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.