After 25 years at the helm, editor-in-chief Alexandra Shulman announced her resignation from fashion bible British Vogue, effective as of Summer 2017. While being commended for her agenda-setting editorship, reflections have also turned to the mediocrity of her reign, highlighting opportunities for diversification of the title, ready to be relished by her successor.
In the midst of Shulman’s proclamation, managing director of Vogue‘s publisher: Condé Nast Britain hailed Shulman as the most successful editor in the magazine’s 100-year history, adding “it is impossible to sufficiently express the contribution she has made to Vogue, to Condé Nast and to the British fashion industry”.
Schulman began her journalistic career at Tatler magazine, writing subsequently for titles such as the Sunday Telegraph and British GQ prior to being appointed as editor of Vogue in 1992. Upon her departure, she can be credited with having edited more than 300 issues of Vogue, transforming it into the iconic publication it is known as today, having reportedly increased its circulation by 12 percent since her arrival.
In her legacy, she will be admired for her championing of British fashion, with a reputation of supporting British designers, but ultimately for diversifying the rules of fashion. As a fierce advocate for body positivity and eating disorders, Shulman has never been afraid to speak out about the fashion industry’s shortcomings. In 2009, she penned a letter to designers that were forcing models to be unhealthily thin and has continuously campaigned for healthier models; most recently speaking out against the designers that refused to dress Ashley Graham for her January 2017 Vogue cover.
As an iconic and influential fashion magazine, Vogue has been long criticised for failing to represent a diverse population, coming under particular scrutiny as a result of Naomi Campbell, Iman and Bethann Harrdison’s open letter, asking designers to diversify their catwalks. Since August 2002, Vogue had featured only three black models on its 146 covers. Shulman avoided culpability by justifying it as a reflection of society and a means to sell their publications. She claimed:
“In a society where the mass of the consumers are white and where, on a whole, mainstream ideas sell, it’s unlikely there will be a huge rise in the number of leading black models”.
However, some argue this prejudice is evidence of institutionalised racism within the industry.
The responsibility, therefore, lies with the newly appointed editor: Edward Enninful to ensure Vogue acclimatises to the growing trend of diversification while ensuring it doesn’t feel tokenistic for purposes of capitalisation. Ghanaian-born Enninful, who was awarded an OBE for his services to fashion in 2016, has long been a champion of diversity and innovation, spearheading Vogue Italia’s landmark ‘Black Issue’ in 2008, featuring only black models.
As the only male to lead the prestigious fashion title, Enninful assumes the position at a challenging time for the publication. He faces reminding us that fashion is not the exclusive practice of the privileged few; broadening the magazine’s audience whilst retaining ‘the voice of Vogue‘ and it’s already loyal readership.
Praised by Caroline Rush, chief executive of the British Fashion Council, as “forward-thinking, innovative, commercially astute and a true revolutionary when it comes to what his ideas on fashion should be”, Enninful should be well placed to take the publication into a new age, suggesting Condé Nast is in the mood to shake things up rather than continue in the tradition of the last 25-year tenure.