❚ YOU MIGHT EXPECT a diamond-encrusted Rolex watch from the chief exec when you retire as fashion director of a national newspaper running a 20-strong team chasing trends on five continents. Plus a rope of Chanel pearls from a secret admirer. You’ve already been feted at a starry slap-up reception hosted by your employer and the British Fashion Council for your 26 years’ worth of being an international icon of the fashion press. But the one present you’re really never quite braced for comes when you invite all your fellow hacks down to the local tavern to see you off the premises. It is the best present in every hack’s career: an unholy spoof front page starring you, in which all your “friends” rib you mercilessly over your really annoying habits, and your little foibles — such as the menagerie of animal furs you’ve worn on your head from racoons to foxes to ferrets. Or for the sake of argument, your taste for Marlboro Lights, Maasai jewellery, a straight bob cut by Warren at Nicky Clark, and large glasses of wine beside your laptop while you tweet hourly to your 183,000 followers.
The highly sarcastic page will make you cringe when it’s presented in the pub, because they obviously choose the worst possible picture of you they can find. But you preen secretly as you bask in the indirect admiration of your workmates — which will never before have been expressed to your face by anybody in the highly competitive newspaper business — and you’ll frame your impudent page and hang it in the bathroom with pride. It is better than any Oscar recognising a lifetime’s achievement.
Last night near The Daily Telegraph’s office in Victoria, it was the turn of the doyenne of British fashionistas, Hilary Alexander. If she’d worked on a glossy magazine the page would have contained a handful of satirical coverlines. But a broadsheet newspaper page can hold about 2,000 well-crafted words. Having dealt with Hils’ trademark hats in row of pictures across the page top, a selection of stories dug for dirt. We read of a recent fashion emergency which brought chaos to Heathrow airport when the star writer’s dongle would not work and World Travellers piled in to help. “This is nothing,” the doyenne commented. “I once sent copy on a Hussein Chalayan show from a nightclub in Brixton at 1am.”
Another story deals with her passion for cats which rank up there with Karl, Stella and Donatella. Then there’s a report from Karl Lagerfeld’s allotment where he is pictured sporting green wellies, while another attributes a craze for sparkly hairspray to the “Hilary effect” following a TV appearance. But the splash, as we pros call the lead story on the front page, reveals Hils’ secret yen since her schooldays — she always wanted to be an archeologist in the footsteps of Jacquetta Hawkes, who also favoured a neat line in floppy brimmed hats while digging for relics. Funnily enough, the one present Hils could have done with last night was a trowel.
The breathless splash tells us: “Telegraph editors are braced for a run of front-page stories about developments in ancient Babylon. With Hilary Alexander shifting her sights from fashion to archeology, midnight calls to the news desk are expected reporting events in Mesopotamia. “The writing is on the wall for Nebuchadnezzar,” she may be shouting down the line. Another day she could bring news of a rehang in the gardens of Babylon.” And so on.
The truth is of course that Hils will continue to write about fashion as a freelance, just try to stop her. A close second-best present was a fabulous series of personal tributes in the specially commissioned video first screened at the Fashion Council bash earlier in June, where everyone danced to Hilary’s playlist of Abba, Queen and dance anthems long after midnight (she is an inveterate nightclubber). Friends had a chance to view the video last night at the St George’s Tavern. In it BFC chairman Harold Tillman says unreservedly: “She deserves the highest honour you could possibly give somebody in her profession — she is brilliant.”