Where have I seen this before? That’s the first thought that popped into my head on Tuesday night when British Vogue’s December cover took over my social feeds. At first, I thought it was from the 1960s—the neatly stacked type down one side, the model’s matchy-matchy Pucci-esque dress and headscarf, even the way the photo was cropped made me think of American Vogue when legendary editor Diana Vreeland was in charge. But then I recognized the cover girl—model Adwoa Aboah—actually read the cover lines (a who’s who of famous Brits) and noticed that @britishvogue and @edward_enninful were tagged in all the posts.
This is the first cover of the first issue with Enninful, a gay man of Ghanaian descent, at the helm. He replaces long-time EIC Alexandra Shulman, who recently wrote a Business of Fashion piece not-so-subtly taking aim at her successor. But despite her obvious sour grapes, Enninful’s appointment has been mostly applauded by an industry keen to see more diversity on its mastheads and print/web pages. In contrast, Shulman’s Vogue was criticized for being uber white, from its staffers—check out Naomi Campbell’s August Instagram post pointing out the lack of diversity on the team—to its covers, which aside from Aboah, have only had a black model fronting an issue twice in the past 15 years.
This is the staff photo of @britishvogue under the previous editor #AlexandraSchulman. Looking forward to an inclusive and diverse staff now that @edward_enninful is the editor let’s hear your thoughts ?
Enninful, a fashion wunderkind who grew up in West London, started his career as i-D’s fashion director at just 18, a position he held for two decades. After this, he styled shoots for the American and Italian editions of Vogue before joining W in 2011, where he was the creative and fashion director. Aside from being more of a clothes-not-words person, the only thing that might work against him in his new gig is his love of OTT fashion and shoots not always grounded in any kind of real-girl reality, which might seem out of touch, since these days it’s the celeb’s off-duty looks and influencer’s #OOTD posts and flat lays that garner the most attention. But having spent a few days considering the cover, here are six reasons why I think Enninful’s British Vogue might be just what the style world needs.
1. The activist cover girl
A contributing editor at Enninful’s Vogue, Adwoa Aboah has parlayed her top model status into Gurls Talk, an online forum for young women to speak freely about sexuality, mental health and addiction. The 25-year-old has been open about her past struggles with depression, drugs and alcohol, appearing in a video for Heads Together, a charity spearheaded by Kate Middleton and Princes William and Harry. In these #woke times, a magazine needs more than just a pretty face on its cover to get people’s attention.
2. The legendary shooter
Enninful’s long history of collaborating with the photographer Steven Meisel, who shot the Aboah cover—his first for a British mag in 25 years—has resulted in some seriously iconic and thought-provoking work, like the best-selling Italian Vogue Black Issue from 2008 and the 80-page plastic surgery send-up from 2005 starring Linda Evangelista, not to mention 2015’s W fronted by Jane Fonda—a rare appearance of a septuagenarian on a cover of a mainstream style magazine.
3. The best makeup artist in the biz
Known for her innovative use of colour, Pat McGrath is one of the most sought-after MUAs in the industry, responsible for attention-getting beauty looks like the blocky blue eye she conceived for Marni’s spring show, a hue she took to the next level on Aboah. A frequent Enninful and Meisel collaborator, she launched Pat McGrath Labs in 2015, a colour cosmetic brand known for its intense pigments in shades that look good on every skin tone.
4. The kick-ass contributors
Who needs witty cover lines when you can just list 20 very famous names found inside, including Game of Thrones’ Gwendoline Christie, writers Zadie Smith and Salman Rushdie and even London’s mayor, who is interviewed in the issue by Naomi Campbell on everything from Brexit to LGBT+ rights. The only questionable name among the group is John Galliano. While Enninful may have forgiven the designer for his anti-Semitic drunken tirade in a Paris bar a few years back, most of the fashion world has not.
5. The eternally buzzed-about designer
Aboah is wearing a printed look from Marc Jacobs’ spring collection, which was one of the best of the season. Her relationship with the designer goes back a few years when he booked her in her first NYC runway show, and continues to the present day, as she’s just been named the new face of Marc Jacobs Beauty for 2018.
6.The homage to Vreeland
As the internet has pointed out, this cover is clearly Enninful’s homage to fashion publications of the 1960s, particularly Diana Vreeland’s Vogue. The single biggest difference, however, is Vreeland never put a woman of colour on a cover in her nine years as an EIC.
Whether Enninful’s Vogue will sell copies on the newsstand is anyone’s guess—it’s no secret that print sales continue to nosedive. But if you’re trying to reach younger readers, which is what Condé Nast is hoping with this relaunch, your best bet is to hire a super-connected EIC with very famous friends who promises to make a magazine that represents people of different sizes, genders, races and backgrounds. All the ingredients are here, as evidenced by this cover. It’s a skillful start to what hopefully will be an illustrious—and illustriously diverse—reign for Enninful.