The New Vogue: Starting a Conversation
I've never been an avid reader of Vogue. Although a so-called fashion "bible", I've never found the publication that inspiring. Flipping through pages and pages of high-end adverts to get to the actual content never really appealed to me. But after hearing Edward Enninful speak at the Oxford Union a couple of weeks ago, I was interested to see how his take on British Vogue would differ from previous Editor-in-Chief, Alexandra Schulman.
Although Enninful was not at his most inspiring at the Union (see: Style Over Substance: Enninful and Jacobs at the Union), in other interviews - particularly with the Financial Times this past weekend - Edward has been more forceful in putting forward his ideas for the direction of the magazine and his take on the fashion industry in general. Of course, what we were all really waiting for was the Editor's Letter in this December issue, which just hit the stands on Friday.
The front cover is certainly eye-catching. Featuring the mixed-race model-come-activist Adwoa Aboah in a striking, 1930s-esque get-up, Vogue is reminiscent of old glamour. It is a nostalgic, almost vintage vibe, not the dramatic transformation that I was expecting. But, as Edward claims in his Editor's Letter, "Our mission statement was to bring you an old friend with a fresh face and a modern refresh that feels feminine, chic and ultimately classic." Edward knew immediately that Adwoa was the one for the cover. The two have known each other since they were in primary school, and Edward has watched in awe as Adwoa has taken the fashion world by storm. She epitomises the current generation of more-than models who are using their brains - not just their beauty - to disrupt the media landscape and campaign for issues close to their hearts (see: 'Making the shift from 'model' to 'role model''). Adwoa's online magazine Gurls Talk allows young women from all different backgrounds to vocalise their experiences of depression, anxiety and other mental struggles in a non-judgmental space. It has been pivotal in starting a mainstream conversation about mental health. And this idea of a 'conversation' or a 'dialogue' between fashion and the rest of the world ties in closely with the way in which Enninful is steering British Vogue. He argues, "Today's consumer wants more than garments on a page and shopping lists [...] Fashion is a conversation, the continual dialogue between you, the Vogue reader, and the times we live in, fusing fashion with art, politics and society."
And this, to me, seems to be what the whole issue revolves around. Tied to the central theme of "Great Britain", what December's Vogue really seems to be about is the connections between fashion and the wider world. Enninful rightfully claims that "Abdoah not only redefines what modelling can mean, but what being British looks like today." It is refreshing to see model Naomi Campbell utilised for her brains and conversational skills in an enlightening, fluid and insightful interview with Sadiq Khan. Although Zadie Smith makes some controversial remarks about the Queen ultimately being "distinctly lower middle-class", her piece on Mrs. Windsor is an interesting - albeit atypical - read. And Salman Rushdie's article on a diverse Christmas ties in with the idea that Britain is a multi-faceted and richly layered country.
Yet, for an Editor-in-Chief so keen on diversity, I think Enninful has only forced this ideal through in a half-hearted manner. The publication has already been the recipient of media backlash due to their supposed 'white-washing' of Adwoa Aboah on the cover. The original images and content are diverse racially, but the representation of different body types remains amiss as all models boast lithe and leggy figures. What I find particularly striking is the fact that - out of the plethora of adverts that form the majority of the magazine content - the number of ethnic models can be counted on one hand. The advertising industry needs to diversify of its own accord - this is a given - but I am surprised that this is not of greater concern to Enninful, and that closer attention has not been paid to what forms the physical bulk of the publication.
"Fashion is a conversation, the continual dialogue between you, the Vogue reader, and the times we live in, fusing fashion with art, politics and society." - Edward Enninful
In terms of original Vogue content, it is worth asking whether Enninful's 'dialogue' has overtaken the prominence of fashion in the magazine. Although Edward confidently claims in his Editor's Letter, "Be sure of this: my Vogue will be the fashion bible", I can't say I'm quite convinced. As interesting as Zadie Smith and Salman Rushdie's articles are, are they detracting from the core of Vogue itself? It did appear to me that style-related content was limited. The latest trends lists featured coloured leather, cocktail coats, bows and plaid in some beautiful spreads. And Aboah herself is breathtakingly styled in some vintage looks with a modern twist. But I don't think its a stretch to claim that fashion was only a secondary consideration in this publication. Enninful had a mission: to start a conversation, and while I applaud such a goal, it saddens me that this has seemingly displaced the centrality of fashion to British Vogue. Whether or not this will be permanent is currently unclear. We will have to wait until the next issue to see how the dynamic between fashion and discussion pans out. Edward Enninful has started a conversation, but will he finish it?