Lisa Armstrong’s rise through the ranks at British Elle, Vogue, The Independent and The Times, to the revered post of fashion editor at The Daily Telegraph, was not the career path she envisaged from her bucolic ‘fashion-free’ childhood in the Devon countryside. Today, Armstrong is an authority on fashion and how to wear it, but there was some experimentation along the way – exasperatedly, she recalls when living in Paris as an au pair, she spent her salary on an entirely mauve wardrobe.

Her break came when then editor of Elle, Sally Brampton, spotted her freelance writing while she was working at a small London fitness magazine after graduating in journalism from City University. She joined Brampton’s team, editing the arts section, but her attention was soon diverted: ‘I was mesmerised by the girls in the fashion department,’ she says. ‘They wore outfits by these wonderful Japanese designers that I’d never heard of and they were always flitting off to Marrakech or some exotic location.’ The passion that was to shape her career had been ignited.

A substantial tenure at British Vogue followed. Aged 25, she joined the features desk, under the editorship of Liz Tilberis, and later, Alexandra Shulman, working her way up to fashion features director. ‘Liz called me into her office and I thought I was about to be fired – I always think I’m about to be fired! She offered me a job as a fashion writer in Sarah Mower’s team, and I thought, ‘If you’re going to work for a magazine like Vogue, fashion is the thing to do.’ An interim period as fashion editor at The Independent temporarily satiated her desire to work at a newspaper – in the last 15 years of her career, she has had fashion editor posts at The Times and The Daily Telegraph respectively.

From her home in north London – shared with her property developer husband, Paul, two daughters, Kitty, 20, and Flora, 18, and cat Lulu – she explains how she balances life in the fast lane with a closet of perfect black trousers…

‘It took me ages to realise I wanted to work in fashion. I didn’t know you could make a living from writing about clothes. As a teenager, my wardrobe was minuscule, even though it was only about three quarters full. In there would have been my green school uniform, some high-waisted flares and beautiful secondhand 1930s and 1940s dresses, but I certainly never had any “posh” clothes. My mother would far rather have her fridge stocked with nice food than be extravagant with fashion. I studied English and French Literature at Bristol University where we all wore tweed men’s jackets with oversized shirts we bought from London's Camden Market.

‘I joined The Telegraph as fashion editor two years ago, after being at The Times for 13 years. The speed and workload at a paper is phenomenal. Across a week, my job involves writing, editing, going through rails, reviewing a new book, taking meetings with my team, and interviewing everybody from designers such as Miuccia Prada or Karl Lagerfeld to people about their style. I also work across Stella magazine, our website and our luxury magazine ST.

‘Fashion has become such a big part of popular culture. Twenty years ago, if I said, “I work in fashion,” the response I would get would be, “Isn’t that boring?” or “Didn’t you get a degree?” It was so patronising. Now, if you sit at a dinner party and you say you haven’t heard of Christopher Kane or Miuccia Prada, it’s like saying, “Who’s Damien Hirst?” I don’t own a Hirst, but I’m intrigued to know about him and his work and I think other people are the same with fashion.

‘I think, above all, women want flattering, chic clothes that make them look modern, and as though they are in touch with what’s going on. I rely on tailored jackets and trousers. Antonio Berardi’s jackets are the best for me and I love Dolce & Gabbana – the pencil skirts especially. I rarely wear dresses but I have a Preen one that is a keeper. I admire girls tremendously who can run around bare-legged in all seasons but I really feel the cold. This winter I’ll definitely be wearing some of Christopher Kane’s big knitwear with slim trousers, and I’ll probably try a mannish trouser too, but not flares – I’m too short. I would quite like a patent skirt.

‘I absolutely hate shoes I can’t walk in, I think it’s ludicrous. It’s the equivalent of wearing panniers. I decided a couple of years ago not to buy staggeringly high heels, and my decision was helped by the return of the kitten heel.

‘When I shop, I plan and budget – then I go over my budget! I think it’s good to occasionally impulse buy. I’ve got a great wardrobe of basics but I’m always on the look out for a really special piece. I wear a lot of black trousers, mostly by J Brand, so I need something that's going to make them pop. The best fashion advice I’ve been given is if you’re buying a dress, buy the piece that goes with it. People like to think that they don’t need to buy in sets, but you try finding the jacket that works as well as what the designer has specifically intended. A personal shopper told me that – they can be really brilliant sources of information.

‘My job is writing about fashion, and so I think I should look the part. I don’t think people expect a books editor to write books necessarily, or the motoring correspondent to own a Porsche, but for some reason, fashion editors are expected to live the part. However, working at a newspaper means I have to take serious meetings with the news editor and the editor-in-chief, so I have chosen not to dress like a fashion editor in a bubble because I think that’s right for the paper. I’m quite classic naturally.

‘I start thinking about packing for the shows a long time in advance because I find it therapeutic – how pathetic! I’ve been trying to meditate for a year but I haven’t been able to find time, so instead I think about all the clothes I’m going to fit into one suitcase and how many looks I can get out of them. That whole craze of people changing five times a day over the shows seems to have died down. Quite often during fashion week, you will get a last-minute invitation to a dressy dinner so I always pack a spare cocktail dress, probably by Christopher Kane or Erdem. I also pack my iPhone, iPad mini and MacBook, but I’m old-fashioned and write my show notes in a notebook. I use my iPhone to take pictures and tweet, too. Recently I’ve been on lots of trips to Paris. You could spend a lot of time in China if you wanted to, as there are so many stories there. I try not to travel too much outside of the shows so I can spend time with family.

‘When I see Phoebe Philo or Sofia Coppola, I think, “Oh, I want her style!” They look perennially stylish, and that’s how I want to dress. I admire people who can wear ornate clothes, but only if it looks natural to them. Looking self-conscious is really uncomfortable.

‘I don’t think anyone can have it all. Why would you want it all? It would be exhausting. I think it’s more important to choose – do you want a fabulous career, to be a domestic goddess and have an amazing social life? Well, you’ll go mad if you try to do all those things. Perfection is awful, anyway. That’s one of the great things about living in the UK – the British don’t feel they have to be perfect, which is refreshing.’

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