Last week, Edward Enninful debuted the cover of his first issue as Editor-in-Chief of British Vogue. As the first man to hold the position at the 101-year-magazine — and the first Black, Gay man to boot — all eyes were on him to see how he would revolutionise the iconic publication. And he came out of the gate strong, choosing Ghanaian-British model Adwoa Aboah, photographed by Steven Meisel and wearing a Marc Jacobs turban, and in the process cementing his commitment to make British Vogue more diverse and inclusive.
But people are looking to Enninful to change more than just the faces of the women who appear on the magazine’s cover. The supermodel Naomi Campbell, a close friend of Enninful’s who was also recently named contributing editor of the magazine, did not shy away from criticising the magazine’s lack of diversity behind the scenes a few months ago. “Looking forward to an inclusive and diverse staff now that @edward_enninful is the editor,” read Campbell's caption underneath a a photograph of the magazine's editorial team under the previous EIC Alexandra Shulman.
On Friday, in an interview with The Guardian, Shulman responded to the criticisms lobbied against her by Campbell and other people. “Had I known that this [uproar] was going to happen, I would not have put that picture in it. But it never entered my head. Over the years there have been people of all kinds of ethnicities in the magazine. On that particular day there was nobody there and, you know, it’s frustrating.” She added, “I guess I have to hold my hand up and say I don’t encourage positive discrimination in any area. I have never been somebody who’s box-ticked. I’m against quotas. I feel like my Vogue had the people in who I wanted it to.”
It’s hardly surprising that under Shulman’s 25 years at the helm of the magazine, only two Black models were given solo covers: Naomi Campbell and Jourdan Dunn (12 years apart). The former EIC explained it came down to who she thought could sell covers. “Vogue always sold on the newsstand, and people have to recognise the person who you’re putting on the cover. I was judged by my sales. That was my remit. My chief remit was not to show ethnic diversity as a policy.” And it appears in Shulman’s mind that Black models would not sell covers. “You would sell fewer copies. It’s as simple as that,” she said.
Shulman, it seems, is hopeful for a different future under Enninful. “Well, I’m sure this issue will sell. But it’s not my job to predict what it’s going to do. I’m absolutely sure Edward will do really well. He’s the right guy at the right time. I’m sure that Condé Nast will be delighted, I really am.”
Click ahead for a look through the history of Black women on the cover of British Vogue. And may this be the last time we see a 12 year gap between features again.