Looking back, which experiences, jobs and personality traits do you think have really helped you? They all have, but the ones where I’ve had great editors have obviously been the ones where I’ve learnt the most. Nicola Jeal was a great boss at Elle magazine because she’d spring stories on me at very short notice; equally Jo Ellison, my commissioning editor for my current column at the Financial Times, (who also commissioned me for Vogue when she was there) is one of the best editors I’ve had – she can cut copy subtly, while still keeping your voice which is a real skill I’ve tried to emulate when editing the work of others at Porter magazine where I am currently beauty director. Equally, I still look back with great fondness at my student years, when I fearlessly tracked down music artists like Gil Scott Heron and interviewed them, then submitted copy to one particular freesheet in Los Angeles called Urb. I never asked for payment, I just liked the thrill of meeting interesting, talented people, finding out what inspires them, writing them up, and seeing my name in print. Then there are my many years as a beauty director, some of which made its way into my novel, ‘Face Value’. I certainly couldn’t have written that book without being exposed to magazines and beauty in the way that I have.
What inspired you to start writing? Very hard to pin this down to one thing. My mother always read to me as a child; my father always handed me books to read as a teenager (mostly a lot of Graham Greene and George Orwell). I don’t think we were particularly academic or literary as a family (although my mother went on to write a memoir about her childhood in Burma called ‘A World Overturned’), but it was just what you did in those days, after watching Blue Peter/Jackanory/Mr Ben – you read. For as long as I remember I always wrote stories, often featuring people being murdered. I used to make magazines on the kitchen table, tearing out the images from my mother’s Family Circle and Good Housekeeping magazines (I’d love to pretend we were one of those families with copies of Vogue and Bazaar strewn everywhere, but we weren’t) and sticking them on to white paper to illustrate the articles I’d written. At the same time I was obsessed with being a detective, and used to copy the tips from my Usborne guidebooks on how to be a detective into my own, shorter guidebooks; and write rulebooks on secret clubs, all inspired by Enid Blyton. I had a very conventional childhood, but as the middle child of five, I was left alone to my own devices so I suppose that inventing stories was the best way to entertain myself.
When was the first time you were aware of Ralph Lauren and his style? Until I wrote about Ralph Lauren, I didn’t “get” him – I thought his clothes were for tall, thin blonde women, ie not me. And to a degree they are! But ploughing through all the Vogue archives I discovered what a massive influence he has been on contemporary fashion, culture, and interiors – I now think of him as a quiet revolutionary and definitely one of the legends of our time.
What inspired you to write this book? The fact that it was so out of my comfort zone. The desire to learn something new about someone I knew very little about. The unlimited access to the famous Vogue archives.
What was the best thing about writing this book? Hearing that he loved the book. I never got to meet Ralph Lauren while writing it – the series of books is based on Vogue’s portrayal of each designer, so you’re immersed in tearsheets from the past with no access to the designer himself. Then about six months later, I was coming out of a lift at the Hotel Bristol and he was walking into it. I introduced myself, we shook hands, my friend took a quick snap of us on her phone, and I felt that a mission had been accomplished.
Which are your favourite images in this book? There are so many, and I was able to edit the images from literally thousands. If I had to narrow it down to three, I’d pick Arthur Elgort’s 1992 American Vogue picture of Christy Turlington among the Ardudwy Male Voice Choir, (p45) mostly because I love imagining how the singers must have felt when the magazine came out. (Do they have pictures of it in their homes now?); I love the 2000 photograph for American Vogue of Ralph Lauren with his wife Ricky, (p147) taken by Bruce Weber – the photographer is synonymous with all of Lauren’s best advertising images, and you can see how relaxed and happy the couple are in his company; and finally I love the Mario Testino image from British Vogue in 2009 – the gold sequinned harem pants with cotton shirt shot in the desert with a motorbike (p75) are a very modern version of Ralph Lauren’s signature style, and not what you’d expect at all from him.
Do you have a favourite museum or art gallery? I love the Victoria & Albert museum. I visit often, I love the sense of space, the enclosed garden, the knowledge that I could explore it every day for the rest of my life and still probably never discover everything there is to know there.
When you go into a bookshop, which department do you head straight to? It depends. If I have a book out, I’ll check out the relevant section to see how many copies they have of mine, and move it (note, singular!) discreetly to the front of the pile! If not, I’ll head to Crime. Currently though I’m avoiding book shops, as I have so many piles of books that are un-read and I’m ashamed at how little time I now spend reading, and how much time I spend on er.. Instagram.
What are your favourite tools or products? In the kitchen – a lemon zester, a Vitamix, my mum’s old cast iron frying pan which weighs a ton and is about 45 years old and the record player. (You must always have music in the kitchen). In the bathroom – a Clarisonic cleanser, a bag of Magnesium salts, my fragranced oils from Le Labo. Everywhere else – my MacBookAir, although I wish I’d bought the one with the slightly bigger screen.
What are you working on next? I am half way through writing a rom-com screenplay; I’m on draft number 5 of a new novel; and I’d like to write a new beauty book, about happiness and ageing.
Read my review of ‘Vogue on Ralph Lauren’ here.