x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

The fashion editor's style code

If you're looking for style, don't look to magazine fashion editors. They will only convince you that you have a better fashion sense.

This week I found myself at a range review for the mass-market fashion giant Arcadia that proved a real eye-opener. Despite the crowd being made up of various heads of design teams, senior buyers and brand executives (no one appeared younger than 35) they all looked electrifyingly fashion-forward and super trendy. It was refreshing to be among such a grown-up crowd of people who were truly, madly, deeply passionate about clothes - the ones they were wearing as well as those created for their high street customers.

It was easy to tell the well-groomed Arcadia mob from their guests: grungy fashion editors, stylists and critics. It made me think of the popular myth, hyped by shows such as Ugly Betty and Running in Heels, about fashion editors always looking the part. Sure, during showtime, editors roll out their latest designer acquisitions but quickly revert to their uniform of well-cut, tasteful classics the second they get home.

In between shows, you might catch a glimpse of one of them wearing a jacket by a safe designer such as Isabel Marant, or even heels. Most fashion editors I know live in expensive jeans and flats, at least during the day. It's not that fashion editors and glossy magazine editors don't acknowledge what the rest of us salivate over; it's just that they're already over it all by then. Also, the first rule you learn working on a magazine is never look like a fashion victim. (Rule two: never examine the contents of a goody bag in public.)

Fashion editors are leaders, not followers. With eyes and ears fixed 24/7 on the trend radar, they tire of treading the hamster wheel of fashion and opt for timeless pieces that hang in limbo trendwise. In truth, ditsy fashion wannabes like Sex and the City's Carrie Bradshaw have little in common with the creatures on the thrones at Vogue or Harper's. The French Vogue editor Carine Roitfeld is heralded as the most stylish woman alive, at least by the industry. They can see that she has turned fashion around to suit her Patti Smith-like glam grunge taste and Iggy Pop-like beauty. Outsiders would no doubt think the skinny 50-something (who worked as Tom Ford's consultant at Gucci and YSL for six years and entirely changed the course of fashion) looks as if she's just rolled out of bed, with her bare legs and dishevelled hair. They can't see that she is wearing several thousand dollars worth of Balmain and Givenchy, even if this is largely denim, leather and white shirts.

Glenda Bailey, the editor of US Harper's Bazaar, is one of the top dogs of international fashion. She actually falls into the majority by being nothing at all like you'd imagine a fashion person to be, from her thick regional accent, which can be traced back to working-class roots in Derby, northern England, to her wonky face and mumsy wardrobe. She is rumoured to keep a caravan in Blackpool for holidays and has worn "Jesus sandals" with socks in the front row.

Then there is the British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman, an incredibly down-to-earth, dressed-down fashionista who describes her life as "work-dominated and not particularly glamorous" (rather like her personal style, then?). In The September Issue, I was amazed that so many critics were disappointed that Anna Wintour didn't entirely fit the mould of Miranda Priestly, the ruthless executive of Runway magazine in The Devil Wears Prada. She was criticised for wearing a pretty but incidental floral dress by Caroline Herrera - not Prada. They seemed most disappointed to hear her reveal that, on New Year's Eve, she intended to be at home with her children, watching TV and "wearing Gap".

The only time you will ever find an editor wearing an obvious "standout" piece is six months before it appears on a catwalk, at a charity gala sponsored by the designer in question - certainly not when it becomes available to everyday folk. People forget the most vital point to being a fashionista is not simply looking like one but being one. In other words, successfully boosting your magazine's circulation and advertising revenues with explosive fashion coverage.

Can I suggest a crowd who might prove more riveting for the future? Designers who head up commercial fashion giants such as Topshop (and who, by the way, can earn just as much as those heading luxury French houses) but often get overlooked in the grander scale of things. This lot not only eat and sleep fashion, they relish wearing the sort of crucially trendy clothes that fashion editors reserve for their editorials (but not their wardrobes.)

Perhaps the difference between the dress codes has something to do with the fact that commercial fashion design teams tend to get out more, at least away from the fashion bubble. They spend half the year hunting down street fads in far-flung, exotic cities, and the other half tweaking them into a shape suitable for the average high street customer. In between, they have forged an identity that hints at fashion victim but is more well-heeled fashion veteran (and nowhere near as flashy as, say, hairdressers).

I am guessing that the only reason no one has made a TV show or film about this colourful lot yet has something to do with translating their fashionspeak: "We are channelling body armour inspiration from military training camps... knits with a nibbled effect... American sportswear bunny vibe with a boy-girl military/global traveller like in Rifat Ozbek's all-white collection of 1990..." Er, whatever.

Anyone who wants to see fashion doyennes behaving and looking exactly like they do in the movies would certainly not be disappointed.