Last week the May cover of British Vogue hit the internet, and the magazine itself is now available. So far it has been highly praised for its “The New Frontiers” cover – a fold out spread celebrating diversity. It features 9 models, each changing the face of the industry in their own way, and has made history by featuring 20-year-old Halima Aden, the first ever model to appear on the cover wearing a hijab in the publication’s 102 year history.
It’s a powerful cover and makes a bold statement: Enniful’s mission to make Vogue a more inclusive, diverse magazine is not going anywhere. He made his vision clear in his first issue for December, and it’s refreshing for someone to actually be following through.
As Enniful himself notes, even 5 years ago a cover like this would have been highly unlikely, so it’s testament to how far the industry has come (even if it is much overdue). Diversity is here to stay, with Enniful writing:
“When I say diversity, I want to be clear that it is never just about black and white for me. It’s about diversity across the board - whether that’s race, size, socio-economic background, religion, sexuality. That’s what I want to celebrate with this cover.”
A strong and reassuring statement that he doesn’t have a narrow vision. That said, there are a couple of groups missing here – have you spotted them?
Given our own mission is to cut through ageism in the fashion industry and prove that it is never in style, this was hardly going to slip past us. There are no ‘mature’ models featured on the cover, nor is age mentioned in Enniful’s definition. This is somewhat concerning.
After all, given the fold out scale of the cover, it wouldn’t have been difficult to feature a few ‘older’ models.
Older models have been featured on the cover of Vogue before, although they are far and few between. In October Lauren Hutton became Vogue’s oldest cover star at the age of 73. And 100 year old Bo Gilbert was featured in Vogue’s centennial issue, in collaboration with Harvey Nichols. But given other groups of diversity, such as size, featured on this month’s cover have graced the cover of Vogue before, the exclusion of age can’t be because it’s already been featured.
Now it is possible another cover will be celebrating age instead. Vogue does have an annual Ageless Style issue, and Enniful may be continuing that tradition (and hopefully with more success). Not including age may have been a strategic decision so that it would not get lost amongst everything else being celebrated on the cover. But given Enniful himself has stated the cover is about celebrating diversity in all ways, I’m somewhat sceptical.
Last year I had a very engaging discussion with Models of Diverstiy charity founder Angel Sinclair, who opened my eyes to how little disability is featured in fashion, beauty and the media.
Whilst her charity supports diversity in every way, her current focus is on disability because of how much it is forgotten – far more than any other group. And it’s true:
When’s the last time you remember seeing disability represented in a fashion campaign? Whilst society is being encouraged to accept and celebrate the beauty of most diversity groups, disability is being left behind.
When I realised this, it really struck a chord with me. At 17, my friend had to have her leg amputated and, in the following few months before she past away, she refused to go out in public. She had nothing to be ashamed of, and yet she was. Because society has never really depicted disability in an attractive way. It has made me wonder, if she had seen other beautiful disabled women and men featured in fashion, beauty and media campaigns regularly, would she have felt differently?
We’ve certainly seen great progress when it comes to society accepting disability – a large amount of which I feel was due to Channel 4’s incredible London Paralympics coverage and the success of The Last Leg (for those of you who don’t know – it’s a UK news coverage comedy show, where 2/3 of the presenters are disabled, something which is regularly poked fun at by themselves).
But whilst these programmes may have led to us being inspired, in awe and generally more comfortable with disability, we still aren’t at a stage where it is being depicted as beautiful in the same way other forms of diversity are.
So whilst I have great admiration for Enniful, I do think there needs to be some vigilent consideration of what his vision for a more diverse Vogue – and fashion as a whole – is.
Throughout his career Enniful has made waves as a pioneer for diversity, but as a result he is highly influential in setting the tone of what it means.
Whether it was for creative reasons or something else, the lack of age or disability being included in the cover isn’t a crime. But there is a danger when you outline your vision for diversity, and it doesn’t include those groups. Enniful has great power and opportunity to make a change, so he must be careful to ensure and illustrate that this vision of diversity truly includes everyone.