Edward Enninful addresses diversity debate with first cover for British Vogue

Politics and culture push fashion world aside, with mixed-race model and feminist activist Adwoa Aboah as cover star

The first Vogue cover produced under Edward Enninful has been released, signalling the new editor’s mission to make political statements, not just fashion ones. The coverlines make no mention of trends, It bags or new mascaras. Instead there is a list of power players in politics and the arts, including Sadiq Khan, Skepta, Steve McQueen and Zadie Smith. These names – diverse in age as well as ethnicity - outnumber the more familiar fashion names of Kate Moss, Christopher Bailey, Naomi Campbell and Cara Delevingne.

The cover star is the mixed-race British model and feminist activist Adwoa Aboah, who helms the online platform Gurls Talk, sending a clear message that Enninful intends to engage in the conversation about diversity which has sprung up in the wake of his appointment.

The choice of a woman who is shortlisted for model of the year at next month’s British fashion awards, and has already appeared on the cover of Italian and American Vogue, is perhaps a subtle dig at the absence of Aboah from the cover of British Vogue until now.

Early years

Born on 22 February 1972 in Ghana, Enninful moved to the UK with his parents and five siblings as a young child, setting up home in Ladbroke Grove, west London. Aged 16, he was scouted by stylist Simon Foxton, who introduced him to the world of fashion as a model.


While modelling, Enninful caught the eye of Trish and Terry Jones, the founders of i-D magazine, and assisted on fashion shoots at the publication. At 18, while studying at Goldsmiths, University of London, he was appointed fashion director at i-D, launching him into the fashion stratosphere. As the youngest fashion director for a publication, he developed his reputation for producing groundbreaking shoots which captured the energy of the 90s' creative playground. During this period he formed firm friendships with many of his lifelong collaborators, including Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell. He stayed with i-D for two decades before moving to Condé Nast’s W magazine as style director in 2011.

Greatest hits

As a stylist, Enninful has worked on countless campaigns for high-fashion houses, including Lanvin, Carolina Herrera and Tiffany & Co, and has held contributing editor positions on the American and Italian editions of Vogue. At the latter, he worked with its late editor-in-chief Franca Sozzani to produce the top-selling 2008 Black Issue, which featured only black celebrities and models.

British Vogue

On 10 April 2017, Condé Nast announced Enninful would succeed Alexandra Shulman as editor-in-chief of British Vogue, making him the first man to edit the UK edition. A strong advocate of diversity in the industry, Enninful has spoken of his desire to promote greater racial inclusivity in Vogue. Given his A-list contacts book and background as a stylist, many have speculated he will produce a more visually led publication with a heavy celebrity presence. 

What others say

'By virtue of his talent and experience, Edward is supremely prepared to assume the responsibility of British Vogue,' his new boss, chief executive Jonathan Newhouse, said, adding that he is 'an influential figure in the communities of fashion, Hollywood and music, which shape the cultural zeitgeist'.

In his own words

'I grew up reading British Vogue – I am so honoured and humbled to be taking up the mantle of editor,' he said in an interview with the publication, revealing that he was 'most excited to tell my father about my appointment'.

Under the previous editor, Alexandra Shulman, Vogue was criticised for a lack of diversity: although recent cover stars have included Zoe Kravitz and Rihanna, there was no solo black model on the cover between Naomi Campbell in 2002 and Jourdan Dunn in 2014.

The roll call on the cover of the December issue, which will be landing on subscribers’ doormats from Wednesday and on the newsstands on Friday, is also a counterpoint to an all-white staff photo taken during Shulman’s reign which prompted Campbell to write: “Looking forward to an inclusive and diverse staff now that Edward Enninful is editor.”

Last month, Shulman wrote a column entitled What makes a great magazine editor? in which she said: “It’s certainly not a job for someone who doesn’t wish to put in the hours and thinks that the main part of their job is being photographed in a series of designer clothes with a roster of famous friends,” which many took to be a thinly veiled swipe at Enninful. Further evidence that Enninful’s Vogue will be unafraid to make bold statements is underscored by the choice of photographer, Steven Meisel. Enninful and Meisel have collaborated on many of Italian Vogue’s most headline-grabbing images, from the all-black issue of 2008 to the “makeover madness” issue of 2005, which starred a model in plastic-surgery bandages on the cover. Until recently Meisel was central to the work of Italian Vogue under the late editor Franca Sozzani.

The silk dress worn by Aboah is by the New York fashion week star Marc Jacobs, but British talent is represented in strong makeup by Aboah’s fellow contributing editor Pat McGrath and a turban by the milliner Stephen Jones for Marc Jacobs.

In the images released so far from inside the magazine, Aboah wears a flamboyant sequinned dress by Nina Ricci and black feathered boots by Saint Laurent. The message is modern, but the look is retro. The dress code for Marc Jacobs’ legendary Studio 54-themed fashion week party of 2015, which stipulated “bleached eyebrows” and “riding in on a white horse”, comes to mind.

The cover image itself is reminiscent of a January 1971 Italian Vogue cover by the photographer Chris van Wangenheim, which featured Studio 54 regular Donna Jordan, known as the “Disco Marilyn” for her bleached hair, in a colourful hairpiece with glossy red lips.

Enninful arrives at Vogue during a challenging time for the glossy magazine industry. This August, British Vogue saw a 3% drop in circulation, while last month its owner, Condé Nast Britain, announced it was implementing a digital-first strategy for another of its high-profile publications, Glamour magazine, cutting the print version to two issues a year as well as merging its editorial and commercial operations.

This is a Vogue with a strong point of view. The question is how it will play to the women who read it to find out what to wear.


Jess Cartner-Morley

The GuardianTramp

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