yeah, I think it should. And I think the keys should all be little diamonds.

Alexandra Shulm...:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Annoushka Ducas:
I think that would be gorgeous, those diamonds. At what age do you think you knew you wanted to write?

Alexandra Shulm...:
I always wrote little bits and pieces, just as a child and teenager, student or whatever. I've always written for myself, whether that be little bits of poetry. I used to write a lot of poetry and diaries and observations and things, not particularly stories. I've never written a load of stories. And then it wasn't something that I passionately wanted to do; in fact, I sort of grew into it, really. And I started to do bits and pieces of writing, and one of my early jobs sort of ... and then I got a job on Tatler as a result of writing an article for them, a freelance article.

And then I decided I did want that that's what I wanted to do, I wanted to write. But as journalist, so sort of two kinds of journalists. There are the writers, the journalists, and then there are the kind of, sort of the executives, but actually the commissioning editors. There's a kind of fork in the road moment for quite a lot of people. I chose to become part of the corporation, and when I was editing my magazines, although I wrote a little bit for the magazines, I didn't really enjoy writing for myself in that way. I always felt slightly uncomfortable that nobody would be able to tell me whether it was any good or not.

Annoushka Ducas:
Be frightened to tell you [crosstalk]-

Alexandra Shulm...:
Yeah, exactly, couldn't be honest. So I did very little writing, and really, now one of the things that's wonderful for me is that I'm doing more writing, because I write a notebook for the Mail on Sunday, which is-

Annoushka Ducas:
I love that.

Alexandra Shulm...:
-a great pleasure to me, and really interesting. Sort of privileged to be able to have little ideas and write about them, but also I've now written four books, and I started doing that, gosh, I can't remember when my first book came out, I think 2012, which was a novel.

When I was editing Vogue, I started writing books, because actually that way I could do some writing, but it wasn't for Vogue.

Annoushka Ducas:
You were writing books whilst you were editor of Vogue?

Alexandra Shulm...:
Yeah, I wrote two novels, then published a diary of the centenary year of Vogue. And that was quite a nice way of sort of escaping being a magazine editor, because if you write fiction, you really get into the story. When I was at home, I could sort of inhabit the world of my fictional world for a bit, it was quite therapeutic.

Annoushka Ducas:
I just can't believe how much you crammed into the day.

Alexandra Shulm...:
Well, again, I think you do what you sort of want to do, and I can't write at all, not at all, after about 1:00, lunchtime. But I can write very early in the morning, so-

Annoushka Ducas:
Whilst you're editor, you're getting up at the crack of dawn to write this?

Alexandra Shulm...:
I would get up, do about an hour and a half until my son Sam appeared, and actually, if you do an hour and a half four times a week, you get quite a lot done. And then on the weekend, I'd probably have about two or three hours every day on the weekend.

Annoushka Ducas:
You obviously find it easy to write. I know lots of people that find it so stressful, honestly, it takes them about two years to get two chapters out.

Alexandra Shulm...:
Well, I'm a great believer in just doing it. I think if I waited until it was perfect, nothing would ever happen.

Annoushka Ducas:
So you believe in the kind of 80%-

Alexandra Shulm...:
Yeah, totally.

Annoushka Ducas: Oh, good. That's a relief to hear. Vogue. When you left Vogue, was there kind of mixed emotions about leaving?

Alexandra Shulm...:
I made the decision to leave Vogue in 2016. We'd had a wonderful centenary year, and the magazine had done very well and we'd had so much publicity, and I'd been sort of really riding high. And after that, it all felt a bit flat, so I actually didn't think I wanted to leave the magazine, I was just trying to think about what I could do to make life seem a bit buzzy again. So in fact, we rented a little flat in Aldeburgh on the sea, and it was while I was there I had decided to leave, and the reason why was because we were in this little flat in a different place, and I was very happy there and quite content there. I think I'd always been frightened that when I left Vogue, that I would find it difficult to ... what was my life going to be? I couldn't see what my life was going to be.

When I realized that, actually, I was really quite happy with something quite simple, it isn't that that's what I thought I wanted my life to be, but I realized I would be able to survive if that's-

Annoushka Ducas:
There was something [crosstalk] new perspective.

Alexandra Shulm...:
And I suddenly saw that, in fact, there was a sort of wonderful, different future.

Annoushka Ducas:
I know when I sold my first business, Links of London, and wanted to start something else, because I quite quickly realized that, actually, I wasn't really cut out not to do anything, having worked since I was 18. But I remember this feeling of huge expectation that, if something's been successful, other people seem to think that whatever you're going to do has also got to be successful. Actually, that's quite scary. Do you feel that?

Alexandra Shulm...:
It's a very interesting point. I don't think I did feel that, because I'm not sure ... you can't really compare it to businesses. I totally understand what you're saying, but I don't think it applies to what I've been doing. What I would say is that I had no idea what I was going to do when I left Vogue, and what I have been doing since isn't really anything that I could've imagined I would be doing. So somehow it's kind of ... it's been really quite an adventure and been very nice to do some new things.

And of course, I think I have an expectation that they should be successful, more than other people have an expectation. [crosstalk] I'm not very happy if they're not.

Annoushka Ducas:
I come now to your sixth charm, which is a key. You could see I've drawn this rather elaborate key, and the top part of the key that you actually hold has got diamonds around the side and it's bezel set, and then in the center I've put a lovely cut amethyst, just because I happen to love the color. But actually, now you've told me, it might have to be something pink.

Alexandra Shulm...:
No, I think we've got quite a lot of pink, because we've got the pink in the camera, haven't we, as well.

Annoushka Ducas:
Yeah. Maybe it could be your birthstone.

Alexandra Shulm...:
Topaz, that is.

Annoushka Ducas:
Okay, well, there we go. It could be that. Now I know that topaz is your birthstone, then the bottom of the key, I see it as a cabochon topaz. But really tactile and absolutely as a key should be. But tell me why you've chosen a key.

Alexandra Shulm...:
Well, all of this industry, the typewriter and the camera and everything, was really driven by the desire to buy my own property. I was bought up living in a rented flat, my parents always rented, and as is true, I think, for all of us, a lot of your thoughts and your ambitions are formed by your childhood experience. My childhood experience was just continual feeling that we might not be able to afford to stay. It certainly wasn't slumming it, but we used to say, us children, why don't you buy somewhere? Then you wouldn't have to go through all this, but it imposed on me this absolute ambition to buy property.

Hence the key and hence, for example, the decision we were talking about earlier to take the corporate route rather than the lone-wolf route, because it was guaranteed money, better paid and everything. I think the desire to have my own roof over my head has been a hugely motivating factor in everything that I've done.

Annoushka Ducas:
That was, I was going to ask you, is that in terms of career choices? So perhaps wanting to be a writer, explored writing early on, but was the impetus to your mortgage effectively ...

Alexandra Shulm...:
Yeah, very much so. And also, as time went by, I had a child and I was married, and then my marriage split up and I sort of became a single parent, and certainly economically a single parent, so the earning of money has always been very important to me. It always rather surprises me that people sort of don't necessarily think that that's what it would be. Somebody did once say to me, well, if really you'd been motivated by only money, you would've gone job that paid you a great deal more money, because actually, journalists aren't particularly fabulously paid.

So I suppose that's true. But anyway, I did manage to buy my first flat when I-

Annoushka Ducas:
When did you manage to do that? Early on?

Alexandra Shulm...:
Well, of course now it seems unbelievable. It was actually quite late, I had lots of friends who'd bought flats by then, but I was about 27, and I bought a flat on Ladbroke Grove, 52 bus stop was literally outside my bedroom window, literally outside my bedroom window. So people could just all look through the venetian blinds, which I didn't realize, at night from the bus stop.

I bought another few flat ... moved on, and of course it was, by that point it was the late '80s, we were all encouraged to buy property.

Annoushka Ducas:
Absolutely, yeah. So it was a fantastically good decision.

Alexandra Shulm...:
It was a fantastically good decision, and something that our own children will never be in a position to buy for so relatively little.

Annoushka Ducas:
For this generation, it's so hard. So your finally charm is your son's name, is Sam, and I just felt that the way to represent it was just to write it, just to write it in script.

Alexandra Shulm...:
Absolutely.

Annoushka Ducas:
You could wear it as a charm or round your neck.

Alexandra Shulm...:
It's lovely.

Annoushka Ducas:
I'd seen it in, again, I just love yellow gold, and I know you like gold too. So I think yellow gold with diamonds around certain parts of the letters.

Alexandra Shulm...:
Beautiful.

Annoushka Ducas:
But cut out and exactly represented as the letters, capital S, small A, small M. Talk to me about Sam, and I'm longing to know how you managed to be a mummy and work and all of the things that you've achieved, because it's not easy.

Alexandra Shulm...:
Well, I had Sam when I was 37, so by the time he was born, I'd sort of done quite a lot, and I desperately wanted to have a child. I was actually thrilled when there he was, and we've been together a lot, because when his father moved out, it was just him and me for really quite a long time, and I think that that made it somewhat easier, because I wasn't trying to juggle being a wife and a mother. I was just a mother and doing my job, so it removed one whole thing out of the equation, which I really think helped in terms of juggling.

I was at work and I was able to work, I had a series of wonderful girls, nannies, but they weren't trained nannies, they were just ... all of them, fantastic, really. They lived with me and Sam, normally stayed for about 18 months. Then when I came home, I was with Sam and I wasn't working, and there wasn't anybody else to worry about.

Annoushka Ducas:
Yes, I guess that definitely helps.

Alexandra Shulm...:
That does make it easier.

Annoushka Ducas:
Yeah. Easier, but not easy, I'd say.

Alexandra Shulm...:
Not easy. I'm very good at focus, very good at kind of compartmentalizing, and I didn't really worry about work when I was at home with Sam. I didn't really worry that much about Sam when I was at work. I think, for me personally, having a child made doing my job much more possible, because I think if I hadn't had that alternate important thing in my life, then the difficulties that come up, which of course they do at work, would've taken up much more of my head space than they did. I was always ... I felt it helped the balance, really.

Annoushka Ducas:
But you did, I mean, I assume you traveled hugely as editor of Vogue.

Alexandra Shulm...:
Well, I didn't travel in the way that lots of people travel, which is on a kind of continual and quite ad hoc basis. I knew when I was going to travel, which was to the fashion shows, which is basically [crosstalk] every six months. My heart did sink when that was coming up, but it didn't happen very often. I always took the view that it was very important, if you have nannies or people who are looking after your children, that you really respect the agreement you've got. Then I think in the end, they will always prepare to go the extra mile for me, because-

Annoushka Ducas:
You respected them.

Alexandra Shulm...:
-of that, yeah, because I respected them. But I didn't travel a huge amount, but what I did have was a lot of evening engagements. With home, and I didn't live that near the office, so I'd get home, come and see Sam, spend some time with him, run into a bath or change of clothes, and then be out again when, hopefully, he was in bed. So that was a bit exhausting.

Annoushka Ducas:
What does he say now of his memories of growing up?

Alexandra Shulm...:
Depends what mood he's in.

Annoushka Ducas:
Yeah, of course.

Alexandra Shulm...:
I think it's hard to say, one does have to ask him. I think what he mainly says is, well, I didn't know anything else, that's-

Annoushka Ducas:
A bit like where you started, actually. You were kind of given your cards and that's what it is. Actually, I'm rather dreading when my children are thinking about how they're going to bring up their children. They're going to say, oh my God, she was never at home, whatever.

Alexandra Shulm...:
I think whatever you do, there's going to be criticisms. Either you're at home and dull and on their case too much, or you're too distant or ... that's healthy.

Annoushka Ducas:
Just finally, I think, did your mother say at some point that you could only have two out of three things, work, family or social life?

Alexandra Shulm...:
And a social life, yeah.

Annoushka Ducas:
I'm kind of just interested, looking back on your seven charms, do you think you've achieved all three?

Alexandra Shulm...:
I think I probably have, but in a slightly ... I think family, I'm very keen on family, I'm very close to my family, but I only have one child, I have two stepchildren, one of whom lived with me from the age of 12 to 22, and the other would come at weekends. But I don't have a big family that I'm the matriarch of, and I think that's a different thing.

I think it would've been very hard to do Vogue and have a ton of children, certainly being a single mother, I couldn't possibly have done it with, say, three children. I don't know how one would've begun to do that. So maybe family, as it were, took a bit of a hit. But I think it's on the 80%, I'd say I got three.

I think you did. From where I'm sitting, it feels totally like you had three. I've so enjoyed talking to you about [crosstalk]-

Alexandra Shulm...:
Thank you, and I've so enjoyed seeing what these amazing, amazing gems are.

Annoushka Ducas:
I'm going to make you one of these charms, and I would love to know which one you'd like me to make you. Whilst you're thinking about it, in a hundred years' time, when somebody, one of your relations finds this charm bracelet buried in a box somewhere with your seven charms, what would you like them to think about you? How would you like them to ... they'll have a vision of you.

Alexandra Shulm...:
I suppose I'd like them to think what a kind of fun life I had, really. I hope it would show them it was just a life of real interest, and I think it would be with cameras and books and dresses and records. All the best things.

Annoushka Ducas:
Absolutely, it would be incredibly varied. Varied life. So which, any thoughts? [crosstalk]

Alexandra Shulm...:
I'm kind of torn between, the camera looks so beautiful and so extraordinary. I'm mostly likely to use the Sam, it's the least decorative, but I can think of different ways of wearing it, so I think it would sort of be with me most of the time.

Annoushka Ducas:
Okay, we'll go with Sam.

Alexandra Shulm...:
Brilliant.

Annoushka Ducas:
We'll go with Sam. Thank you so much.

Alexandra Shulm...:
Thank you. Very exciting.

Annoushka Ducas:
Good.

Thank you so much for listening to My Life in Seven Charms with me, Annoushka Ducas. I would so appreciate it if you could rate, review and subscribe, which will help other people to know about us.


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