A peek behind the skirts of the grand old lady of fashion

Lucinda Chambers, the undoubted star of Absolutely Fashion: Inside British Vogue
Lucinda Chambers, the undoubted star of Absolutely Fashion: Inside British Vogue

At one point in Absolutely Fashion – Inside British Vogue (BBC2, Thursdays, 9pm), the pony-tailed alien of Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld, airily waved a silver leather fingerless-gloved hand and said: “We are always thinking about today, not yesterday. There is no credit in the past.”

He was talking about the fashion industry, but the whole focus of the documentary was on British Vogue as the magazine celebrated its 100th anniversary.
It set up a tension at the heart of the film, with the ephemeral nature of fashion versus the permanence of Vogue as an overseer of what’s ‘in’ and what’s ‘hot’.
Of course, Vogue has a vested interest in keeping the fashion conveyor belt moving – who wants to read about last year’s fashion, or the same old jeans, but the staff were curiously reluctant to admit their part in the whole business.
At one point, headshots of ‘this year’s models’ were taken down from a white-painted wall in Vogue’s swish London offices, to be replaced by another batch of pale-faced, ethereal creatures. Only a lucky few were put on the wall of stalwarts like Kate Moss.
In contrast, the film – directed with an outsider’s bemused detachment by Richard Macer – stressed Alexandra Shulman’s 25 years in the editor’s chair.
However, she comes over rather badly in this documentary – reticent, guarded, secretive, while the industry in which she works makes a virtue of putting everything on show.
If Shulman proved difficult to pin down, the star of the show was Vogue’s fashion director, Lucinda Chambers. She’s been around at Vogue for longer than even Shulman – she shared stories of living in London squats with photographer to the stars Mario Testino – and came over as ineffably posh, scatty and airy-fairy.
As the film went on, however, you warmed to her more and more, whether she was reminiscing about her childhood helping her mum make copies of Harrods’ childrens’ clothes for her to wear, to admitting she never wants to leave Vogue: “You’re permanently excited about the next shoot.”
And yet. Just like the latest trends, Vogue as a magazine could be going out of fashion. It already has on online TV channel, and the younger members of staff have legions of followers on Instagram.
Surveying that birthday issue, Shulman says: “It’s an historical document... it’s a collector’s item. This is about a continuum... soaring off into the future.
“They might not know what a magazine is in 200 years’ time.”
So in the battle between the ‘now’ and the ‘always’, Vogue may find itself on the losing side.