Did ex-Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman hit out at Edward Enninful and Naomi Campbell?
Shulman’s article on what makes a great editor seems a thinly veiled swipe at successor Enninful, while her comments on lazy contributing editors could be in retaliation to Campbell’s criticisms on diversity during her tenure
Former British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman has hit out at what she described as a new guard of fashion editors, who she said were no longer magazine journalists but instead “celebrities or fashion personalities with substantial social media followings”.
Her remarks appear to be a thinly veiled swipe at her successor, Edward Enninful, who frequently shares pictures of himself with Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss and other leading fashion models across a string of websites.
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Writing for the Business of Fashion website, Shulman asked the question: “what makes a great magazine editor?” 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 did not mention anybody by name but her comments emerged amid signs of a growing rift between her and her successor at the influential magazine, which she edited for more than 25 years.
In August, Naomi Campbell, a friend of Enninful’s, criticised the lack of diversity at British Vogue under Shulman’s tenure by posting a photo of the magazine’s staff under her leadership. It showed there were no black employees in a workforce of around 50. She also thanked Enninful for appointing her as a contributing editor to the magazine.
However, in her article, Shulman questioned the value of appointing high-profile “contributing editors”, asking again whether they were prepared to work hard enough to justify their status.
Shulman wrote: “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.”
Enninful, the first male editor appointed at British Vogue in its 101-year history, started the job in August, replacing the privately educated Shulman, who had run the title since 1992. Born in Ghana and raised in London, he is an outspoken advocate for more diversity in fashion. He was previously a style director at magazines including W and i-D, where he befriended Campbell and Moss.
Since Shulman’s departure, several senior editors have left the Condé Nast-owned title in what appeared to be a clear-out orchestrated by her successor. Lucinda Chambers, the outgoing fashion director, gave an angry interview in which she said she had been fired and that the clothes in the magazine had become “irrelevant”.
But Shulman complained that the printed magazine was being starved of resources while its publisher was switching its focus towards digital content. She warned that British Vogue was in danger of losing some of its identity because “a massive investment” was being made in “a digital hub to service titles internationally with an element of one-size-fits-all content”.
Shulman said that while “the digital curveball thrown at print is powerful”, that “doesn’t mean that magazine brands don’t require editors who actually edit … who sweat the small stuff”. She said that British Vogue and titles like it would otherwise be at risk of “chasing clickbait that is mirrored in a zillion websites and cravenly following a small pool of short-term celebrity names”.
Shulman dedicates much of her article to defending the importance and value of print magazines over digital, describing them as “not only information and entertainment but also image-defining accessories, endowing the buyer with membership of a certain tribe when carried or even placed on a coffee table or kitchen counter”.
Condé Nast declined to comment on Shulman’s article. However, a source with knowledge of British Vogue also claimed that staff were concerned about their jobs under the Enninful regime, which they said was overly focused on celebrity figures.
The insider said that staff were “all so excited about this new chapter – and the reality is like working on the set of Zoolander. Hardworking staff … are being culled to free up cash for lavish shoots and celebrity appointments. Alexandra Shulman’s column is sadly spot on. In terms of positives, they’re very glad to see a genuine diversity of models and talent being represented in the upcoming issue.”
Others, though, have taken Enninful’s side. A blogger writing for The Spectator under the pseudonym Pea Priestly has been highly critical of Shulman’s editorship, claiming it will be “defined by mediocrity, idiocy and flip-flops” and that British Vogue was “borderline racist” during her reign – because it had only two covers featuring solo black models since 2002. The blogger also said that Enninful’s first act should be “to get rid of the whole anaemic team – every last Sloaney sloth”, referring to fashionable young upper-middle or upper-class staff not pulling their weight.