SUZY MENKES AL­WAYS IN VOGUE

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - BY SANDY RASHTY

AFASHIONABLE 15 min­utes late for our in­ter­view, Suzy Menkes ar­rives at her sur­pris­ingly mod­estly-sized of­fice at Condé Nast In­ter­na­tional near Re­gent Street, trade­mark high quiff in place and clutch­ing two stylish but prac­ti­cal Longchamp bags. Apol­o­gis­ing for the work-re­lated de­lay and ig­nor­ing the con­stant ring­ing of her iPhone, Vogue’s first In­ter­na­tional Edi­tor adds: “I’ll kiss you be­cause you had to wait.” My own apol­ogy is for hav­ing worn all-black on a hot day — in con­trast to her summer skirt. But she re­as­sur­ingly re­sponds: “Heav­ens, I spent so many years in France. If you weren’t wear­ing black there was some­thing wrong with you. I think hav­ing a ba­sic uni­form of dress that you dress-up is very in­tel­li­gent. You have to wear what suits you.

“I have a great deal of sym­pa­thy for Jewish women who are look­ing for some­thing suit­able, but cov­eredup. I broke my knee and am very self-con­scious about the scars.

“To find some­thing to cover that up apart from a pair of trousers is quite dif­fi­cult. But they are out there. I went to Top­shop yes­ter­day and there were lots of long skirts — in fact, many of the skirts came down to the an­kle. With my knowl­edge in fashion his­tory, ex­po­sure has to be fol­lowed by cover up.”

Mat­ters of style have al­ways been paramount to Menkes, who has edited the fashion pages of The Times, Daily Ex­press and Evening Stan­dard — and was a reg­u­lar JC con­trib­u­tor in the 1970s. Now at the age of 70, her new role places her at the helm of all Vogue web­sites from Bri­tain to China. Her crit­i­cal opinion — si­mul­ta­ne­ously de­scrip­tive and ro­man­tic — now in­forms mil­lions of on­line read­ers across the globe.

The suit­ably trend-set­ting dig­i­tal role fol­lows 25 years as the In­ter­na­tional Her­ald Tri­bune’s fashion critic and re­sulted from an ap­proach by In­ter­na­tional Condé Nast chair­man Jonathan Ne­w­house.

“I al­ways felt that I hadn’t quite got a pres­ence dig­i­tally — it was very dif­fi­cult,” she says. “Jonathan Ne­w­house said he wanted to speak to me in De­cem­ber, but I had no idea what it was about. Then he pro­posed this. It seemed some­thing re­ally won­der­ful. I

‘I AL­WAYS FELT I HADN’T GOT A PRES­ENCE DIG­I­TALLY — IT WAS VERY DIF­FI­CULT’

found it very ex­cit­ing at this stage of my ca­reer.”

Menkes’s warmth, no-non­sense man­ner and pro­fes­sion­al­ism go some way to ex­plain­ing why she con­tin­ues to thrive in a no­to­ri­ously cut-throat in­dus­try.

Ex­plain­ing the virtues of her quiff, for ex­am­ple, she says: “A woman hair­dresser is so good when you say that you want a hairstyle that doesn’t flop over your face when you’re writ­ing. They don’t in­vent some in­cred­i­bly com­pli­cated up-do. They think of your real life. I can do it any­where, it’s only one comb,” she adds, of­fer­ing a demon­stra­tion. “Women should have clothes and hair­styles that work as hard as they do.”

In her first week at Vogue, she pro­duced three widely-cir­cu­lated ar­ti­cles. “Be­ing me, I threw my­self in,” she says. “Ev­ery­body thought I would write one story ev­ery 10 days, but ac­tu­ally I did three sto­ries that week, be­cause I’m that sort of person.

“I think the idea for me is to have a voice, an opinion. To have some­thing in­ter­est­ing and well­re­searched to say, to shine out from all the other me­dia stuff.”

Menkes’s dig­i­tal en­thu­si­asm re­flects her keen in­ter­est in so­cial me­dia. She reg­u­larly tweets and posts pho­tos of fel­low in­dus­try per­son­al­i­ties on In­sta­gram — from Amer­i­can rap­per Kanye West to Sa­man­tha Cameron, who heads lux­ury Bri­tish brand Smyth­son.

It’s a world away from how she used to op­er­ate. “When I worked for the Evening Stan­dard, I would run out of a show and call in a story. I would call out, ‘this is Suzy — S for sugar, U for un­cle, Z for ze­bra, Y for yacht’. I can still do all those let­ters.” But does she miss the fashion world be­fore the ex­plo­sion in high street chain re­tail

ers took away the mid­dle ground? As an an­swer, she cites the ex­am­ple of a Jewish mother look­ing to buy her­self some­thing spe­cial for a wed­ding. “You’re faced with a choice of a £1,200 out­fit or a £120 one — but not in the silk that you dreamed of. Then there’s the eth­i­cal stand. Women in Bangladesh be­ing paid piti­less amounts of money so Western peo­ple can wear clothes that are cheap to buy.”

Menkes’s con­tri­bu­tion to the in­dus­try has been recog­nised with ac­co­lades from an OBE to a Lé­gion d’hon­neur and an honorary fel­low­ship from Is­rael’s lead­ing fashion de­sign col­lege, Shenkar.

She still feels “trans­ported when there is a re­ally great show. This is what we long for, we peo­ple who love fashion. Some­times it doesn’t come for a long time. I wouldn’t re­ally call my­self a ro­man­tic. I like to try and trans­fer what I see into words, so peo­ple un­der­stand it.

“You shouldn’t make elab­o­rate judge­ments. You should try and re­port what you see, not put your­self into what you’re re­port­ing. For ex­am­ple, Chanel. I don’t look good in the clothes. They don’t suit my char­ac­ter. Yet I’ve seen some of the most heart-stop­ping shoes by Karl Larg­er­feld for Chanel. I re­ally put a di­vide be­tween what I re­spond to per­son­ally and

what I see when I’m re­port­ing on the run­way.” Yet hav­ing re­tained a pas­sion for the cat­walk sparked by watch­ing her first Nina Ricci show at the age of 17, she re­grets that more peo­ple don’t make their own clothes — as two of her five grand­chil­dren have started do­ing.

In re­cent times, the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the fashion world and the Jewish com­mu­nity has been a tense one.

De­signer John Gal­liano has been wel­comed back into the in­dus­try fold af­ter an an­tisemitic out­burst which cost him his job at Chris­tian Dior in 2011.

Menkes does not be­lieve Gal­liano “has the tem­per­a­ment to cope with the enor­mity of a fashion la­bel. If I had a magic wand, I would like to see him go back to what he loves — mak­ing a few beau­ti­ful dresses.”

Then there is the on­go­ing is­sue of UK re­tail­ers sell­ing gar­ments fea­tur-

ing Nazi sym­bols, spark­ing fears of a trend to­wards fas­cist fashion.

“I don’t think it’s a trend, I think it’s care­less­ness,” is the view of Menkes. “These hor­rific sym­bols are just another print to so many peo­ple. I find it hard to be­lieve that peo­ple who buy these T-shirts have the depth of knowl­edge and un­der­stand­ing to think: ‘I feel great be­cause I‘m wear­ing some­thing that sug­gests a Nazi uni­form.’

“It’s in­ex­cus­able for peo­ple to use these things. I think it’s very good if peo­ple draw at­ten­tion to it.”

But Menkes, who lives in Prim­rose Hill, un­der­stands why many in the in­dus­try have stayed silent.

“Peo­ple are quite fright­ened of go­ing to the me­dia and speak­ing out.” It left them open “to quite scur­rilous commentary”.

She speaks from ex­pe­ri­ence. In 2000 and 2010, she re­spec­tively

‘IT’S IN­EX­CUS­ABLE FOR PEO­PLE TO USE NAZI SYM­BOLS’

re­fused to at­tend shows at the Paris and Lon­don fashion weeks which fell on Yom Kip­pur. She re­mains “shocked that Yom Kip­pur can­not be taken into the equa­tion of ‘un­ac­cept­able to do’ for fashion shows. “Yom Kip­pur is a very spe­cial day and although there may be a fall­ing num­ber of Jewish peo­ple i n fashion, there are still more than enough to speak out. I was not sup­ported on this by other peo­ple in the fashion world.

“I find the ex­cuses given by fashion com­pa­nies re­ally galling. They say, ‘we had no idea’. Re­ally?

“I still feel strongly on that but I’m sorry to say, I feel I’ve lost the cause.”

A Lib­eral Jewish Sy­n­a­gogue, St John’s Wood mem­ber, Menkes de­clines to re­veal what Jewish char­i­ties she sup­ports for fear of ap­pear­ing boast­ful. How­ever, she is hap­pier to dis­cuss her head­wear dilem­mas for fam­ily cel­e­bra­tions.

“For my son Sam­son’s bar­mitz­vah, I re­mem­ber it so clearly. I think all the fam­ily ten­sion that sur­rounds such events was en­tirely fo­cused on my hat.

“It was a beau­ti­ful hat by Chris­tian Lacroix, black and in ev­ery way en­chant­ing. I still have it. The whole fam­ily turned against me and I meekly agreed that I wouldn’t wear it.

“Then I thought, ‘this hat is me and you have to ac­cept me for who I am’ and I wore it. “My el­dest grand­daugh­ter has her bat­mitz­vah com­ing up but I’m not go­ing to start en­cour­ag­ing con­cerns about my hat.”

PHOTO: CHRIS MOORE

SuzyMenkes:“Women should have hair­styles that work as hard as they do” — and ( left) in her Cam­bridge Univer­sity days

PHOTO: ULI REIN­HARDT/ZEITENSPIEGEL

Al­ways do­ing things in style: Suzy Menkes at work at the In­ter­na­tional Her­ald Tri­bune of­fices in Paris in 1990

Suzy Menkes with Anna Win­tour and ( left) as sketched by il­lus­tra­tor Ben­jamin Sei­dler

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