The editor of British Vogue for twenty-six years before resigning in 2017, Alexandra Shulman was responsible for taking the magazine to great commercial success. Although her job was high-profile and glamorous, in her own time she loves nothing more than to trawl Portobello Road Market near her welcoming West London home, which is full of treasured finds.
While her job involved a lot of travel, the demands of being an editor meant it was hard for her to slip away for shopping adventures in the cities she visited so often for shows—although she will admit that she always managed to get to Merci and Caravane when in Paris.
As a child, Alexandra’s family never traveled far. They took their holidays in the English countryside. Her father took a view of “Why go somewhere to be less comfortable than you would be at home?”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, when she later traveled for work, it was vital that the hotels she stayed in felt like home. She became a regular guest at the Lancaster in Paris and the Lowell in New York—the greetings she received and always having the same room felt reassuring. When she left the Lancaster for the last time as the outgoing editor of Vogue, all the staff lined up to say goodbye. She remembers it being one of the emotional moments of leaving.
Sitting down with Alexandra on a Friday morning nearly one year after her departure from the magazine—in a café on Golborne Road in London with the market bustling on the street outside—we discuss the significance of travel to her then and now.
Have you got a memory of a perfect travel moment? Years ago I found myself in Naples alone for one night and I was having dinner near the port. It was June. The next day I was meeting a load of friends further south. I remember thinking it was perfect having that night to myself yet knowing I was going on to join people.
Was there any one extraordinary travel experience you had while at Vogue? In response to the Japanese earthquake [Condé Nast chairman] Jonathan Newhouse took all the Vogue editors to Japan for forty-eight hours for Fashion’s Night Out. It was bonkers and we didn’t see much but it was a fun thing to do.
When you aren’t wearing your editor hat you are really a bit of a hippie. Where does your inner-hippie like to holiday? Formentera in Spain. I like its rawness and the beautiful clearness of the sea. I like going to the long beach called Platja Migjorn; all the little shacks and restaurants there are low-key and great. I love that thing of lying in the sun, swimming in the sea, and then getting a cold beer.
What’s your holiday look? On Formentera I wear a pair of Thai fisherman pants made by my yoga teacher—deeply unflattering—and any one of a zillion American Vintage t-shirts I own. I like Melissa Odabash and Eres swimwear. I hate anything with gold on it.
Bikini or swimsuit? Bikini!
What do you buy at airports? I buy Greek cigarettes if I’m in Greece.
Flip flops or sliders? Flip flops.
What do you pack in your toiletries bag? Tons! I take a whole medicine cabinet! My boyfriend is always telling me that it is actually possible to find aspirin outside the UK. I take Philip Kingsley shampoo and conditioner and Lancaster after-sun. I also pack Miss Dior or Crystal Eau de Toilette. Oddly, maybe to some, I like playing with makeup on holiday at night. I often wear a colored eyeliner, blue or green, which I would never do at home, and I might take at least five different colored lipsticks.
—Fiona Golfar is the former Editor-at-Large of British Vogue.
Where was your last vacation? Southern California.
Where will your next vacation be? Mallorca for a long weekend then southern Italy in the late summer.
The thing you can’t travel without? Rescue Remedy.
Plane, train or automobile? It’s a draw between cars and trains, but I especially like the pace and the stress-free element of trains.
The people you’d most like to sit next to on a long-haul flight? My son, Sam, who’s like a security blanket. Although I’m not sure the person he would most want to sit next to on that flight would be his mother!
What is your inflight ritual? I take anything that will distract me from thinking about flying. So I buy about ten magazines like The Week, Private Eye, Hello! and Grazia. Anything that’s easy to read. I always drink a Buck’s Fizz to relax me and listen to my iTunes playlists.
The language you wish you spoke? Italian.
Desert island or downtown? Would it be wrong to want a desert island with a downtown? Sounds good to me.
If you could live at any hotel which would it be? The Colombe D’or in Provence.
What is your room service indulgence? Pancakes with maple syrup and bacon. It is the only place I would ever dream of eating it.
The strangest place you’ve spent a night? In the labor ward waiting to give birth to my son and knowing that my whole life was about to change forever.
What is your favourite market? Portobello, still.
If you could travel to any place in any epoch which would it be? The Côte d’Azur in the ’20s would be wonderful. For the coastline of the south of France before it got colonized. All the pictures I have seen look so elegant.
What are the show-off spots in your hometown? The London parks: Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens and Chiswick Park are my favorites. I also like the river down near Hammersmith, and Marylebone and Chiltern Street are nice to take people to.
Which places would you happily spend a weekend, a week, a month, and a year?
Your biggest extravagance on the road? Shopping for clothes. I like buying clothes when I’m on holiday. Maybe because it’s fun to see them recreationally and not just as part of a job.
Describe a memorable meal from your travels. Last autumn eating dinner outside at the 29 Palms Inn [in California]. The food was very good and there was a local band playing cover versions of old Stones songs. It was heaven sitting under the stars listening to them with a tequila sunrise.
Travel hell is? Getting from A to B. I like the destination but not the journey.
Where are you ashamed that you’ve never been? China.
Three favourite stores on earth? Harrods food hall is still fabulous. Mouki Mou on Chiltern Street is a beautifully edited, small concept store. Daunt Books in Marylebone. It’s a perfect size for a bookshop. Not huge but large enough to stock what you want and to discover books you didn’t know you wanted.
Most treasured travel memento? My photographs. I still make albums.
Why do you travel? I will go anywhere for a suntan!
Fiona Golfar started her journalistic career at Vogue, where she stayed for 25 years as editor-at-large. Since then, she’s become contributing editor for the Financial Times’ award-winning magazine, How To Spend It, and writes for House & Garden. She recently opened The Little Shop, attached to Fowey Hall Hotel in Cornwall.