The diversity in Edward Enninful’s new British Vogue isn’t just about skin color
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The December 2017 issue of British Vogue—the first full issue under new editor in chief, Edward Enninful, hit newsstands today, and it has been heralded worldwide for its diversity of representation, from contributing editors such as supermodel Naomi Campbell to contributors including author Zadie Smith and pop star Zayn Malk.
But there is another, less obvious social issue that Enninful, who spent six years as style director of W and spearheaded the sold-out Black Issue of Italian Vogue, is addressing: social mobility, which Great Britain has a notoriously poor record on.
“My Vogue is about being inclusive,” Enninful told BBC before the issue launched. “It is about diversity—showing different women, different body shapes, different races, different classes [and] tackling gender.”
Vogue, at its core, is about aspiration, and what Enninful presents in this post-Brexit Great Britain-themed issue is the hope of upward mobility. UNICEF recently reported that the UK ranked 31st on work and economic growth. The UK, the fifth biggest economy in the world, not only has high income inequality, but also is entrenched in a culture that values and accepts class hierarchy. Just look at British Vogue’s upstairs neighbor, Tatler, a society magazine dedicated to chronicling—and celebrating—people with double-barreled names and private bank accounts.
Within the new issue, there are glamorous examples of British cultural icons who have transcended their working-class roots: Supermodel Jourdan Dunn raves about her mother’s rice and beans in Ealing; former One Direction star and proud Muslim Zayn Malik describes his hometown of Bradford as “a place that has seen its fair share of hardship”; Burberry creative director Christopher Bailey revisits the “derelict mill” in his hometown of Yorkshire; and even Victoria Beckham—”Posh Spice”-turned-fashion icon—retraces her steps as the middle-class daughter of an electrical supply business owner. Enninful himself is the son of first-generation immigrants.
The masthead, other than Enninful himself and his handful of high-profile contributors like Michael Coel, has not changed too much since former editor in chief Alexandra Shulman’s reign, which has been described as a “posh cabal.” Back in August 2017, when Enninful was just announced as the successor, Campbell criticized Shulman for the lack of diversity in her staff, but the new beauty department team, for example, still only involves only one woman of color out of six staffers.
When the Guardian asked Shulman about the viral photo, she replied, “I’d say [non-white candidates] almost always did in fact get the job. But relatively few came up through the pipeline, for whatever reason, so that might account for why there weren’t more.” She later mentioned “my son’s grandfather, Robert Spike, was one of the civil rights leaders.” (A minister, theologian, and activist who was murdered and eulogized by Martin Luther King, he certainly was.) Given that, she says in the interview, “it’s very offensive to me and my family, the idea that I’m racist. I do mind about that. I can’t pretend I don’t.”
In using her distinguished family tree as a defense, Shulman unintentionally underlined the point Enninful is making about social mobility. And perhaps it’s this—as much as the diversity of skin color—that distinguishes Enninful’s Vogue from Shulman’s: Your lineage is not what makes you Vogue-worthy.