And so, the wait is over: after the announcement that Edward Enninful was to be new editor of British Vogue back in April, hype and anticipation for the December issue (his first full magazine) has grown to a frenzy. Now, it is here.
Enninful arrived with a flurry of game-changing accolades (not least being the first male and the first black editor of Vogue), and his record of invention and innovation is powerful. Born and raised in West London, he was made fashion editor of i–D magazine at 18, and went on to work as Style Director at W magazine (via Italian Vogue). He was the brains behind Italian Vogue‘s highly successful ‘Black Issue’ in 2008 and was awarded the Isabella Blow Award for Fashion Creator in 2014 at the British Fashion Awards.
From the very start, Enninful has been explicit about his commitment to diversity – making immediate changes such as adding Naomi Campbell, Steve McQueen, Pat McGrath and Adwoa Aboah to the rostra of contributing editors, alongside Kate Moss and Grace Coddington.
Stage set, expectations laid bare, the countdown to the December issue was run with copious captions across social media that were signed off #NewVogue, and sneak shots showed women in riding boots running through forests.
The New British Vogue Cover
Released this week, #NewVogue doesn’t feel as groundbreaking as it promised to be. Cover star Adwoa Aboah is a ferociously dynamic West Londoner who has made waves with her Gurls Talk initiative; the model is currently nominated for Model of the Year at the Fashion Awards and is generally regarded as one of the most exciting innovators in the industry. And yet, staring right into the camera as her overly airbrushed lips and highly decorated eyes command attention away from us, she feels stagnant. As with Renaissance paintings, the direct return of the viewer’s gaze is powerful but the composition is distracting.
The cover was shot by renowned image maker Steven Meisel, and the clothes on the cover are by Marc Jacobs – both Americans, and unrepresentative of ‘Great Britain’. As such, we don’t know really know what ‘Great Britain’ (as is stated on the cover) means in the #NewVogue context.
The Guardian is one of the the only papers to have flagged a lack of trends on the cover, while most publications have hailed the issue as transformative and groundbreaking. The Evening Standard published ‘What we learnt from the new Vogue‘ in which they shared their new knowledge that ‘millennial pink is out, tomato red is in’ in reference to the text on the magazine’s new cover, perhaps purposely blind to the fact that Adwoa Aboah is a wearing a silk pink turban. On social media, the pick up has been enormously positive, but the offer is still, to me, a little unclear – what does the new vogue promise which the old one didn’t, with a rich 70s evocation and a distinct lack of new (as in unknown, or under-published) names on its rostra.
Contributors to the new issue of British Vogue include Victoria Beckham (who shows at New York Fashion Week), Zayn Malik, Sadiq Kahn, Zadie Smith, Millie Bobby Brown, Jourdan Dunn, John Galliano, Christopher Bailey and Salman Rushdie; it’s a diverse line up, but is also the same handful of creative Brits who have been at the top of the ladder for decades, and (with the exception of the Stranger Things star) broke the mould years ago.
What these people represent as a cohesive body is unclear beyond the fact that they’re all talented Brits in one way or another. Is that actually enough to count as a vision?
That said, there are plenty of highlights inside – a piece from Zadie Smith on the Queen, and a genius pairing of Naomi Campbell in an interview with Sadiq Khan. But meanwhile, John Galliano is brought back into the fold as one of the magazine’s featured stars who gives a nostalgic tour of Elephant and Castle. Should a man with a history of anti-Semitism be included as one of new guard of diversity, regardless of how talented a creative he is?
In comparison, the first cover by new editor of Italian Vogue Emanuele Farneti, who took the creative helm in more tragic circumstances, after the legendary Franca Sozzani passed away aged 66, made the desired impact and signified a new era. Farenti’s first cover, which was also run with the hashtag ‘thenewvogueitalia’ featured pairs of lovers, men and women, posed with lips interlocking under the title ‘Bacio!’, or ‘Kiss!’ in English. Like Enninful’s first cover, it was themed around a country, and also used non-native Italians – this time Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott. The difference was the energy; the images match the fresh start while maintaining a consistency with the Italian Vogue brand. The lack of copy on the front cover was made up for in the power of the image, which so clearly said: ‘We will continue to push boundaries, to be playful, bold and break with convention.’
In a recent interview with the Financial Times, Enninful stressed his agenda for diversification, advocating a new approach across the industry: ‘It’s not enough to put one black model in a show;’ he told the paper ‘we have to go back to magazines and designers’ studios and we have to figure out how we get interns, and people to work backstage [from diverse backgrounds].’ These are the kind of revolutions that take time and demand commitment, so, of course, whether Enninful can deliver on those promises, and make a lasting difference, will have to wait to be seen.
The first issue won’t be his best, but unless British Vogue does really embrace the idea that ‘fashion is a continual dialogue between [the Vogue reader] and the times we live in’ (as Enninful wrote in his first Editor’s note) it won’t be a harbinger of a new era for British fashion – it will remain a stagnant cultural space at a crucial time.