Edward Enninful’s appointment at British Vogue is a win for diversity 

Photo: Getty Images

Enninful’s race and gender mean his appointment as the editor-in-chief of British Vogue could be a significant turning point for fashion, says Tobi Oredein

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By Tobi Oredein on

British Vogue occupies a powerful and unique position in our pop-culture canon. With its 101-year-old legacy, iconic shoots and ability to turn new models and designers into household names, the publication has cemented itself as the ultimate power player in British fashion and women’s lifestyle journalism.  

The truth is British Vogue is more than a fashion magazine – it is an institution. It has an undeniable influence on society, which ranges from the latest trends in the UK fashion scene to what cultural events those who live in areas such as SW3 or NW8 should know about. The publication is like no other, as it has the unique power to define our norms and values, and provides readers with standards of acceptability when it comes to beauty and fashion. The magazine has helped normalise all-white catwalks in British fashion shows because women of colour are significantly absent from its pages and it rarely tackles the racial tensions that plague the industry. Alarmingly, in its centenary history, the magazine has only had 15 covers featuring black women and eight of those covers belong to the legendary Naomi Campbell. 

However, Vogue’s racial-diversity problems were put on pause yesterday, when it announced that Edward Enninful – a black man –would be filling Alexandra Shulman’s Prada boots, as the next editor-in-chief. While Enninful’s race and gender make his appointment as the most powerful person in British fashion exciting, this could finally be a significant turning point for diversity in fashion and journalism. Enninful has been a committed champion of diversity by heading up Italian Vogue’s all-black issue in 2008 and continuously creating high-fashion shoots that centre women of colour. 

Yes, cynics will say that having a black man as editor is no guarantee that Vogue will completely embrace diversity in its offices and on its pages, but it’s a good place to start

The British-Ghanaian understands that diversity isn't just about who you see on the pages of the magazine, but who is making the decisions behind the scenes. At a talk last year, he said: “If you put one model in a show or in an ad campaign, that doesn’t solve the problem. 

“We need teachers in universities, we need internships, we need people of different ethnic backgrounds in all parts of the industry. That really is the solution; you have to change it from the inside.” 

With the 45-year-old at the helm of Britain’s most revered magazine, maybe this will have a ripple effect and we will see more non-white editors taking charge of publications. Furthermore, Enninful’s appointment could improve diversity across the board in journalism. Currently, black writers only make up 0.2 per cent of the British journalism industry, while Muslim journalists only account for up to 0.4 per cent. These numbers are even more troubling when statistics show that black people make up three per cent of the British population, while five per cent are Muslim. 

Enninful’s new role could also shake things up in the fashion world. In 2013, he took to Twitter to air his frustrations after feeling he was mistreated at a fashion show, due to his race. With designers aware that Enninful isn’t afraid to publicly call out discrimination, maybe this will lead to more women of colour on the catwalk. Across the four iterations of fashion week SS17, only 25 per cent of models were women of colour. Hopefully, in an attempt to impress Enninful and have their collections grace the pages of British Vogue, fashion designers will think twice before casting mostly white models to walk down their runways. 

The respected fashion stylist won’t just place more images of women of colour in British Vogue, Enninful will cover more serious social issues. Earlier this year, he united the biggest names in fashion in the I Am An Immigrant video to stand up against the refugee ban. The new editor understands that if Vogue is to remain Britain’s fashion and cultural bible, it can’t just rely on pretty pictures of Balenciaga bags to draw in a wider audience.

Condé Nast could have played it safe by employing a cookie-cutter version of Alexandra Shulman for the position of editor-in-chief. By replacing her with the magazine’s first non-white, male editor, Vogue knows it is in desperate need of revitalisation, in order to win over more socially conscious women. Yes, cynics will say that having a black man as editor is no guarantee that Vogue will completely embrace diversity in its offices and on its pages, but it’s a good place to start.


Photo: Getty Images
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