Legendary Kiwi fashion journalist Hilary Alexander dies on her birthday, aged 77

Legendary Kiwi fashion journalist Hilary Alexander dies on her birthday, aged 77
Hilary Alexander in 2012.

Eamonn McCormack/Getty Images

Hilary Alexander in 2012.

Legendary New Zealand-born fashion journalist Hilary Alexander has died, having passed away peacefully in London on February 5, her 77th birthday.

Born in 1946, Alexander began her career as a 16-year-old trainee reporter in Palmerston North, working at the Manawatu Standard. She later worked at The Evening Post and The Dominion in Wellington, and the Ballarat Courier in Australia.

Later, she moved to Hong Kong where she worked at the China Mail and Hong Kong Standard, before establishing herself in London and spending 26 years at the Daily Telegraph.

Highly-respected for her sharp reporting on the global fashion industry and energetic energy, she was a front-row fixture for years and throughout her career became close friends with top designers including Marc Jacobs, Karl Lagerfeld, Gianni Versace and Alexander McQueen.

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In 2013, she was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday honours for services to journalism, and regularly appeared on UK television on Lorraine, GMTV and BBC Breakfast and as a stylist on Britain’s Next Top Model in 2005 and 2006.

She was, according to a British Vogue tribute, said to have coined the expression ‘supermodel’. She was also the reporter who ‘cracked the mystery’ of Kate Middleton’s wedding dress designer before it was revealed, recognising the belt of Alexander McQueen designer Sarah Burton in a photo of her leaving the royal’s hotel.

“In a fashion world dominated at the time by an elite British circle, Hilary never forgot her Kiwi roots or her cool. Never a snob or sycophant, she was kept informed by a tight circle of fashion friends and remained proudest of starting the careers of those she felt had earned their place in fashion,” wrote her former colleague Julia Robson for British Vogue.

In 2012 she told Stuff’s Carolyn Enting that when she began her career, “it wasn’t considered fashion. It was considered the women’s pages. For most journalists in the early 70s, it was considered a graveyard role but I thought I would give it a try.

“I discovered fashion could be news, because everyone wears clothes. You’re always talking about something that people know something about. Every morning, people have to make a decision about what to wear. I found it really exciting.”

She retired in 2011, becoming the President of Graduate Fashion Week and editor-at-large of Hello! Magazine.

Alexander supported her New Zealand roots too, attending the first NZ Fashion Week in 2001 and working as a judge at the iD Dunedin International Emerging Designer Awards in 2012.

Hilary Alexander with the then Duchess of Cornwall at New Zealand House in 2014.

Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Hilary Alexander with the then Duchess of Cornwall at New Zealand House in 2014.

When she attended NZFW, models at the RJC show fell heavily on a soapy runway with Alexander consoling fashion designer Claire Kingan-Jones, and her crying models, backstage with typical humour and flamboyance.

“It was gorgeous, it was a world record. Vivienne Westwood only managed one and you did four,” Alexander was reported to have said.

Veteran UK fashion journalist and friend Suzy Menkes paid tribute to the “sharp, high-level fashion reporter” on Instagram, writing of her signature “ciggy in one hand and a glass in the other” and support of young fashion talent as a trustee of Graduate Fashion Week.

“Perhaps Hilary’s international attitude (in an often local Great Britain) mimicked her own personal history. Born in New Zealand in 1946, she embraced fashion as a news journalist in Hong Kong,” she said. “She therefore moved to England in 1982 with a mind free from the old British ways of class and heritage. She was a dear friend to me – and to so many others. God bless as she departs in peace.”

Others in the global fashion industry paid tribute to Alexander, including photographer Mario Testino who wrote, “RIP dearest Hilary 💔. You shall be remembered by those who knew you and knew your everlasting energy”.

British Vogue editor-in-chief Edward Enninful reflected on her kindness when he was beginning his career. “Everybody wanted to read what she had to say about fashion, but also she was hilarious, you could always feel her energy. She was so alive.”

Drew Elliot, the global director of MAC Cosmetics, wrote simply, “What a legend.”

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