I grew up around an extremely artistic family. My close cousins own an art studio back home and their sibling is currently the creative director of a clothing label. It’s no surprise that their influence eventually drove my own interests in fashion magazines.
That being said, the glossy covers with attractive models and elaborate clothing have always sparked my interest. Vogue specifically, like many other fashion enthusiasts, was and still is my favorite magazine. I love what Vogue stands for: Refined culture, clothing and people.
However, after the beginning of my college career I began to notice that Vogue and the fashion industry as a whole lacked one major component: Diversity. My years prior, I had somehow overlooked the fact that many fashion magazines, runway shows and clothing campaigns included the same thin and white women.
I realized that the fashion industry desperately needed a push for diversity and last year’s news of a black gay male taking over British Vogue was extremely promising. Although the magazine’s new editorship made me hopeful in the beginning, I was quickly disappointed with the work that followed.
April 10, 2017, Conde Nast International announced that the well-respected and influential Edward Enninful would replace Alexandra Shulman at British Vogue as its new editor-in-chief. Shulman announced she was stepping down from her position after 25 years because she “pictured a future without Vogue.”
Enninful, former fashion director of I-D Magazine, contributing editor at Vogue and fashion director of W, claimed he would produce a “New Vogue.” Unlike Vogue’s usual socially exclusive content, this “New Vogue” entailed an inclusive work environment and push for socially progressive content. Although Enninful’s appointment seemed promising, we have yet to see a shift from Shulman’s predominantly white magazine. My claim on Enninful resides within an arguably racist editorial found in his first British Vogue issue and series of all-white magazine covers.
When news of his appointment came out, Enninful emphasized one thing: diversity. Supermodels, designers and other editors predicted that Enninful would revolutionize British Vogue by offering a perspective from being a “double” minority as he is both gay and black. Even I, an avid Vogue reader who has always been concerned with the lack of representation of minorities in the fashion industry, believed that Enninful would push for British Vogue to include more components of diversity within its work.
Enninful’s career as the editor of British Vogue began with Adwoa Aboah on the December issue. Aboah is well-known throughout the fashion industry for her supermodel status and women’s empowerment program, ‘Gurls Talk.’ Aboah’s British Vogue cover was everything the fashion industry needed: diversity and substance. Aboah’s cover was not only a call for a movement to include more representation of people of color, but also a realization that the upcoming generation of British Vogue consumers care less about what it-girls are wearing on the red carpet and more about social injustices. It was initially a promising sign that Enninful would remain true to his original goal.
But my concerns grew immediately after coming across the editorial spread “Remain,” in Aboah’s issue. The setting of the photo was a fantastical wood, with three white women dressed in elaborate avant-garde gowns. What struck me most was the naked ethnic women placed on a cow. Immediately, my liberal arts education screamed: colonialism. I recall staring at the editorial for an extended period of time thinking about the obvious messages the image perpetuated and wondering how Enninful could have either missed the dangerous image or dismissed any sort of racist messages the image emitted.
For someone whose initial motives implied an understanding of racism within the industry, I find it hard to accept that Enninful could decide to include such an offensive editorial. After going back and forth between the options, I ultimately decided that regardless of the right answer, the arguably racist editorial made Enninful seemingly hypocritical.
After Aboah’s groundbreaking British Vogue cover, there was a less-than invigorating follow up with the next cover stars: Taylor Swift for January, Margot Robbie and Nicole Kidman for February and the Hadid sisters for March. Though these women are massive figures in the industry, they fall back into Shulman’s white and generic mold. Aboah was a prominent figure in the industry that resonated with a younger and “more aware” generation because of her work with feminist and racial activism in which the following cover-stars cannot argue the same.
People may claim it’s ultimately just a cover, but the cover is arguably one of the most important factors to a magazine. Cover stars are the central focus of the monthly issue and, being the first thing that is seen when on stands, has the power to influence cultural and societal perspectives.
Because of the lack of substantial and diverse cover stars following Adwoa Aboah, it seems as if Enninful only capitalized on diversifying British Vogue in the beginning in order to gain attention from the press. More press ultimately calls on more attention to him and British Vogue while ultimately boosting the issue’s sales.
Although I have my speculations about how Enninful is diversifying British Vogue, I do believe that consumers are slowly seeing more socially progressive content. For example, the past issues have included pieces on transgender beauty and minority spotlights which align with Enninful’s motives. However, if a cover does not resonate with a younger generation that is arguably exhausted from the old content, there is a smaller chance that consumers will even pick up Enniful’s covers that may include this so-called progressive content.
There is no doubt that Enninful is skilled in his craft and in no way do I intend to discredit him as I believe his appointment was important to my generation. However, Enninful’s past work at British Vogue does not resonate with his earlier claimed intention of revolutionizing Alexandra Shulman’s all-white British Vogue.
Again, i wrote this piece based off of Enninful’s first four issues. Although I am arguing that Enninful has not been true to diversifying British Vogue, there is no say in how he may or may not produce further content that resonates truly to his initial goal.
Like mentioned in the beginning, Vogue will always have my attention. It is my lasting interest in Vogue that compels me to express my concerns with the magazine and its absence of diversity. I believe that Vogue has incredible power over cultural views and with this power comes the responsibility of being socially correct. Despite my concerns of diversity in British Vogue, my faith in Enninful remains in hopes that he will finally bring diversity to the publication.
Article by: Isiah S Magsino