Absolutely fashion: Inside British Vogue had such promise. The two-part BBC documentary would voyage behind the scenes to reveal the inner workings of the major, iconic, fashion publication, providing viewers with unprecedented access to Vogue HQ.
For nine months, Alexandra Shulman, now outgoing Editor-in-Chief, allowed filmmaker, Richard Macer, to follow her and her fellow staffers as they prepared for the magazine’s 100th year in issue. He featured interviews with Fashion Director, Lucinda Chambers, and Editor-At-Large, Fiona Golfar, both of whom had invited Macer to accompany them on photoshoots with the likes of Kate Moss and Edie Campbell. He also captured scenes of Shulman visiting designer and friend, Victoria Beckham, at her showroom as she talked her through her latest collection, and clips of Lagerfeld, Kim Kardashian and beauty-preneur, Charlotte Tilbury, among many other industry and pop culture icons.
Yet despite all the star power, the film fell flat. As a self-professed fashion-lover with a passion for writing, I thought that I would be enthralled. But as Macer toured the office asking the Vogue team terribly simplistic questions, demonstrating very little understanding and respect for his subject matter, I quickly grew disappointed. This followed an indirect confession that he had done next to no research, having bought his first ever copy of the magazine less than 24 hours prior to filming.
It wasn’t until I later read Shulman’s accounts in the beautifully written, Inside Vogue: My diary of Vogue’s 100th year, I realised that she too felt betrayed as she learnt that Macer, struggling for a captivating narrative, purposely changed the documentary’s intent. What could and should have been an insightful look into the day-to-day running of an incredibly reputable British business became the story of a clueless man who enters the world of Vogue knowing absolutely (nothing about) fashion.
His observations are rudimentary and articulated in a mocking and derisive tone with a hint of misogyny. Firstly, he is surprised that one of the staffers has a degree from Cambridge University because beauty and academia are mutually exclusive.
Instead of commenting on the brand’s culture, the heritage and how the magazine has evolved over the past ten decades, he remarks how odd it is to be one of only a handful of men around, with no reference to the fact that the most senior of positions at parent organisation, Condé Nast, are still governed by a body of male-only Executives.
Then, there are so many pauses and awkward silences in the interactions between himself and Shulman, and Shulman and her team. The film technique makes her appear cold, aloof and stern. Macer, inspired by the heartless Miranda Priestley of the Devil Wears Prada, fashion editor archetype edits to create version 2.0, which is frankly obvious and unimaginative.
In reading Shulman’s journal, she truly does come across as more likeable. I don’t pity her jetsetter lifestyle but I do have empathy where she expresses self-doubt and questions her decisions as she organises the centenary celebrations. Between running the Vogue Festival, an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery and the search for an appropriate cover-star for the commemorative issue, she admits that she suffers from anxiety, which writing alleviates, and finds the experience of being filmed “extremely unnerving”.
But Shulman is sharp and shrewd. The real story transpires when she dupes Richard Macer with a fake, commemorative cover. He attends meetings where she selects from two, both of a typographic style. She picks the white and silver one. It is simple and clean with no imagery but the number 100 printed in large letters under the Vogue name. It’s a sleek ruse. What Macer doesn’t know is that Kate Middleton, The Duchess of Cambridge had agreed to be photographed for it months earlier. Although, few members of the Vogue office knew either. It was a secret, and upon speculation, Shulman’s assistant is instructed to say anything to dampen the rumours.
Later, Macer stands together with Shulman and Creative Director, Jamie Perlman. They are staging another misleading discussion with a false running order for the magazine and a placeholder story. Shulman expresses guilt for the deceit in her diary entries, “Constantly there [was] a split screen in my emotions, an awareness of what is good for the documentary and what is good for me”. As a journalist, she understands the frustration and the pit-in-your-stomach feeling of missing the scoop, but a leak from the BBC on a royal’s involvement with the magazine’s centenary issue would affect sales. It would ruin the element of surprise on newsstands. Telling the truth would be bad for business.
The duplicitous nature of the world of journalism is what makes Shulman’s recount of events much more exciting than the documentary. Yes she hides the bare bones of a gripping story from Macer’s view but he is dishonest about the style in which she and the magazine are going to be cinematically represented.
The book is far more intimate, more detailed and emotive and such a compelling read. I wouldn’t bother with Macer’s Ab Fab Vogue filmic water down. Inside Vogue: My diary of Vogue’s 100th year portrays fashion, glamour and media ironically authentically.