After 25 years as the longest-serving editor-in-chief of British Vogue, Alexandra Shulman stepped down earlier this year. Shulman’s final issue of the magazine featured a photo of her with 54 members of her staff, which caused an outcry after supermodel Naomi Campbell pointed out its, well, extreme lack of diversity:
According to The Guardian, while there have been black cover stars like Rihanna under Shulman’s tenure, “there was no solo black model on the cover between Naomi Campbell in 2002 and Jourdan Dunn in 2014.” Shulman’s replacement was Ghanaian-born Edward Enninful, who became the magazine’s first black male editor and took significant steps to make it more inclusive. The magazine’s first issue under Enninful, whose cover featured British Ghanaian model and activist Adwoa Aboah, was applauded for its “celebration of diversity.”
On Friday, The Guardian’s Decca Aitkenhead published an interview of Shulman and let me tell you, it was “bloody bonkers!” as I imagine my British cohorts would say. Aitkenhead is sublime in the fact that she simply allows Shulman to extremely tell on herself. There are so many “hmm!” quotes that it was hard to whittle down but here we go.
On Enninful’s first cover:
“It’s exactly what I would have expected. Adwoa [Aboah, the model] is very much, you know, the girl of the moment. We’d actually offered her the cover and she turned us down when I was there. I don’t know why. Maybe she knew she was going to get this cover.”
Did Shulman offer it that recently? She thinks. “No, it was before Edward would have been there. Anyway, I’m a great admirer of Adwoa.”
I wonder why Aboah turned it down?
On the photograph of Shulman and her staff:
Did she anticipate that many readers would be shocked to see that every single one of them was white? “No,” she mutters dryly. “Clearly not. Had I known that this was going to happen, I would not have put that picture in it. But it never entered my head. Over the years there have been people of all kinds of ethnicities in the magazine. On that particular day there was nobody there and, you know, it’s frustrating.”
Just that particular day, folks. Frustrating!
On diversity in Shulman’s hiring practices:
Whenever non-white candidates applied to work for her, she says: “I’d say they almost always did in fact get the job. But relatively few came up through the pipeline, for whatever reason, so that might account for why there weren’t more.”
Many employers go to some lengths to attract more diverse applicants. “Well, I guess I have to hold my hand up and say I don’t encourage positive discrimination in any area.” Shulman flatly refuses to accept the critique that under her editorship Vogue had a diversity problem. “I have never been somebody who’s box-ticked. I’m against quotas. I feel like my Vogue had the people in who I wanted it to. I didn’t look at what race they were. I didn’t look at what sex they were. I didn’t look at what age they were. I included the people I thought interesting. So no, I don’t, absolutely not.”
To be fair, I also feel like Shulman’s Vogue had the people in who she wanted it to.
On whether or not Shulman, personally, is racist:
She begins to look unhappy. “In terms of the idea that in any way I’m seen as insensitive or racist, one of the reasons why I do find it upsetting is because actually my son’s grandfather, Robert Spike, was one of the civil rights leaders. So it’s very offensive to me and my family, the idea that I’m racist. I do mind about that. I can’t pretend I don’t.”
“I haven’t got a racist bone in my body, and it does infuriate me, so I suppose that.”
Not one bone!
On the lack of black models on her covers:
“Well, I don’t know. Who would I put on? Who would you have suggested that was a really well known black model who wasn’t on the cover?”
The problem, she says, is that there weren’t enough established black models. In her 25 years, only one apart from Campbell – Jourdan Dunn – ever appeared alone. Would she not have helped make others known by featuring them? “Well, no. Vogue always sold on the newsstand, and people have to recognise the person who you’re putting on the cover. I was judged by my sales. That was my remit. My chief remit was not to show ethnic diversity as a policy.” If she put a black face on the cover who was not instantly recognisable, “You would sell fewer copies. It’s as simple as that.”
Who among us even has the power to make black models more well known.
On “black - the whole thing”:
She gets to her feet. “I’m just getting more coffee because it’s so stressful, that whole thing about models – black – the whole thing.”
I’m getting more coffee too.