Alexandra Shulman’s departure from British Vogue wasn’t bittersweet, it was just bitter.
Since her exit this past June, Shulman has been the subject of some fervent critiques, most targeting her lack of staff diversity and problematic crusade to attack the credibility of Edward Enninful, her successor. Take, for example, the column she penned for Business of Fashion, which was less passing the baton and more sour polemic masquerading as “advice”—including the charge that Enninful, the former fashion director at W, is more of a “fashion personality” than a magazine journalist.
Of course, Enninful isn’t exactly taking Shulman’s feedback to heart—and his first cover effectively communicates his vision for British Vogue. Featuring Adwoa Aboah in a vintage-style shoot that perfectly unites fashion’s past with its future, it’s a quite dramatic shift from the Shulman era. (Only two black models appeared on a British Vogue cover during her 25-year tenure.) That’s why, while it may be “just a cover,” there’s something hopeful buried there. An Enninful editorship clearly signals an era of inclusivity, where diversity is more than a buzzword and race is more than a novelty or accessory.
But while many raved over the cover on social media and welcomed the silent revolution, you’ll be surprised to hear that all were not pleased. In an interview with The Guardian, Shulman commented on the much-lauded shoot, discussed her history at British Vogue and confronted accusations of cronyism in her hiring practices and criticism over swipes at her successor. It was… not good.
Below, a dissection of Shulman’s shocking comments—including characterizing the lack of diversity efforts over the course of two-and-a-half decades at a magazine recognized as the world’s “fashion bible” as *inadvertent*.
“Naomi is very vocal… I don’t think it’s very becoming of somebody who is contributing editor of a magazine to slag off the previous editors.”
O.K. Here’s the tea. You don’t get to proudly post a photo of your entirely white editorial team of 54 people and then call it “unbecoming” when you’re criticized for your lack of diversity.
“[Adwoa is] the perfect mixture of mixed race, sort of posh Notting Hill royalty. So she’s the perfect cover star, absolutely.”
A blatant fetishization of mixed-race people, as though blackness must be softened to be more palatable, lightened to be more convincing or beautiful, or diluted to be worthier of attention. Absolutely not.
“I feel my Vogue had the people who I wanted it to. I didn’t look at what race they were… I included the people I thought were interesting.”
So… despite your claim that you “almost always” hired non-white candidates who applied to work for you, your Vogue remained overwhelmingly Caucasian because you think people of colour aren’t a fraction as interesting as their white counterparts?
“[A]ctually my son’s grandfather, Robert Spike, was one of the civil rights leaders.”
Cue the v. tired “I’m not racist; I have black friends” excuse, as if your one black relative eliminates all potential for prejudice.
“Who would I put on? Who would you have suggested that was a really well known black model who wasn’t on the cover?”
That’s your job. But if you need a list: Alek Wek, Leomie Anderson, Malaika Firth, Winnie Harlow, Alanna Arrington, Ajak Deng, Imaan Hammam, Selena Forrest… I mean, maybe the reason non-white models aren’t as established as white models is because editors like you make sure they don’t get the covers?
“[If you put a black model on the cover,] you would sell fewer copies. It’s as simple as that.”
It’s precisely these micro-aggressions, these exclusions of our bodies from pages that should belong to us, that tell young black girls and boys we would be more beautiful if our eyes were bluer, our noses narrower, our lips less full. And aside from the fact that your statement just isn’t true, as an editor, it’s certainly in your power to change a frankly dated beauty ideal.
“I’m just getting more coffee because it’s so stressful, that whole thing about models – black – the whole thing.”
It’s stressful for us, too, Shulman. Very stressful.
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