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© Kevin Tachman/Vogue/REX/Shutterstock
© Kevin Tachman/Vogue/REX/Shutterstock
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Shulman's Last Cover Wasn't What She Deserved, Now All Eyes on Enninful

Picture of India Doyle
Updated: 4 August 2017
August 1 marked the first day of Edward Enninful as editor of British Vogue, and expectations for his new vision are high. The former fashion director of W magazine has built a name for himself by creating striking, visually innovative images. He has worked with fashion’s most exciting photographers, fostered the best new talent and notably championed diversity throughout his career.

The end of an era: Alexandra Shulman’s last September issue

In contrast, British Vogue has been flagging in recent years, failing especially to celebrate the diversity in UK fashion. Alexandra Shulman‘s last cover is a perfect example. With the tag line ‘Celebrate!’ are Kate Moss and Edie Campbell, etc, shot by Mario Testino. It’s not exactly bad, but nor is it a powerful evocation of what Shulman can and has done. ‘Celebrate!’ the tag line reads, and yet the composition of the models, the clothes and the cast chosen suggests quite the opposite. It’s almost morose, and certainly, somehow, sad.

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Beautiful though they are, the sheer, silver Alexander McQueen dresses don’t offer any power, fading against the background rather than glistening in it. Kate Moss, Edie and Jean Campbell and Stella Tennant are strange choices to represent the past, present and future of the publication, and Alexandra Shulman’s legacy – 306 issues distilled into a group of women who represent such a small pocket of Vogue’s scope and its readership. Nora Attal also features: she is the only model who looks straight into the camera, a symbol of a more diverse future, perhaps? It feels awkward though, as many noted in the comments on the magazine’s Instagram: ‘We need you now more than ever @edward_enninful!’ wrote one, while another noted ‘It feels like she was put there is an after thought poor thing. Anyway excited to see what @edward_enninful will do’.

Shulman may have failed on diversity – Jourdan Dunn was only the second black model (after Naomi Campbell) to appear on the cover of British Vogue in 2015 – but she championed healthier models, and chastised the fashion industry when needed.

It’s also important to note that Shulman never courted fame, and offered a grounded role model in a chaotic industry – one wonders whether she will offer more public bite when she takes up her position at Business of Fashion.

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Shulman may have been at the helm, but her supporting cast are equally culpable for the failures of the publication. Though a fashion legend, Lucinda Chambers acknowledged her failings in a controversial interview with Vestoj a few months after she was fired (a fact previously unreported, an earlier statement from Chambers suggested that she was leaving on her own terms). ‘Oh I know they weren’t all good – ‘she tells interviewer , referring to her shoots in the magazine ‘some were crappy. The June cover with Alexa Chung in a stupid Michael Kors t-shirt is crap. He’s a big advertiser so I knew why I had to do it. I knew it was cheesy when I was doing it, and I did it anyway.’

No-one can deny the need to please advertisers, but if Vogue Ukraine can be cool then British Vogue with their endless resources should ultimately work harder to deliver the best.

What to expect from Edward Enninful at British Vogue

Scouted as a model when he was 16, at 19 Enninful was appointed fashion director of i-D magazine; he built a career working with American and Italian Vogue and in 2011 joined W as style director. There, he brought the magazine from being an ailing publication to playing a central role in the industry. Throughout his career, Enninful has been dedicated to ensuring equal representation in the industry. His revolutionary ‘all-black’ issue for Italian Vogue in 2002 was the magazine’s best selling to date, and most recently he worked with GAP on the ‘Bridging the Gap’ campaign. Savvy, culturally connected and innovative, Vogue is inevitably about to experience a period of drastic change.

With Enninful comes a whole new team, offering a fairly spectacular set of credentials. First there’s Venetia Scott, who replaces Lucinda Chambers as fashion director of the publication. Olivia Singer has joined from AnOther Magazine as executive fashion news editor; Poppy Kain joins as senior fashion editor and Jack Borkett will add his weight as fashion editor. New contributing editors include the dynamic Adwoa Aboah and Naomi Campbell. His star-studded cast contrasts hugely with Shulman’s more reserved, journalistic approach to running a magazine: such is the turnover of staff at Vogue that The Telegraph has somewhat smugly named it ‘Vrexit’, a term that almost sticks.

A teaser interview which ran on the magazine’s Instagram portrays Enninful as simply fabulous – playful and mischievous, it’s instantly obvious that he will occupy a more ‘Wintour-esque’ role than his predecessor. It’s also clear that he knows what sells, name-dropping ‘Kate, of course’ Moss as he is driven to Vogue House.

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But in order to be radical he will have to be consistently brave, and cultivate an audience who have different expectations from those that currently buy the magazine. Shulman was a fantastic business woman, and she knew exactly what would sell best – surely the only justification for putting Kate Middleton on the cover of Vogue’s centenary issue. Like all great creatives, Enninful’s challenge will ultimately be shaping a new readership without destroying the old and expanding revenue. Let’s not forget that he inherits the magazine not only when it is in crisis, but when the fashion industry, and Britain itself are in a state of enormous flux. Carving a clear identity is vital, but an especially weighty challenge when the landscape is shifting fast.

If American Vogue is a barometer of what success looks like, then the British edition’s digital offering will be a core focus. Expect to see more video, a savvier use of social media and a revamped editorial focus for the print issue. The country house profiles should be replaced by NOWNESS-esque interiors, the interviewees more diverse and the focus on the cultural life of the whole of the UK, not just London.

An exciting new December issue would be the Christmas present British fashion desperately wants.