Back in Vogue - ‘It will encourage people here in the industry to be more daring’
New editor Edward Enninful plans to take the style bible in a different direction - and a highly political first issue does just that. Will the industry follow suit? asks Tanya Sweeney
Fashion is all about the new, the next and the now, yet Vogue editor Edward Enninful has already managed to break entirely new ground, while somehow doffing a cap to the past.
It's safe to assume that the entire fashion world has been anticipating Enninful's first Vogue issue since he was confirmed to take over the rudder back in April. That he would make his mark after Alexandra Shulman's quarter-century reign was a given. What appears to have discombobulated everyone is that Enninful has delivered a Vogue cover in the classic mould. Photographed by stalwart Steven Meisel, model/activist Adwoa Aboah is seen in a classic head and shoulder shot: a cocktail of fine-boned beauty, glamour and glittery peacock-blue eye-shadow that wouldn't be out of place in the 60s or 80s. Others have likened the image to a January 1971 Vogue Italia cover, which featured Studio 54 regular Donna Jordan.
The coverlines make no reference to mascara, hair or this season's trends. Instead, there's a roll-call of power players in the politics and arts, as featured inside: Skepta, Zadie Smith, Steve McQueen, Sadiq Khan, Christopher Bailey: a knowing nod to Vogue's one-time reptuation as a home for intellectual heavyweights. So will the magazine's new direction have repercussions beyond British shores?
"The interesting thing is that he has somehow reverted to the golden age of magazine and print journalism," agrees Rosie McMeel, editor of Irish fashion bible Image.
"Adwoa is certainly a young, up-and-coming model, but the make-up, headscarf and jewellery is quite high glamour. Print is in a very difficult phase right now, so to revert to the thing that makes print so special is exactly what's making it [his first cover] exciting.
"The younger members of my staff are especially enthused by it, which is interesting because I thought it would have been oldies like me who would get it."
Shelly Corkery, fashion director at the Brown Thomas Group, observes that, crucially, Aboah isn't on the cover simply because she is biracial, it's because she is hands-down the model of the moment.
"We've gone through the Naomis and Kate Mosses, and while they'll be in British Vogue in another way, Adwoa is the newest, coolest model with the most [social media] followers, and everyone is chasing her."
There is further buzz and excitement in Issue 1 beyond Aboah's cover image. Ever since he started working on his first edition back in August, Enninful went through his bulging Rolodex and made a number of high-profile hires: Naomi Campbell has been made contributing editor, while renowned make-up artist Pat McGrath is now beauty editor-in-chief.
Industry heavy-hitters like Sam McKnight, Charlotte Tilbury and Val Garland have also joined the ranks. And to make way for them, Enninful - himself a former model and stylist - had the none-too-pleasant task of sweeping out some of the old guard. Famously, fashion director Lucinda Chambers vented her fury in an online publication after allegedly being sacked by the new editor after 36 years of service.
And reading between the lines, there appears to be little love lost between Enninful and his predecessor. Last month, Shulman wrote a column in which she said: "It's certainly not a job for someone who doesn't wish to put in the hours and thinks that the main part of their job is being photographed in a series of designer clothes with a roster of famous friends," which many took to be a pot-shot at the well-connected Enninful.
High-profile pals aside, the 45-year-old London-Ghanaian is already known in the industry for his political activism, and promised he would be an advocate for diversity in his new job. And boy, did he deliver. He has stellar form in this respect already: he and Meisel delivered a barrier-busting 'All Black' issue of Vogue Italia in 2008. Not only is his maiden voyage at Vogue diverse in terms of ethnicity: it also features people of different ages, genders and body types. On Shulman's watch, British Vogue had been criticised for a lack of diversity - there had been no solo black model on the cover between Naomi Campbell in 2002 and Jourdan Dunn in 2014.
Dunn said of Enninful's appointment: "He's going to bring freshness, which is way overdue. The thing I love about him is that he really does love women and wants you to feel comfortable, asking if you feel good. He doesn't want women to look like little boys."
Corkery has already seen Enninful on duty at the fashion shows at close range: "I was at an Yves Saint Laurent show last month and he was in the front row with Kate Moss," she recalls. "What's interesting is that he was immersed in the action, very casual, and doesn't position himself in a hierarchical way.
"I think his whole thing is that he won't be preaching to anyone," she adds. "He will talk with people, not at them, and that's definitely a big change."
Already, speculation is rife Enninful's groundbreaking ways will have a knock-on effect in the wider fashion industry. "Change doesn't happen overnight, but it's a massive statement of intent from a publishing house like Vogue to put a black gay man at the helm of a powerful female title. That in itself is huge," observes TV presenter/entrepreneur Darren Kennedy.
"Straight away, you can tell he'll be about championing everyone and making Vogue more friendly and approachable. I think this will definitely be reflected in Ireland - it will encourage people here in the industry to be more daring."
The strong setting out of his stall is likely a strategy on Enninful's part to safeguard British Vogue against challenging times for the glossy magazine business.
With some Condé Nast titles like Teen Vogue and Glamour resorting to a 'digital-first' strategy, it will be interesting to see how British Vogue's print-heavy strategy plays out. And, to paraphrase Dunn, if he manages to steer Vogue into a territory where women who don't look like little boys feel included, British Vogue is in for an exciting time ahead.
"I'll certainly be curious to see what he does with issue 2," observes McMeel. "It will be interesting to see if this diversity is reflected in the content. He has a humble background that will definitely be brought to the table in terms of accessible glamour, and in the [wider fashion] industry, I've witnessed a lot of people waiting and hungry for that. It's great to see magazines continue to have that kind of impact, which fills me with hope."
High fashion: Vogue's iconic editors
Referred to as 'Nuclear Wintour', she is famed for nurturing new creative talents in photography and style, but also for her glacial, no-nonsense way of doing things.
The Empress Of Fashion propelled Lauren Bacall into fame when she made her the cover girl of the March 1943 issue.
Mirabella replaced Vreeland as editor-in-chief in 1971 after working diligently as her assistant. In 17 years, she tripled the magazine's circulation.
Sozzani broke ground as the editor of Vogue Italia by featuring multiple plus-sized models on covers and devoted an entire issue to all-black models and an issue of L'Uomo Vogue to African culture. She died last December, aged 66.
She went to Harper's Bazaar in 2012 after editing Vogue Paris from 2001 to 2011. With an impeccable personal style of her own, she found herself front and centre in the style press plenty of times.