The New Vogue: Will Edward Enninful’s Reign Change The Narrative?

Gina Onyiuke

Vogue. Not much comes to mind when I think of it. I know...I’m bordering on blasphemy, but consider my story first before you toss me under the bus. The usual bit flits through my head— glossy pages, flashy brands, gaunt-cheeked models casually twisted about to showcase the clothing best, and a new scent- each meshing with the previous, with every flip of the page. Like I said, the usual. No fuzzy warm feelings though. Perhaps because I never truly identified with the contents of the magazine. While I enjoyed styling the clothing in my head, layering different items, and playing with the various textures and shades, I think it may have dawned on me even then at the tender age of 10 that while the images of clothing may have changed page to page, the shade of the models simply stayed the same.

"I think it may have dawned on me even then at the tender age of 10 that while the images of clothing may have changed page to page, the shade of the models simply stayed the same."

Can you imagine? Picture this: A young black girl with a dream of running her own magazine one day sprawled about on the floor, eyes scouring the pages of the iconic British Vogue, consuming countless images of women— none of whom happened to look like her. But these are the women who she’s told embody the definition of beauty— an ideal that she’s expected to live up to. A standard that she’ll eventually come to understand as unrealistic. After all, she can not change the color of her skin, the texture in her hair, or the shape of her body— or can she?

In the January 2017 Issue of Vogue, Ashley Graham was featured on the cover as a means of tackling the “weight issue.” In other words, the ridiculous body standards that international fashion houses were pushing by encouraging the use of models with jutting bones; models that seemed ready to fade away at the swipe of an index, ready to fall apart like delicate fine china that’s been previously shattered to pieces and is barely being held together by glue; models that were dying to be rail thin— literally; models that were essentially telling young girls all around that skinny is in and should be attained by any means necessary.

Beyond the cover, Alexandra Shulman— the editor of British Vogue at the time— responded as such: “What is an issue, is to try to make young women feel more comfortable with how they look in general and not feel they have to look a cookie-cutter way to be a success in life. That’s really what I’m interested in.”

"Shulman’s 25 years as the magazine’s editor, black faces have been on the cover 12 times, and there were only 2 black models featured on their own on the cover."

I don’t suppose she ever considered the fate or feelings of young black women. After all, Shulman claims that she doesn’t see color. Earlier in the year, Naomi Campbell criticised the lack of diversity at British Vogue under Shulman’s leadership, posting a photo to Instagram with a clear lack of black editorial staff members in a workforce of about 50 individuals. Shulman did not take kindly to Campbell’s criticisms, and when asked in an interview with the Guardian why she did not feature more black models on the magazine's cover, she stated: “You would sell fewer copies. It's as simple as that.”  According to her, sales was the overall goal and she didn’t look at race, age, or sex. Rather, she reached for people that piqued her interest. Fun fact: during Shulman’s 25 years as the magazine’s editor, black faces have been on the cover 12 times, and there were only 2 black models featured on their own on the cover— Naomi Campbell and Jourdan Dunn. Yes, I said 2 in 25 years.

Now Shulman was quick to point out in the case of body image, that it was important to her that she ensure young women that being themselves in a world that was constantly attempting to mold them into cookie-cutter pieces, was more than ok. And yet, I wonder if it ever dawned on her that young black girls around the world were consistently failing to see themselves in her magazines.  

The new Vogue. That’s what they’re calling it. A Vogue that is inclusive. A Vogue that is open. A Vogue that showcases different women, different body shapes, different races and different classes. A Vogue that is not afraid to confront the issues that many would rather turn a blind eye to. Sounds like the Vogue that dreams are made of. And it is— Edward Enninful’s dreams that is. In June, former editor of British Vogue, Alexandra Shulman who had been in position since 1992, stepped down from the magazine’s helm. And in August, Enninful, the first black, gay male editor since its start in 1916, took his place at head leaving behind his position as fashion and creative director at W Magazine.

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Born in Ghana and raised in West London, Enninful was only 18 when he became the fashion editor of i-D Magazine. Shulman asserted that black faces didn’t sell; well, one iconic occurrence in Enninful’s career took place during a stint at Italian Vogue. There, he lead the magazine’s first ever “Black Issue” which featured only black models. So popular was that particular issue that they were forced to print an additional 60,000 copies. Talk about big sales, huh. Now that’s what I call iconic, and I imagine the numerous black girls around the world who had the pleasure of purchasing or coming across the issue felt the same exact way too.

"He lead the magazine’s first ever “Black Issue” which featured only black models."

Enninful’s appointment as the new editor of British Vogue has been met with mixed reviews. Some worry of his priorities and the integrity of Vogue. Others worry for their job because longtime members of Shulman’s Vogue team have been let go to make room for diversity. In fact, Enninful has appointed Naomi Campbell, who happens to be a friend, position of contributing editor. The front cover of his December issue featured a retro-styled portrait of British-Ghanaian model, activist, and founder of Gurls Talk- an online community for young women, Adwoa Aboah. Could this be the start of something wonderful? Enninful thinks so calling his Vogue “a real celebration of Britain”— one that celebrates the “talented, diverse creatives” of their great land.

"It would be nice if magazines reflected the diversity of the world we live in."

It certainly sounds very promising — like a magazine that could truly result in change, something that we’re desperately in need of. It’s vital that we see ourselves in the stories we read and hear, and it would be nice if magazines reflected the diversity of the world we live in. For so long, many have been marginalized and made silent— their issues swept beneath the rug and dismissed or forgotten. If this ‘New Vogue’ provides them with a mic, it could spark meaningful conversations, allowing them to tell their own stories and essentially expand the narrative. One can only hope that this new era results in that and much more. We’ll be watching Mr. Enninful.

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Nikole Rodrigues