“The dizzy industry doyenne”
Obituary at Vogue
❚ ONE OF BRITISH JOURNALISM’S greatest characters has died and you won’t hear a harsh word spoken about her – apart from on the hilarious spoof tribute page produced for Hilary Alexander’s leaving party in 2011 after donkeys years as fashion director of the Daily Telegraph, when it enjoyed the highest daily sales among UK quality newspapers. During the 1980s-90s I worked regularly alongside Hilary and also dared go out on the town with her to witness her beaming smile and unique dress sense turn heads in all directions. As British fashion grew in credibility on the world stage, Hilary became one of a triumvirate of British fashion editors the international circuit took very seriously, the others being Suzy Menkes of the International Herald Tribune and Anna Wintour of US Vogue, who were to clock up two OBEs and a DBE. Hilary was twice named British Fashion Journalist of the Year. Two obituaries remark that she pursued work like “a Stakhanovite” implying exceptional efficiency.
Early yesterday, Hilary’s 77th birthday, she died from a heart attack while in hospital. Our mutual colleague Penelope McDonald recalls the laughs they had enjoyed over the years – especially at the annual Fenwick Christmas shopping evenings to which Hils attracted leading designers. She devoted much time to inspiring and mentoring young fashionistas. In 2002, the artist Georg Meyer-Wiel remembers his graduation show in menswear at the RCA because he met big names such as Mary Quant and Issey Miyake in the company of Hils at the gala.
When I was editing the student edition of the Telegraph in 1988 Hils was keen to shoot a winter fashion feature with students in the coldest place in the UK. Amazingly this apparently proved not to be Scotland but the Tyneside estuary which receives freezing oceanic winds from the east. Consequently there we were in December fitting out some model students at Newcastle’s Uni and Poly with warm winter wear for our pages. In about 2002 my colourful Blitz Kid friend Judith Frankland recalls meeting Hils in Paris at a party for John Malkovich. She says: “I was dressed up as you can well imagine and she came straight over to me and said ‘I have to know who you are’ and smiled and told me to contact her if I was in London. Of course I didn’t have to ask who she was! It’s a good job she hadn’t seen me mere minutes later as my platform departed from the rest of my shoe, grrr!”
Paul Hill, foreign desk manager at the Daily Telegraph, also recalls: “She used to organise the Christmas shows in Canada Square, taking over the canteen for the day and putting catwalks in and often filming them for DVD circulation to staff. I was in one (as one of five Elvis impersonators singing appallingly badly All Shook Up) and Hils was everywhere with what started as a full bottle of scotch, but by the end of the show was almost empty and she was a very happy and relaxed director! She would inveigle all sorts of seriously-minded staffers into these annual events, famously Lord Bill Deedes to dress up – make-up and all – as Mick Jagger to mime along to Brown Sugar.”
In today’s Vogue obituary Anna Wintour says: “Hilary was irrepressible in everything she did. She lived life to the fullest and her reporting on fashion was just as committed. I threw a party for her in Paris when she retired – except she never retired! Hilary could never quite leave an industry that she loved so much.”
In the Telegraph obituary Lisa Armstrong writes: “To sit next to Hilary at the shows to be treated to an experience that was a unique blend of massage and wrestling match. Bobbing to the music – whatever it was – she was always the first to bounce out of her seat as the models were still filing off the catwalks, the ears of Uncle Bulgaria’s hat flopping away as she stormed the catwalk to get backstage before everyone else. She would do anything to get a story.”
Our set of photos here from a Google search for Hils sums up her eternal exuberance (“I will not stop flying. I will not stop smoking.”). Her home life in Dulwich was surprisingly private. Born in New Zealand, Hils was educated in Hong Kong and, having ended an unfortunate early marriage, she leaves no partner. Her funeral could be a starry event, though my own 2011 tribute in the link below is probably unbeatable!
➢ Previously at Shapersofthe80s:
2011, The incomparable Hilary Alexander makes her own front-page news as she leaves the Telegraph
➢ “More stamina than teenagers. To sit next to her at the shows was truly an experience” – Daily Telegraph obituary
➢ “A discerning eye for detail and relentless pursuit of a story made her name” – The Times obituary… “ She was on first-name terms with many designers but never forgot the readers for whom she was writing. “It’s hard for the average person to decide what to wear,” she said. “Our role is to take the threads that come through from the catwalk shows and say ‘This is the way to wear things’.” She saw fashion as more than mere style and was instrumental in making it newsworthy. “It’s not frivolous – any industry that employs half a million people and generates billions a year is a serious news subject. ”
THE BRITISH FASHION COUNCIL’S
VIDEO TRIBUTE TO OUR HILS