Alexander the Amazing

Lessons to be learned from the grande dame of British fashion.

Written by Namrata Zakaria | Published:May 2, 2013 2:46 am

Lessons to be learned from the grande dame of British fashion.

I’ve just returned from a whirlwind trip to Lahore where the Pakistan Fashion Design Council was hosting its sixth edition of Pakistan Fashion Week. My co-guest was someone I can hardly call a colleague (she’s 66,and along with Anna Wintour and Suzy Menkes,makes the holy trinity of fashion’s legendary editors): Hilary Alexander.

Over the last decade,I’ve run into Hilary at several fashion weeks in Europe. We’ve only shared front row space and the occasional glass of wine. But this time especially,I got to bring myself up-close and personal with the role model of every fashion writer on this planet.

I say “role model” rather loosely of course. I’ve been writing on fashion for 13 years,when there were maybe two other fashion writers in India. Fashion shows were held to bring entertainment at a party,like a qawwali performance or a DJ,I suppose. There were no fashion journalism schools (there was barely one journalism course which was best avoided),and only one international fashion magazine.

But in this quick decade or so,fashion writing in India has caught up with the rest of the world. Magazine editors are big celebrities at fashion shows and there’s a new blogger every day. Each one of us has read Hilary’s work and about her,but I can’t think of anyone who can be like her.

At 66,she has the energy of a teenager on a chemical substance. She retired from her position in Britain’s The Daily Telegraph two years ago,but she’s still busier than any one of us. She still writes for the Telegraph,is a trustee of Graduate Fashion Week and will be hosting two TV shows. She’s also bringing out a biography when she gets the time. She attends as many fashion weeks as she can,her Twitter account has over 250,000 followers and has just been appointed as a consultant at Marks & Spencer.

Hilary is much more than a workaholic,she is as thorough and professional as one can get. In an age where fashion writers drop names and pretend to know it all,Hilary is only curious. She almost never talks about herself or who she met where,she only asks questions. She listens to everyone and takes in everything.

If she agrees with my sorrow over John Galliano,she won’t patronise me with her opinion. She’s amazed at how open Pakistani society is about discussing politics or even terrorism.

Her room was right next to mine,and she often slid in a handwritten note reminding me to get ready on time and that she’ll be waiting in the car. (She was always five minutes early).

Only on the last day,I was told by our hosts that her desk was mistakenly placed in her bathroom. She never complained about it,she only fussed when she couldn’t get a strong wi-fi for her several tweets.

She was plied with presents,but she paid for whatever she purchased (a moral high-ground even I find hard to maintain). I missed Sania Maskatiya’s show and she dragged me to the designer’s store the next day.

She parties into the night. I learnt that she was a sometime hippy and even a DJ. She’s besotted when I teach her an Indian word,“jugaad”,for well,“getting things done”. We drink wine surreptitiously in a plastic Pepsi bottle between fashion shows. She’s excited when she’s allowed to smoke a cigarette indoors. We flag down a passing BMW and hitch a ride when our car to the airport breaks down. “It’s jugaad. XOXO”,she texts me sitting in her plane.

In an earlier interview to a website,Hilary had stated,“You can have fun with fashion,even when you’re 90 or 100”. She seems determined to show us how.

namratanow@gmail.com

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