Is the British fashion industry racist? Well, it’s a bit like asking whether a British sky is blue – in theory, yes, although in reality, it’s often a dismal grey. Brief bursts of translucent pink and cloudy lemon drift through and for longer, more reliable periods, it’s a deep ink. But then, sometimes, as The Devil Wears Prada’s Miranda Priestly might lecture, it is undeniably cerulean blue. How blue? Ask Alexandra Shulman.
Formerly the most powerful woman in the industry as editor of Vogue UK, Shulman gave an eye-watering interview to the Guardian last week on the publication of Edward Enninful’s first issue heading the magazine. It was an excruciating unintended trashing of her 25-year legacy in which she appeared to confirm the worst of her blinkered privilege.
In more than 300 issues of Shulman’s editorship, only a dozen covers featured a black person. Two were Beyoncé and Rihanna, who had to become the most famous women on the planet before they were deemed worthy of British Vogue. Campbell – permanently in the world’s top 5 most famous models throughout her 30-year career – featured on five.
This is to entirely misunderstand. Newspapers and magazines chase their readers, not form them. Viz does not cause men to be giggling schoolboys, it appeals to that part of us. Shooting Times does not onvert people to the joys of shotguns, it appeals to those who already have it.
Concerns about who goes on a magazine over should be directed at those who buy – or crucially, don’t – magazines. That is, if there’s any racism here (and quite why a majority white country shouldn’t have majority white people on the cover, well?) then it’s of the people, not the editors.