Alexander the great
INTERVIEW: After 26 years as fashion editor at the ‘Daily Telegraph’, Hilary Alexander is retiring from journalism – though not leaving the industry behind, writes ROSEMARY MAC CABE
IN 2011, HILARY ALEXANDER – fashion journalist, agony aunt to a nation and flag-bearer for fashionable over-50s – retired as fashion editor of the Daily Telegraph, a position she had held for 26 years. But she has not spent the past year reading travel guides and planning her time in the sun; the grand dame of British fashion has been busier than ever, she says, and has “no intentions of giving up any time soon”.
“I really had to [retire] – I turned 65,” she says, cheerfully, sipping a double espresso and sitting daintily on the edge of her chair in Brown Thomas’s private shopping suite. “And it’s better to go before you’re pushed. So I thought, I’m 65, I’ll go and collect my bus pass.”
At this stage, scepticism sets in. It’s hard to imagine many top fashion editors (Anna Wintour springs to mind) hurrying down to collect a bus pass. “Look!” she says, rooting through her purse. “It’s here, my freedom pass!” She waves it in the air happily, and dumps the whole lot on the floor.
Alexander is in Dublin to introduce the new collections from Italian sister brands Sportmax and Max Mara for whom she is a close associate and consultant. She says she hasn’t had a chance to see whether Irish women have much style, but “Andrea Corr always dresses well and John Rocha’s wife [Odette] always looks fantastic”.
She is smaller than she appears on TV, yet somehow a larger presence. She speaks slowly, with purpose, and each sentence peters out, rather than ending definitively, leaving you literally hanging onto every word.
She established herself early on in her career in the UK – which she came to from a position as fashion editor on the China Mail, a role she stepped into at the ripe age of 19 “or 20” (more on that later) – as a champion of the people, an advocate of the “real woman”, writing and talking about fashion for the 40- and 50-somethings who were otherwise being left behind.
“I started [answering readers’ fashion queries] at the Telegraph, I guess, when I was about 42,” she says. “I was very aware of how many magazines and newspapers really looked at fashion for pretty much the under-25s, and people my age, or older, felt very hard done by. Being able to answer their queries was quite liberating.
“I don’t think fashion is only for the young . . . it’s for everybody. And you can have fun with fashion, even if you’re 90 or 100. As long as you’re not making a fool of yourself, exposing too much flesh or wearing something too tight . . . but that can happen whether you’re 20 or 92. It’s about clothes that you look good in, feel good in and that make you happy.”
Alexander has always recommended that women shop on the high street, but surely a woman who counts some of the world’s top designers as friends and drops their last names when referring to them – Karl [Lagerfeld], John [Galliano], Yoji [Yamamoto] – buys her own clothes after-hours in Harrods with a personal shopper while sitting on a chaise longue and being served grapes by members of staff?