Vogue House, in London’s Hanover Square, has enjoyed something of a reputation as one of the last redoubts of the British upper classes over the years.
But the revolving doors may be admitting significantly fewer lords, ladies, and “honourables,” as the sons and daughters of peers of the realm are known, after what might be called a posh purge by the new editor of British Vogue, Edward Enninful.
Enninful made headlines when he was appointed to the editorship of Vogue, understandably so, given he is not just a man but also black, two firsts in a Vogue editor.
He is also of working class, immigrant origins, and could hardly have a more different backstory from the previous incumbent of the post, Alexandra Shulman.
Shulman was the white, privileged, upper-class daughter of two affluent writers. She grew up in Belgravia (just down the road from the Vogue offices) and her sister married a British marquess. She filled the pages and offices of Vogue with people like her.
Enninful was born in February 1972 in Ghana and moved to the then shady area of Ladbroke Grove along with his parents and five siblings as a baby. His mother was a seamstress, so he had exposure to textiles from an early age, but his entrée to the high-fashion world came after he was a scouted as a model.
Since 2011, Enninful has been the creative and fashion director of the American fashion magazine W, and before that he was fashion director of the avant-garde British title i-D (a position he was appointed to at the tender age of 19).
Enninful was a London club kid of the ’80s and ’90s, and his i-D shoots often featured thrift shop finds.
Now, as editor of Vogue, he has been accused of overseeing an exodus of the “posh girls” Shulman and her ilk would have seen as Vogue’s lifeblood.
Among the first casualties were the magazine’s former deputy editor Emily Sheffield (the daughter of a baronet, and Samantha Cameron’s sister) and its longtime fashion director, Lucinda Chambers.
Chambers, perhaps ill-advisedly, let off some steam in an interview with the fashion blog Vestoj in which she declared, “Truth be told, I haven’t read Vogue in years. The clothes are just irrelevant for most people—so ridiculously expensive.”
At another point in the interview, she said: “The June cover with Alexa Chung in a stupid Michael Kors T-shirt is crap. He’s a big advertiser so I knew why I had to do it. I knew it was cheesy when I was doing it, and I did it anyway.”
Enninful took over the reins officially on Aug. 1, and has set about restocking the offices with a younger, cooler, more diverse representation of British talent.
Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, and Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen were announced as contributing editors.
Campbell criticized the lack of diversity at the publication under Shulman’s tenure by posting a photo of Vogue’s staff under her leadership. Astonishingly, it showed there were no black employees in a workforce of around 50.
A blogger writing for the Spectator under the pseudonym Pea Priestly claimed that Vogue was “borderline racist” during Shulman’s reign because it only had two covers featuring solo black models since 2002.
Enninful has not yet explicitly laid out his vision for Vogue. (He wasn’t made available for comment for this article.) However, he has made clear his commitment to the digital side of the brand by launching a Vogue Snapchat account on his first day in the office, and by poaching the former publisher of GQ, Vanessa Kingori, who was hailed in the industry for her work on taking the British edition of the men’s mag digital.
Creating compelling video and social media look set to be priorities for Enninful’s new team. In the press release announcing his hiring, Condé Nast said: “Enninful is known to be an adept practitioner of video, whose recent video entitled ‘I Am An Immigrant,’ featuring fashion industry professionals, went viral. He is widely followed on social media.”
Enninful was certainly quick to recognize which way the digital wind was blowing. He said in a 2012 interview with Business of Fashion, “A good stylist can work in any medium whether its still photography or moving image. But it adds another facet to the whole job of styling. The times have changed so much and still images can’t just sell on their own anymore. I think for every shoot we do, we have to think about how it moves. That’s with us now and it’s going to be like that for a long time.”
At W, Enninful was known for his skill at conflating accessibility and exclusivity. “What we all aim for is to make it more approachable, but that doesn’t mean low end,” he said.
Enninful’s critics have accused him of being more interested in surrounding himself with celebrities and the accoutrements of a fashionable life than anything else.
Chief among these critics has been Shulman herself—and this week she reignited the feud by taking a thinly veiled swipe at Enninful.
Shulman, writing in Business of Fashion, hit out at what she described as a new guard of editors who, she said, were no longer magazine journalists but instead “celebrities or fashion personalities with substantial social media followings.”
She concluded that editing was “certainly not a job for someone who doesn’t wish to put in the hours and thinks that the main part of their job is being photographed in a series of designer clothes with a roster of famous friends.”
Shulman also appeared to criticize Enninful’s new contributing editors, writing: “It has been interesting and educative to see over the years which of the more dilettante or famous contributors really put some effort into their contributions and which liked the idea of an association to the magazine without the tedious business of actually doing any work.”
Few could level that accusation at one of Enninful’s key new hires: Vogue’s incoming fashion director, Venetia Scott.
Scott was for many years the chief stylist for her boyfriend, the fashion photographer Juergen Teller, and then ran an independent studio noted for its edgy, envelope-pushing work. She has also brought a trusted collaborator, Poppy Kain, with her to Vogue, a source says.
“Vogue had become very boring and very Sloaney, with lots of features on rich women’s houses,” says a source who knows Scott well. “Venetia couldn’t be more different. She is super creative and very hard working, so it’s going to be very interesting to see what she does. She goes a long way back with Edward, and they are both interested in always trying to push boundaries, and be ruder or naughtier. The reality is that with so much free content online, if you buy a magazine these days it needs to be really amazing.”
Although attention has naturally gravitated toward those who have been let go from the magazine, there are some old timers still in situ who are positively engaged with the new regime.
“There are lots of people still there who are excited about the change in direction,” says the source.
Undeniably, however, the overall head count at British Vogue has been massively reduced, which has hurt morale. One insider said Enninful’s appointment had merely provided a convenient moment to reduce staff numbers as digital and financial pressures increase year on year.
Condé Nast declined to make an official comment about the personnel changes at Vogue, or to provide an estimate of how many non-white people now work at Vogue.
However one insider at the company said: “In regard to the staff of British Vogue being offered voluntary redundancy this is something that was in the pipeline prior to Edward Enninful’s arrival, and follows some restructuring completed with other brands in the company.”
Another source said: “Yes, there are going to be less posh girls working at Vogue but that’s because every editor remakes the magazine in their own image, and Edward’s a working class black guy from Ladbroke Grove. The only question that really matters now is, can he make it work?”
For any Sloanes feeling persecuted, Condé Nast still has their backs. The November issue of Tatler (whose offices are one floor down in Vogue House) boasts the defiant headline: “WILD, SEXY, FREE! Posh girls have more fun.”