Former fashion director of The Daily Telegraph and pioneering member of the Fleet Street fashion press, Hilary Alexander, has passed away at the age of 77. She was a prolific reporter and writer who personified the vivacious, if slightly narcissistic, fashion industry matron. Hilary, a self-proclaimed workaholic, was a blur of activity as she dashed to cover a fashion show — usually in heels — or to interview whichever new designer she had discovered, cigarette in hand, spectacles perched on the nose, and favourite faux Mayan breastplate necklace clanking.
After leaving her native New Zealand for Australia and finally Hong Kong in pursuit of a career as a journalist, she joined The China Mail as a news reporter and eventually rose to become the paper’s fashion editor. In 1982, she relocated to the United Kingdom and began working on the women’s page of The Daily Telegraph. Alexander was a loyal friend to many in the fashion industry, including designers Gianni Versace, Zandra Rhodes, Lee McQueen, Julien Macdonald, and rising British star, Richard Quinn. She was also known for being the first to break a story (she is credited with coining the term “supermodel”). Everyone knew that whether it was a secret about a royal wedding dress or a law suit, they could trust “Hils” to keep it. It was fine with her if she were the one to reveal the news first.
Hilary had a passion for rock and roll music in addition to frocks and purses. During a New York fashion show, she says, Steve Tyler sang in her ear, turning her into jelly. Another time, she might talk about the time Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones unzipped the front of her ’60s go-go minidress during an interview in Hong Kong and how she bravely went on with the interview without a bra.
She was always professional, even though she loved attending fashion shows and parties (with a glass of champagne in her perfectly manicured hand). Despite working in an industry at the time dominated by an exclusive British group of people, Hilary never lost her Kiwi cool. She had a small group of fashion insider friends who kept her abreast of the industry, and she was always most pleased with the careers she helped launch for those she believed deserved to be at the forefront of fashion.
Sometimes she would go against the grain and report on what was actually happening in the streets, clubs, and suburban beauty parlours in her signature fizz, bang, wallop style for The Daily Telegraph. Despite her reputation for staying out until the wee hours of the morning dancing, she was always the first to arrive at her desk to bang out her twice-weekly Telegraph pages using the two-finger typing technique she had learned in her native England.
She bragged that she had ironed couture evening gowns in the loo of the Taj Mahal on a fashion shoot, and that she had found wi-fi so that she could file fashion copy even while trekking to temples in South America (she was fascinated by ancient history). She was a hardworking professional who enjoyed racy undergarments and literature, and she found the greatest joy in “pinging” a story from the Telegraph flat on Rue de Rivoli in Paris with the help of her trusted staff photographers, Stephen Lock and Heathcliff O’Malley. The night news desk then informed her that she had been featured on the front page. The Louboutins and necklace would be taken off, and the first of several drinks would be offered.
Due to her charisma, wit, and extensive knowledge of the fashion industry, she frequently appeared as a commentator and broadcaster on the topic on the BBC, Lorraine, and global networks like CNN. She has hosted The Clothes Show Live and made guest appearances on shows like Style Challenge. Her dedication to charity was equal to her love of fashion. To celebrate her retirement from the Telegraph in June 2011, the British Fashion Council threw a party at the brand-new (and very chic) St. Pancras Hotel, and since then, Hilary has served as President of Graduate Fashion Week and Editor-at-Large of Hello! magazine.
Photographers, models, make-up artists, and assistants who worked with her during her lifetime have stories to tell about her contagious enthusiasm and love of fashion and life, which she spread wherever she went. Even if it meant getting up at 3 o’clock in the morning and driving for three hours to catch the best sunrise. She’s the author of Leopard, Fashion’s Most Powerful Print (2018), which she dedicated to her favourite fabulous forever print and for which she was twice named British Fashion Journalist of the Year. She was awarded an OBE in 2013 for her services to the fashion industry. Previously, she had stated, “I don’t think that I will ever actually retire from the industry.” My insatiable passion for fine jewellery and fashionable apparel. She became involved with organisations like Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, the Royal Osteoporosis Society, and Fashion for the Brave in her later years. She dedicated a lot of time to encouraging and mentoring young fashion journalists and designers, and she also styled many fashion shows for Breast Cancer Care over the years.
According to Edward Enninful, editor-in-chief of British Vogue and Vogue’s European editorial director, “Hilary was one of the original, old-school fashion journalists.” When I was first starting out, she was very helpful to me. Everyone was interested in what she had to say about the latest trends, and not just because of her wit and infectious enthusiasm. She had such an active spirit.
“Hilary was irrepressible in everything she did,” said Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of US Vogue and Condé Nast’s global chief content officer. The same enthusiasm with which she pursued life she brought to her reporting on the fashion industry. I threw her a retirement party in Paris, except she never left work. Hilary had a hard time leaving a field she was passionate about.
Artist Daniel Lismore lamented, “Her wit, intelligence, and fashion wisdom will be greatly missed.” She was a colourful character who had a great sense of humour.
“Hilary Alexander was the epitome of amazing enthusiasm and hard work,” said fashion designer Zandra Rhodes. She was steadfast in her pursuit of both stories and their accompanying research. The void she has left in our lives will never be filled.
Suzy Menkes wrote on Instagram that Hilary had “an energetic response to anything ‘fashion,'” specifically praising young British talent and photographers who would take rising young models off to distant places.
For the year 2019, Alexander will serve as the Graduate Fashion Foundation’s honorary president. The Chairman, Douglas MacLennan, said that she was “enthralled” by graduating fashion students. She was perpetually drawn to them because of the originality and creativity of their offerings. A shining star in the world of fashion has passed away, but her energy and dedication will live on through the good work of the charity and its board of directors.