Few positions in the fashion industry are considered as prestigious or impactful as editor-in-chief of Vogue. On Wednesday morning, three people who hold that title at different international editions of the publication — American Vogue's Anna Wintour, British Vogue's Edward Enninful and Vogue China's newly-hired Margaret Zhang — came together (virtually) for the annual Vogue Forces of Fashion event. In a panel discussion moderated by Vogue Runway's Luke Leitch, the trio discussed the future of the Vogue brand on a global stage, how the past year and a half has transformed the fashion industry and the importance of looking to history and culture for creative inspiration.
Buzzwords du jour like "unprecedented," "sustainability" and "inclusivity" were bandied about quite a bit as the editors contemplated the lasting effects of a global pandemic, the significance of the Black Lives Matter movement in the past year and the other ways in which the events of 2020 have inspired them to reassess priorities, routines and values.
"We have to remember that, the way that media travels today, there are no borders, there are no lines, so we have to understand how we can work best together tapping into all of the incredible talent that we have," said Wintour of joining forces with her international counterparts and setting a cohesive, clear set of values that spans continents and cultures. "We believe in creativity, we believe in respect for each other, we believe in sustainability, we believe in diversity and inclusivity. I think as you look across all our different platforms and Vogues around the world, those values are reinforced again and again, and that is how you build a really loyal and inclusive Vogue community."
That emphasis on collaboration and community across international borders has been particularly exciting for Zhang, who was named editor-in-chief of Vogue China in February. "All of our colleagues internationally [are] so curious about each other's markets, and what resonates within their region, compared to what would resonate in another region," she said. With the Chinese market in particular, "[Designers and others in the fashion industry are] really curious about what's happening with youth culture, what's actually happening with subculture, they're really looking to Vogue as a window into what our creative community looks like, and that level of curiosity is only going to help us evolve collectively in the long term while also championing local ideology."
For Enninful, the past year has been an opportunity to connect with people he may not have otherwise encountered, thanks to the accessibility of digital communication. "When I look back at the past year, I love how the digital platform became the premier form of communication," he said. "You had people on Instagram having Insta Lives... people created these communities online, and it was so great for me to feel a closeness to a new generation." He and Zhang expressed a particular appreciation for this "leveling of the playing field" in fashion, with new platforms and technologies allowing for a new sort of discovery and amplification the editors strive to bring to their own magazine pages.
It was in that vein that Zhang also offered a hint at what to expect from her first issue, the magazine's September edition, which will involve open-casting for the cover in the hopes of emphasizing "democratization" and new talent discovery. "Our team and our scouts are scouring the country in China and other parts of the world right now for that next incredible face and personality, and I'm so excited to be able to hear their story and learn from them an really amplify what it is that they stand for," she said.
Of course, the editors also touched on how the pandemic has changed fashion shows, echoing the views of many in the industry who crave the creativity, showmanship and connection of live events after more than a year of virtual presentations.
"We used to go to the shows and we'd all complain that it was so many weeks and we wanted something that was more modern, more video — but then we had a moment with all of those videos, we realized we love that human contact as well," said Enninful.
Per Wintour, the return to in-person runway shows won't be a complete rebound; she heralds a new era of fashion week which is more of a practical mash-up of the old and the new: "I think as we do emerge in September, obviously the fashion show is going to be reinvented, that it will probably, I'm guessing be smaller, more intimate, but livestreamed in a way that people hadn't thought about pre-Covid, so I think it will be a hybrid way of looking at clothes, but the idea that the fashion show could be completely digital, I think nobody is thinking that anymore."
As for the future of the fashion industry as a whole, Enninful sees progress toward a more positive, inclusive place that will give more space for creativity to flourish. "Fashion has become more democratized, I think moving forward there aren't going to be too many ivory towers with designers dictating to the public what to wear," he said, acknowledging that this shift may also change what types of creatives are truly needed in fashion: "What's going to be needed are people who can curate. Curators will always be needed in fashion; we'll need people who can... direct amongst all this noise."