For a younger vogue journalist rising up in a genuinely “new India” like I did, worldwide vogue weeks had been par for the course. Due to the genius of economist Manmohan Singh, the economic system had been open for a decade, and international manufacturers and luxurious labels had their grasping eye on India’s one-billion-and-growing numbers. I at all times had a Schengen visa prepared, in order that when Louis Vuitton or Christian Dior’s India representatives known as me over to a vogue capital for a gathering the following day, all I needed to do was pack a small bag and depart.
We had been invited to no less than two vogue weeks a 12 months, and operating into any one of many holy trinity of vogue editors — Anna Wintour, Suzy Menkes or Hilary Alexander — was a significant stan second. I met Hilary at Paris Trend Week for the primary time. It was in 2006 and Rajesh Pratap Singh was displaying a motorcycle-racing impressed assortment at an artwork gallery. As quickly because the present was executed, I hopped over and launched myself. All of us needed to jot down like her and Menkes, wield that a lot authority with our pens. However we additionally adopted every part they wrote as a result of they taught us amateurs and formed our opinions a lot.
A Kiwi in London
Hilary Alexander, who died on her birthday on February 5, 2023, was the epitome of vogue’s Fleet Road. Ever-smiling, a cigarette in a single hand, itsy glasses sitting loosely on her nostril, she was the image of a buzzing vogue business. Like a great previous newspaper hack, she hailed from New Zealand and have become a reporter in Hong Kong earlier than shifting to the UK to be vogue director at The Every day Telegraph. She beloved ‘breaking’ a narrative, and even coined the phrase ‘supermodel’. She was mates with Gianni Versace, Zandhra Rhodes, and Alexander McQueen.
In Paris in 2006, Hilary (she insisted I not name her Ms Alexander) was all smiles and a strolling stick because of a foot harm. She wore a printed maxi gown with boots, and a silver necklace. “Is it from India?” I enquired. “No, it’s Mayan,” she stunned me. I used to be too younger to know that the world was past geographical boundaries the place handcrafted traditions had been involved. That chunky silver jewelry traversed Kutch, Egypt, Morocco and South America. And people thick geometrical weaves of the loin loom tie in Northeast India with Thailand, Mexico and Guatemala. Hilary was the queen of ‘unique’ artisanal crafts, because of her Kiwi roots, I assumed. We met just a few instances thereafter, she at all times mentioned hiya or clinked her champagne flute with mine.
It was at Lahore Trend Week in 2013 that we actually spent a while collectively. She was 66 then, however so alert, astute and curious, I used to be blown away by her professionalism. It was new for us in India, the place vogue writers had been spoilt by the labels and their PR groups that wooed them. I believe my tribe was among the many first to partake of ‘vogue criticism’ as we all know it now.
I keep in mind returning and writing about her for The Indian Specific the place I labored then. “At 66, she has the vitality of a youngster on a chemical substance,” I had mentioned. She was obsessive about Twitter then, and had 2,50,000 followers on it. On the time, she had retired from her submit at The Every day Telegraph. She nonetheless wrote for them commonly, was a trustee of the Graduate Trend Week, and hosted no less than two tv exhibits. She was additionally engaged on a e-book, she mentioned (Hilary would launch Leopard: Trend’s Most Highly effective Print in 2018). And had simply been appointed as advisor at Marks & Spencer.
Jugaad and wine from plastic bottles
When Hilary died earlier this week, Wintour acknowledged, “Hilary was irrepressible in every part she did. She lived life to the fullest and her reporting on vogue was simply as dedicated. I threw a celebration for her in Paris when she retired… besides she by no means retired! Hilary might by no means fairly depart an business that she beloved a lot.”
Hilary was pleasant to spend time with, a riot as a front-row companion (she guffawed loudly at boutique proprietor Pradeep Hirani’s one-liners), she absorbed every part. She by no means spoke about herself or her glory (she could be bestowed with the Order of the British Empire later that 12 months); she solely listened to what you needed to say. Like me, she wished John Galliano had continued at Dior, and was amazed at how open and politically opinionated Pakistani society was. Her room was subsequent to mine, and he or she would slip me a word underneath the door reminding me to be prepared on time. She was at all times 5 minutes early.
We had been plied with presents, however she was decided to pay for her purchases. I had missed designer Sania Maskatiya’s vogue present, so Hilary dragged me to the designer’s boutique the following day to see how wonderful the garments had been. She helped me choose a digi-printed kurta.
We drank wine from plastic Pepsi bottles between the exhibits. Just like the Lahoris, she beloved a late-night occasion. She was glad she was allowed to smoke indoors in Pakistan.
I taught her the Indian phrase ‘jugaad’, and that it meant ‘getting issues executed anyhow’. Once we needed to flag down a passing BMW to the airport when our journey broke down, she texted me from her aircraft seat: “It’s jugaad. XOXO”. And we laughed.
The author is a seasoned vogue journalist who believes the world’s economic system will be ascertained by the size of hemlines.