A watershed moment for Black people in fashion?


A couple of months back, after 25 years in the position, editor-in-chief of Vogue, Alexander Shulman stepped down from the magazine and subsequently appointed Edward Enninful as her successor. Shulman’s decision was met with lots of intrigue and press attention, why? Because Edward Enninful was both male and more interestingly, Black, either of which hasn’t been seen in the magazine before. Pointing this fact out should certainly not discount Enninful’s legitimacy; former model, editor-in-chief at i-D magazine at 18 and a decade spent under the stewardship of Anna Wintour at American Vogue, Enninful on paper is the ideal candidate for the position. However, what makes his appointment so attention-grabbing is that, unfortunately, in the past, the presence of Black people in top positions of the fashion industry has been virtually non-existent.

Well, that was until 2017, which monumentally saw the appointment of Elaine Welteroth, another person of colour, to the top job at Teen Vogue and then, of course, Enninful at British Vogue. In an industry struggling with diversity, could Welteroth and Enninful appointments, possibly, finally, be the much-needed watershed moment for Black people in fashion? The evidence says a resounding YES.

Since Welteroth took the helm at Teen Vogue, she has steered the magazine slightly away from being solely about beauty, celebrity and fashion, and more towards a political slant. A transformation that has proven to be successful; in her tenure, Welteroth has improved magazine circulation and challenged their young readership to develop a greater social consciousness.

Despite working in a predominately White environment and answering to a male-dominated boardroom, Welteroth has not been deterred away from broaching the issues of racism and sexism in modern America, with both honesty and intelligence. Evidence suggests, if there is a glaring problem in the industry when it comes to representation and minority rights, Welteroth wouldn’t shy away from drawing attention to it.

While, even before becoming British Vogue editor, throughout his career Enninful has been an advocate for diversity and inclusivity in the fashion industry, and as his influence on Italian Vogue’s ‘Black Issue’ showed, this has proven very successful. Allow me to take you back to 2008, when Sessilee Lopez, Naomi Campbell, Jourdan Dunn and Liya Kebede majestically graced Italian Vogue covers. It was at this point that Italian Vogue editor France Sozzani, with the help of Enninful, released a ground-breaking new issue simply titled the ‘Black Issue.’ True to its name, the issue featured solely Black models in all their marvellous and diverse glory.

In an industry, that idolised Eurocentric beauty standards above all else, the issue should’ve been a complete flop and commercial failure, yet it didn’t. In fact, the issue went on to become a resounding success and led to sellouts across Europe and North America, proving in the process and with concrete evidence, that the public was hungry for diversity. With an increasingly diversifying British public, perhaps more so than any other working editor, Enninful seems most equipped to cater to it.

Diversity breeds diversity, especially when the people in the greatest positions to create it, are the ones who stand by it the most. With Enninful and Welteroth in charge, hopefully, the industry will open up its arms and embrace a wider perception of beauty on catwalks as well as magazines. After all, society reflects its media. If we want to live in a society of equality rather than racial hierarchy and provide young Black girls with relatable role models they can look up to, rather than torture them with impossible beauty ideals they can’t achieve, then the fashion industry needs to wise up to the changing tide of society. However, it seems on this occasion at least, that the appointment of Enninful and Welteroth is a step in the right direction.