I covered the fashion shows for almost a decade, where I could count the number of black women in the front row on one finger
hen I was 22 I got my dream job offer: to work as an assistant at a major American fashion magazine. I was going to be independent and, I sang to myself, working with the most creative people in the world. And then I met my prospective boss. W
So your annual salary will be $17,000 (13,000), she said breezily. The average salary in New York at that point was just under $50,000 (38,000).
I I dont know if I can live in the city on that, I said.
Most of our staff, she said, looking up at me, have private incomes.
I left her office sadder, wiser and unemployed.
Last week the first edition of British Vogue under
Edward Enninful, the magazines first black and first male editor, was published. His appointment has prompted a lot of talk about fashion journalism specifically, who is represented and who is doing the representing. After walking away from that fashion magazine, I got a job as the fashion assistant on this paper, which paid me a living wage, and also gave me ample opportunity to see the problem of representation from both sides. I covered the fashion shows for almost a decade, where I could count the number of black women in the front row on one finger: the Washington Posts Robin Givhan, the only fashion writer to have won a Pulitzer. Because thats how good you have to be if youre a black woman and want to be a major player in this industry.
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 caughtthe eye of Trish and Terry Jones, the founders of i-Dmagazine, and assisted on fashion shoots at the publication. At 18, while studying atGoldsmiths, 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 Cond Nasts W magazine as style director in 2011.
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.
On 10 April 2017, Cond 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’.
Fashion, like the film and music industries, is a dream profession for a lot of young people, which means it can get away with paying pitifully low wages. For this reason, it is dominated by, if not posh people then certainly middle-class ones and,
racial inequality being what it is, white people. Given how much fashion dictates pop culture, this is a problem.
People dont like to have their privilege pointed out to them; they get huffy and think theyre being told theyre bad at their job, when theyre just being told they didnt face the hurdles others do. The former editor of Vogue, Alexandra Shulman, fell into that trap when she was
interviewed by the Guardian last week. Asked about a photo of her staff in her final issue, in which every single person was white, she replied: The idea that we were having a kind of tea party when we made literally hundreds of millions of pounds of profit, I find offensive. But no one is saying that. Theyre saying how bizarre it was to have a staff of over 50 in London, for Gods sake! and for them to be entirely one race. Relatively few [non-white people] came up through the pipeline, for whatever reason, Shulman said, betraying remarkably little curiosity as to why that might be.
The fashion industry still holds up Caucasian as the beauty ideal, and, really, why would a non-Caucasian woman want to work in a business where the best she can hope for is to be deemed exotic? Just look at the differing attitudes to
Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss by the British fashion media: both raised in south London, and both with a fair few scandals in their past. And yet its Moss who is touted as to use one recent magazine line the best of British; she, not Campbell, is the one magazines put on the cover of their special issues.
When an industry is dominated by one demographic, blind spots occur. Solange Knowles and Lupita Nyongo recently complained about, respectively, the Evening Standard magazine and Grazia
photoshopping their hair out of covershoots. In all honesty, my initial response was bemusement: surely, I thought, the magazine had just been making space on the covers for text? But, despite not being able to work for peanuts when I was 21, I am a privileged white woman and therefore am blithely ignorant about what a black womans hair represents to black women. And while ignorance isnt the same as racism, it is also not an excuse.
For far too long, magazine editors have been able to hide behind the myth that magazines with black cover models dont sell. In fact,
they do: American Vogue covers featuring Michelle Obama, Beyonc and Nyongo in 2014 performed as well as those featuring white women. A much bigger problem is that many advertisers dont want to see their products on them, because they dont think black people buy luxury goods. And as magazine sales plummet, editors are beholden to those advertisers.
It will be fascinating to see if
Edward Enninful can change this. But if fashion magazines are now dying, with younger readers rejecting the sluggish glossies in favour of fashion bloggers, editors have only themselves to blame. They reinforced the idea that beauty was white, and for a long time, readers believed them. No more.
More from this publisher