Getting Dressed: Alexandra Pringle Brigid Keenan
Bloomsbury editor Alexandra ‘Blingle’ Pringle loves life – and fashion
This time last year the Man Booker Prize went to Lincoln in the Bardo by the American author George Saunders.
In his acceptance speech, Saunders thanked his UK publisher, Bloomsbury, and its editor-in-chief, ‘the miraculous Alexandra Pringle’ – at which point, unusually, the audience burst into spontaneous applause.
‘One could feel the love in the room’, Saunders tells me. ‘And it’s no surprise – she has a truly infectious zest for life… truly a one-of-a-kind person.’
She is my editor too, and a friend. All Pringle’s authors become her devoted friends because she is supportive and loyal to the point of self-sacrifice; always available, always.
She is elfin (she weighs eight stone) and beautiful. She’s now married to Rick Stroud (writer and film-maker), with a close family (son, two stepdaughters, grandchildren) and a list of bestselling authors. At 65, Pringle appears to have it all – but she got off to a slow start:
‘I think there are people that are tortoises and people that are hares; I was definitely a tortoise. I was an academic failure. I spent my whole time reading novels when I was pretending to work. My parents didn’t really know what do to with me.’
Instead of university, Pringle went to Italy to teach English (she has subsequently been awarded two honorary university degrees).
‘The great gift I received from the Italians was the importance of the bella figura. At that time, the 1970s, there was something very anti-beauty about the British (it was deemed shallow, not to say common, to wear make-up and heels), whereas the Italian ethos was: it is your God-given duty to make yourself as attractive as possible.’ Apart from Italy, Pringle says that two things changed her life: Twiggy and Biba. ‘At school, I was so skinny I was teased by all the busty, curvy, swishy girls. Then Twiggy happened and, in one bound, I was free. Biba was the most wonderful shop that ever existed – it was as if everything was made for me.’ Back in London, she worked on Art Monthly and taught English in her spare time. A perk of the magazine job was attending gallery openings – Pringle is a real party girl (though, since a heart attack two years ago, she has had to take life a little more quietly). She married an artist. ‘Then I had to earn some money because he certainly wasn’t going to.’ She found a job with the new publishing house Virago. Her boss was Carmen Callil, who apparently conducted a reign of terror: ‘As the office slave, I was frightened quite a lot of the time and cried in the lavatory, but I learnt everything I needed to know about publishing. I worked at Virago for most of my thirties and, frankly, women in the feminist movement did not much dress to my taste. I wilfully wore tight skirts, lashings of mascara, fishnet stockings and high heels. I guess it was feminism my way. I think women in business should dress to express themselves.’ Pringle has astonishing energy – inherited from her mother, a Jewish Berber from Morocco (her grandfather was a trader in indigo and cotton, who never left Morocco). Pringle’s father was Scottish, and both parents
were teachers and Labour activists; the family lived in Chelsea where she bought most of her clothes in the jumble sales they organised.
‘My mother was massively influential in what I wore. We both wear black and have a weakness for jewellery. Even though she is deep in dementia, she always comments on what I wear.’
Pringle has a passion for jewellery. On her first visit to the Jaipur Literary Festival, she visited the Gem Palace with authors Donna Tartt and Kamila Shamsie. Enthusiastic as a child, she draped herself in necklaces of precious stones – the authors immediately renamed her Alexandra Blingle.
Neither can Pringle resist a bargain (‘I am both Jewish and Scottish after all!’) and, having little time to shop, mostly buys online at The Outnet (www.theoutnet.com), the sale site for Net-a-porter.
Her style has become more androgenous as she has got older. Her long hair is now as short as a boy’s, cut by Pierre at Steven Carey. Regretfully, she no longer wears high heels. ‘I would dance in heels, run for the bus in heels, practically sleep in heels...’ Now she buys ballet pumps (in silver or gold) from French Sole. Her favourite night cream is argan oil – ‘It’s the Moroccan in me.’
Today: clothes by The Outnet and shoes by French Sole
Pringle with her son, Daniel, in 1992