The announcement of Edward Enninful as the new editor-in-chief of British Vogue undeniably caused a stir in the fashion industry. Enninful is not only the first male editor-in-chief in the magazine’s history, but he is also the first black person to hold this position, signalling change in the industry and a willingness to embrace diversity in an environment which has long struggled to accept it.
Shortly after Enninful’s appointment, he announced that he had chosen as contributing editors makeup artist, Pat McGrath, model and activist, Adwoa Aboah, and film director and producer, Steve McQueen. This perhaps highlights the incoming change we are hopefully to see within Enninful’s tenure; not only are they all black (rising up against the ‘whitewashing’ the industry is so often guilty of), but they are also all revolutionary in their fields; breaking boundaries, tackling and promoting global issues through their work. This news has undeniably changed the industry for the better, and so it is now more important than ever that these influential figures use this platform to encourage discussion and awareness of problems including mental health, racial discrimination and gender inequality.
Enninful himself is a pioneer for diversity and has continued to refuse to conform to stereotypes throughout his career. Born in Ghana, Enninful quickly rose through the ranks of the British fashion industry; he was made fashion director of i-D magazine at just 18 and was noticed for his distinguishably quirky, sleek style. Later, as a contributing editor to Italian Vogue, Enninful was at the helm of the magazine’s first ‘Black Issue’; featuring only black models, this was an instant hit on the newsstands, requiring extra copies to be published.
Pat McGrath is often regarded as the most influential makeup artist in the world, and so this new position also allows her, as a black woman and daughter of a Jamaican immigrant, to both act as a voice for minorities in the industry and celebrate her artistry and unique talent. Renowned for her versatility and unorthodox techniques, including using her hands instead of brushes and using unusual materials on the face, McGrath empowers both the women and men she works on. One of the makeup industry’s greatest downfalls is its lack of consideration for a wide range of skin tones, often disregarding and failing to provide for darker skin. With McGrath now in such a position of influence and as an advocate for black women in the fashion and beauty industry, we may begin to see this change, thus paving the way for diversity.
Adwoa Aboah, however, can use her position for a different purpose, yet one which is the nonetheless incredibly relevant. As an established model, Aboah, the daughter of a white mother and black father both in the industry, struggled with drug addiction and depression to the extent that she tried to take her own life in 2015, aged just 23. Despite her privileged background, Aboah is an example of how mental health and addiction pervade all areas of society, and is especially rife in the often-fickle world of fashion. Post-recovery, Aboah started the organisation, ‘Gurls Talk’, a platform and safe space that encourages young women to discuss their problems and reminds them that they aren’t alone. The fashion industry is a place which frequently promotes perfection and a certain, narrow ideals of beauty, yet through her new position, it is now possible for Aboah to reach a wider audience and help normalise these delicate issues which are not always welcome in fashion.
But what does Steve McQueen have to do with fashion? The Academy Award-winning director and producer has received the prestigious Turner Prize and was appointed CBE in 2011 for his service to visual arts. McQueen’s work, like that of some of his colleagues at British Vogue, tackles difficult subjects; from films such as 12 Years A Slave to Hunger (about the 1981 Irish hunger strike), McQueen already demonstrates the power of using creative platforms to raise awareness to both past and present issues. It seems to me, therefore, that he is a perfect addition to the British Vogue team.
Fashion is itself a visual art through which stories are told and we can express ourselves and so this goes hand-in-hand with McQueen’s craft, albeit through different methods. With McQueen as a contributing editor to one of the world’s biggest fashion publications, he can spread the messages of his work through one of the biggest industries on the planet. While the fashion sphere still has a long way to go, we are already seeing hopeful change not only for diversity and acceptance, but also for a variety of visual arts, with these being brought together and transmitted across the globe under the creative direction of Edward Enninful.
Written by Robyn Schaffer