Together, my grandparents were enormous Anglophiles. They were Yankees through and through, hugely proud of their shared Boston heritage that, much later, became an important part of my experience growing up in the Midwest. But they visited London and the greater United Kingdom many times throughout their marriage, and I have strong memories of their recollections of a place that, as a young girl, felt fantastical and proper. They loved its pubs, its museums and its primly-tended parks, but they also loved its resilience, its passions, its traditions, its kinship and its diversity.
The latter, of course, has been a hot topic of conversation that's been intimately tied to British Vogue since Alexandra Shulman left her post as editor-in-chief after 25 years. As soon as Jonathan Newhouse named Ghana-born, U.K. native Edward Enninful as Shulman's successor in April, talk turned to whether Enninful would introduce a newfound emphasis on diversity to the publication. (A much-cited statistic over the past week is that in Shulman's quarter of a century at British Vogue, black women received just 12 covers.)
Controversy first struck shortly after Enninful started in August, when his dear friend (and now British Vogue contributing editor) Naomi Campbell posted a picture of Shulman's all-white magazine staff. It struck again recently, too, in an incendiary interview Shulman did with the Guardian. " Vogue always sold on the newsstand, and people have to recognize the person who you're putting on the cover," she said. "I was judged by my sales. That was my remit. My chief remit was not to show ethnic diversity as a policy." Without delving too deeply into the offensiveness of that sentiment, let me simply say this: Enninful had his work cut out for him.
When his debut issue was finally revealed last week, the industry celebrated both the cover choice — British model-of-the-moment, activist and Enninful's goddaughter Adwoa Aboah — and the variety of names that decorated the cover lines, from London's first Muslim mayor Sadiq Khan to award-winning novelist Zadie Smith to, obviously, Kate Moss. In Enninful's first-ever editor's letter, he explained that this range is intentional, and what's more, emblematic of the U.K. as a whole.
"I hope you will be as gratified as I am to note how many of the amazing names featured on these pages didn't necessarily begin their lives here, or were perhaps born into families who emigrated here a generation or two ago (like my own)," he wrote. "Regardless of where they were born or how they got here, however, they all share huge pride in their homeland, with an outlook that is pleasingly global."
Inside, Enninful makes his point on every page. Every fashion editorial but one — "The Secret Garden," a lush, over-the-top British garden spread shot by Bruce Weber — features at least one, more often several non-white models. Aboah's own cover spread, simply titled "Adwoa" and photographed by Enninful's longtime collaborator Steven Meisel, is quite simple, but the styling — complete with a number of brooch-adorned turbans from Marc Jacobs's Spring 2018 collection — is a masterpiece. ("Be sure of this: my Vogue will be the fashion bible," wrote Enninful in his editor's letter.)
In their accompanying interview, Aboah and Enninful discuss such topics as mental health and "being black and British," each of which weren't far from being fashion magazine taboo even just five years ago. "Growing up, there were just a few of us — including me and Naomi Campbell and Pat McGrath," said Enninful. "We had each other, but often we felt quite isolated, knowing that we all had something to say. So for me to watch you and your contemporaries today, it's incredible."
The debut issue's pièce de résistance is its unexpectedly fantastic interview pairing of Campbell and Khan; the pair were both born in the same year, both grew up as "young, talented people of color" in south London and both saw their respective careers take off at the same time. Campbell, Enninful noted, is a "gifted interviewer," and she is, hitting Khan with the hard-hitting questions like, "Do you think Brexit became a race thing? A divide of cultures?" and "You're Muslim. Has it been easy combining your religion with your job, or has it made things more complicated?" She'll reprise her interviewer duties in future issues, hopefully with this same set of social commentary.
Against Shulman's earlier point that she "would sell fewer copies" if she put a lesser-known black model on her cover, The Independent noted earlier this week that the new British Vogue is already selling out. Turns out, readers in the U.K. do want to spend £3.99 on a magazine that not only has a woman of color on its cover, but also reflects what the nation actually looks like. "Even in the darkest of times, London's lights will still be on, thanks to its ability to bring so many incredible people together to create something so special," wrote Cara Delevingne (alongside Zayn, Twiggy and her sister, Poppy, among other famous "It" Brits) for the "Love Letters to Britain" feature. "I had no idea how lucky I was to grow up in the city until I left."
I realize now that this, too, is why my grandparents loved the U.K. so much, and why, like Cara, they missed it every time they got back home. It's a culture entirely its own, and one Enninful has made clear he will represent fully — in this issue and every one that follows.