Vogue is entering a whole new era
Vogue is the undisputed sovereign in fashion publishing. Its reputation as a behemoth of fashion features and influence precedes each issue that is held in the manicured hands of its readers, a reputation that spearheaded the magazine into its hundredth year in 2016. But as the publishing industry goes digital, the future of Vogue’s pages, like many others, is in doubt. Changes are looming in every magazine to keep things current and fresh, and even the editor’s job isn’t safe.
The job of the gatekeeper to the fashion bible is a one brimming with dedication, intrigue and a fervour for fashion. Alexandra Shulman held the post for 25 years until her resignation this year; stepping down as the longest serving editor of British Vogue. Often touted as an editor not like any other, many initially thought she was inexperienced for the role, but to her achievement she has stayed at the helm longer than most and kept the magazine’s reputation stable. Her uniqueness lies in her ability to maintain an air of relatability, humility and warmth in an industry of which Miranda Priestley is widely seen as the personification of. This temperament passed onto the magazine, when she slapped an editorial ban on cosmetic surgery and diets. Later pushing it a step further by calling on fashion giants to stop using size-zero models. Her thoughtfulness also inspired the magazine’s biggest-selling edition — the ‘Millennium Edition’ — which featured a reflective cover which was an emblem of introspective hope for readers at the turn of the millennium.
While Ms Shulman did brilliantly to take the magazine through the changing pace of the past twenty-five years from a world much less volatile than now, there are objections about the diversity the magazine had on its pages. Among the impressive 306 covers that she oversaw, merely 3% featured women of colour. In a recent interview, which she received backlash for on Twitter, Shulman claimed that she gave Naomi Campbell “more covers than any other model”, but was lost for words when she stood corrected after being told that in fact she’d given Gisele Bundchen eleven covers to Naomi’s five. But this is an indictment of not a sole magazine but an industry that has been accused of widespread racism. Stories of black models getting rejected because agencies already have the token aren’t just anecdotal. There is no doubting that for the fashion industry to be truly representative of the world today, there needs to be inclusivity at every level of the industry. This was pointed out by Naomi Campbell on Instagram after she posted the Vogue staff picture as an example. Shulman responded to this by saying people from different ethnicities did work for Vogue during her time there but none were there on the day of the photo, later brushing off the topic and saying that she’d rather not get into Naomi’s ‘aggression’.
“There is no doubting that for the fashion industry to be truly representative of the world today, there needs to be inclusivity at every level of the industry”
When Alexandra Shulman announced her departure, many names were being thrown in speculation for promotion to the top job. From Love magazine’s Katie Grand to Vogue’s very own fashion director Lucinda Chambers and deputy editor Emily Sheffield. However, Vogue’s publisher Conde Nast threw a wild card on the rumours by announcing that W Magazine’s fashion director, Edward Enninful, would be joining the British Vogue ship as its captain. Shulman immediately voiced her approval, believing that Enninful was ‘supremely prepared’ to take the helm of the country’s most popular fashion magazine as he understood the ‘cultural zeitgeist’, admittedly a cardinal reason for his hiring.
The son of a seamstress, Enninful was inspired by his mum’s Ghanian dress making and grew up around the intricate skills it takes to put a garment together, refining his eye for beauty and detail. His foray into the fashion industry materialised when he was approached on a London tube to model for the then newly-founded i-D magazine. It was after a few shoots, he knew he wanted to solidify a career in fashion so he started to assist the magazine’s fashion director on numerous shoots. When an opening came about in the position he shadowed, Enninful was fully ready to take command of i-D’s fashion department.
From there he started his relationship with Vogue, becoming a contributing editor to Vogue Italia, while there he was given a platform to challenge the industry on its long-serving prejudices. He took on its thin-thin restrictions by styling the “Belle Vere” edition which featured only ‘plus-sized’ models and swiftly moved onto its apparent racism by spearheading the “Black Issue” which featured only black models, a turning-on-the-head of the magazine’s norm of focusing on white models. The issue was so popular that the publishers ordered another 40,000 copies to be printed. He then moved away from contributing to become the full-time fashion director of W Magazine, where he turned the magazine’s fortunes around after the Great Recession of 2008. In 2016, Enninful was awarded an OBE by the Queen for his services to the fashion industry. Having been recognised for his talents with the highest honour of the country paired with a colourful and enviable CV, the natural step on the stairway to an esteemed legacy is for Enninful to take the reins of fashion’s most beloved magazine.
But that isn’t to say that Enninful’s arrival hasn’t been without controversy as the firing of long-standing fashion director Lucinda Chambers caused her to pen a thoughtful article berating the industry. But others naturally decided to leave the magazine as there was a new tide to be sweeping the magazine. This then allowed Enninful to assemble his ‘dream team’, among whom are former fashion director of American Vogue Grace Coddington, his new fashion director Venetia Scott, supermodels Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss, acclaimed film director Steve McQueen, cosmetics magnate Charlotte Tilbury, talented make-up artist Pat McGrath and his first cover star, ‘GQ’s Woman of the Year’, model Adowa Aboah.
After months of waiting, Enninful revealed his first Vogue cover as a tribute to Great Britain to vocal approval. He has always been a believer in the country, proud of Britain and its talents — at i-D he curated a “Best of British” edition featuring distinct supermodels like Jourdan Dunn, Kate Moss and Twiggy. But he notes that Britain is only as distinguished when the contributions of its diverse population are realised. At a time when Britain is having an identity crisis on the international stage with insecure and limp leadership, there is no other cover that would have fit to boldly and unabashedly reiterate that Britain still has much to be proud of.
Edward Enninful has a long history of prodding the sensitive prejudices of the industry that are in dire need of change. In this new revolution expect diversity spread across the magazine’s pages, less of the same-old and more of the responsible fashion that has long been the crest of Enninful’s career. The hiring of Enninful will not solve all the problems of the fashion industry, but it is a damn good place to start.