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Edward Enninful addresses diversity debate with first cover for British Vogue

Politics and culture push fashion world aside, with mixed-race model and feminist activist Adwoa Aboah as cover star.

 

 

The first Vogue cover produced under Edward Enninful has been released, signalling the new editor’s mission to make political statements, not just fashion ones.

The coverlines make no mention of trends, It bags or new mascaras. Instead there is a list of power players in politics and the arts, including Sadiq Khan, Skepta, Steve McQueen and Zadie Smith. These names – diverse in age as well as ethnicity – outnumber the more familiar fashion names of Kate Moss, Christopher Bailey, Naomi Campbell and Cara Delevingne.

The cover star is the mixed-race British model and feminist activist Adwoa Aboah, who helms the online platform Gurls Talk, sending a clear message that Enninful intends to engage in the conversation about diversity which has sprung up in the wake of his appointment.

The choice of a woman who is shortlisted for model of the year at next month’s British fashion awards, and has already appeared on the cover of Italian and American Vogue, is perhaps a subtle dig at the absence of Aboah from the cover of British Vogue until now.

 

Under the previous editor, Alexandra Shulman, Vogue was criticised for a lack of diversity: although recent cover stars have included Zoe Kravitz and Rihanna, there was no solo black model on the cover between Naomi Campbell in 2002 and Jourdan Dunn in 2014.

The roll call on the cover of the December issue, which will be landing on subscribers’ doormats from Wednesday and on the newsstands on Friday, is also a counterpoint to an all-white staff photo taken during Shulman’s reign which prompted Campbell to write: “Looking forward to an inclusive and diverse staffnow that Edward Enninful is editor.”

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Last month, Shulman wrote a column entitled What makes a great magazine editor? 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 thinly veiled swipe at Enninful.

Further evidence that Enninful’s Vogue will be unafraid to make bold statements is underscored by the choice of photographer, Steven Meisel. Enninful and Meisel have collaborated on many of Italian Vogue’s most headline-grabbing images, from the all-black issue of 2008 to the “makeover madness” issue of 2005, which starred a model in plastic-surgery bandages on the cover. Until recently Meisel was central to the work of Italian Vogue under the late editor Franca Sozzani.

The silk dress worn by Aboah is by the New York fashion week star Marc Jacobs, but British talent is represented in strong makeup by Aboah’s fellow contributing editor Pat McGrath and a turban by the milliner Stephen Jones for Marc Jacobs.

In the images released so far from inside the magazine, Aboah wears a flamboyant sequinned dress by Nina Ricci and black feathered boots by Saint Laurent. The message is modern, but the look is retro. The dress code for Marc Jacobs’ legendary Studio 54-themed fashion week party of 2015, which stipulated “bleached eyebrows” and “riding in on a white horse”, comes to mind.

The cover image itself is reminiscent of a January 1971 Italian Vogue cover by the photographer Chris van Wangenheim, which featured Studio 54 regular Donna Jordan, known as the “Disco Marilyn” for her bleached hair, in a colourful hairpiece with glossy red lips.

Enninful arrives at Vogue during a challenging time for the glossy magazine industry. This August, British Vogue saw a 3% drop in circulation, while last month its owner, Condé Nast Britain, announced it was implementing a digital-first strategy for another of its high-profile publications, Glamour magazine, cutting the print version to two issues a year as well as merging its editorial and commercial operations.

This is a Vogue with a strong point of view. The question is how it will play to the women who read it to find out what to wear.

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