Lunching at Vogue

A thick cream envelope replete with a large Vogue logo plopped through the door on the 28th May. I knew what it was, and it had finally arrived.

I had entered the Vogue Talent Contest in April, as a what I call 'outlet from revision' when in fact I desperately didn't want to be revising ox-bow lakes. 

I was required to write an Interview, a Social Observation piece and three Pitches for ideas suitable for Vogue. I managed to write them before the proper revision started- after the Easter holidays. 
They were sent off with a rather unattractive head shot of me and my contact details.

Now it's May and with half closed eyes I opened the envelope. 

"I'm delighted to announce that you have been shortlisted for the Vogue Talent Contest 2015." 
An audible gasp erupted, and the cat scuttled away. I then proceeded to read the rest of the letter, inviting me to a lunch at the Vogue House in Hanover Square. 
"Yours sincerely, Alexandra Shulman, Editor-in-chief" signed with a flourishing signature that only the best career women can master.
My mother exclaimed: "Ooo we must go shopping"
Many shaky excited phone calls later, and it was time to head back into reality, finish my GCSE's and sort out my summer holiday.

Fast forward to June, outfit bought, research done. I was due at Vogue at 12:45, on the 24th June. I pottered around the house fretting, butterflies in my stomach and trying to perfect my eyeliner with extraordinarily shaky hands. 

I arrived in Hanover Square, took the compulsory outside Vogue picture and headed through the alarmingly fast revolving door. 

I was greeted with a smile and a name badge and joined the rest of the finalists on a red leather bench- very Vogue... darling.

After a brief chat with a girl sitting next to me, Elizabeth White- Frances Bentley (the Managing Editor's) assistant came and told us that the editors were ready and waiting upstairs excited to meet us all. Cue more butterflies. 

We were lead up a flight of stairs and into a cream coloured room with black and white photos lining the walls, and there they all were. Smiling and resplendent with name badges.
Champagne was being circulated- quickly plucked from the tray by a very nervous me. 
They were just all so lovely. Smiling and welcoming and I eased immediately in their company, conversation flowed smoothly and, thankfully, there were no spillages on my part. I spoke to Hannah Rothschild and we immediately hit it off, I spoke to her about my interview with Steffi, and she seemed fascinated by her story. 

We were then invited into the dining room, this was a similar room, with large windows, and beautiful black and white photos lining the room, there was a large oak table in the centre set immaculately with glasses, silver cutlery, and place cards with our names in calligraphy.

When we were all seated Alexandra Shulman spoke about the competition, how far we have come and what an achievement this was. She told us that our table manners and conversational skills wouldn't be judged- I could almost hear the collective sign of relief. 

I was seated next to Sarah Harris the Fashion Features Director, who was at the head of the table. Sarah is strikingly beautiful, with sharp features and beautiful long silver hair. 

She was dressed immaculately in a grey tee and sharp black blazer thrown over her shoulders. 
We chatted over our first course about all sorts, how she got to her position, my trip to India, and what I thought about the way the women dressed, and the beautiful patterns, colours and fabrics they wore. 
Later in the conversation she remarked- "you were born in 1999... but that was like yesterday, that must mean that I started working here when you were four!" she was easy company, friendly, witty, sharp and intelligent.

Then our plates were cleared away and Sarah Harris was replaced with Alexandra Shulman dressed in a black, white and grey checked dress, which, as one of the finalists noticed matched the chairs. 

Alexandra was all that I imagined and more, she had read my pieces thoroughly and we spoke about politics, the recent election and our horror at the Conservative majority, however, she remarked, a Conservative majority would be great for the magazine. 
We conversed about the Western fashion culture where clothes are becoming cheaper and cheaper - the way they are produced in Bangladesh - how we assuage our guilt by donating our discarded clothes to charity shops, which are then sold onto African street markets - we   are unaware of the damaging impact this has on the African textile industry.

Hannah, who was sitting next to me leaned in mid conversation and took me rather by surprise when she asked me who my favourite painters were, (Rembrandt because of his use of light and Hockney for his use of colour if I remember correctly) because she was talking about art with another finalist. She also asked me about Literature and my favourite writers (John Steinbeck and Ira Levin). 

We then got chatting again, talking about education, literature, and all sorts.
Conversation flowed, and food was finished, then before long the editors moved on, and Alexandra Shulman was replaced with Emily Sheffield, the Deputy Editor. We spoke over a divine coffee ice cream (with little chocolate flakes- best part) and fruit, I talked to her about school, the education system and how it desperately needs changing and re-evaluating, her job and my love of theatre. She was sharp clever and intimidating, in a good way, she challenged and pushed me further in conversation. 

Then the lunch was finished, the coffee drank, and plates cleared away. We were invited on to the roof (oh yes) to have our picture taken as a group, which will be featured in October's issue. 

Individual shots were then taken which allowed me to talk more with the other finalists and ask them about what they wrote. They were warm, lovely and a great laugh. One girl had flown in from Helsinki, another was studying at Harvard. I, however was the baby of the group at just 16. Most of them were in their 20's.

We were invited on a non-compulsory tour of the offices (as if anyone would say no) which was fascinating. 

Rails of clothes lined the narrow hallways, and we entered into a large open-plan office, with people typing away into that all familiar Vogue page layout. Different issues of the magazine were scattered everywhere, and hundreds of mismatched photographs and keepsakes lined the walls. 
The editors were all quick and eager to answer questions and describe their role and how they ended up in their position. 
One of the women in the beauty department described herself as "a skincare whore". The trend spotting department kept laughing and exclaimed, "we're normally much better at this- gosh you must be wondering what we've been smoking" (nothing I can assure you, nothing). 

The tour was fascinating and informative, I got to see just how many people, and how much work goes into one issue. They were also very excitedly planning their centenary celebrations and their massive issue to mark the occasion. 

There was not even a whiff of Devil Wears Pradaness about it. The girls were happy, fun and quick to help or answer questions and it seemed like such a great environment to work in. 

Finally, we were taken to see the library and archive where they bind and keep every issue of any Conde Nast publications since 1950. The first ever Vogue however is kept in a vault in the basement, much to our disappointment.

I floated out of the building in a relative state of shock immediately walked the wrong way to the tube station, with two other of the finalists. After rectifying our inadvertence, we chatted about our pieces, the experience and where we were from.

It was such an honour and rare opportunity to see behind the closed doors, and to see just how much work and time that is spent on the magazine. 

It was a privilege to meet Alexandra Shulman, Hannah Rothschild, Sarah Harris and all the other editors, women I look up to and admire.
I was lucky to have the chance to talk to them in depth about many different subjects, learned a huge amount, and was given valuable pieces of advice and humbling compliments, and regardless of the outcome I will treasure this experience. 

I am yet to hear the result of the competition but will keep you updated via my social media below, and I'll post my three pieces up shortly.

Today's quote: "A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others." -Ayn Rand


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