“Here it is: my 76th and final edition of Vogue, six and a half years and 153 cover stars later, including the 40 legendary women who feature on this cover.”
As I sit down to write this – my final letter to all of you as editor-in-chief of British Vogue and European editorial director – I’m filled with gratitude. Legacy is an unusual concept to consider (certainly when you are in the middle of your life!) but I hope you will all forgive me for a moment as I reflect on what has been a joyful, profound and invigorating chapter for my wonderful team and I.
Straight off the bat, can I just say that you come into this job knowing everything and nothing. First, of course, you are a custodian, ever mindful of the magazine’s unique history, of its power to elevate almost everything it touches. Yes, there are some prosaic concerns too. You give over quite a bit of brain space to making sure you don’t drop the ball. But above these tenets, you soon learn the most important lesson of all: find your bravery, because when you boil it down, the most crucial impact you can have as a Vogue editor is to change things up.
Never be too wedded to the past, and absolutely never let the wrong voices in your head. I still recall, during my early tenure here in 2017, brainstorming my first issues, when a senior company staffer said these words to me: “Diversity equals downmarket.” I was shocked, of course, but also genuinely confused. Were people really so... what’s a non-confrontational phrase I can reach for here? Shall we go with “close-minded”? Or were there – are there – still people unable to see the world for how it truly is?
Nearly seven years on and I feel so proud of the team here in London and all of the changes we have made together. When my first cover came out – featuring Adwoa Aboah, a Black model and activist, leading a roster of British names with a spectrum of different identities – it was seen as a shock to the system. Non-white cover stars had been viewed for so long as commercial nonstarters (this magazine had been a key offender, in fact). How ridiculous, I thought. And so it proved. Our first cover was a hit and by September of the following year, I remember standing in a newsagent and seeing almost all of the covers on all of the fashion magazines featuring Black and brown women.
I’m happy to say looking back from today this shift proved to be more than a trend (though I know I’m not alone in the fashion and publishing industries in feeling like you need to keep your eye on things still). What my team and I had discovered though – by virtue of bringing a broader range of voices and opinions into these offices – was that Vogue had an untapped capacity to reflect and engage with society through fashion in a more head-on and meaningful way than any of us had previously imagined.
The world was changing too. I arrived at the magazine the year after the Brexit vote, a few months before a global MeToo movement exploded out of Hollywood, before Covid hit, before George Floyd was murdered, as the climate crisis gathered and a cost-of-living crisis began to grip the country. Fashion is never immune to the tumult of life, and sometimes our job was to bring a little levity, beauty and distraction to bear. At other times, I hope we weren’t afraid to engage with the issues society was facing head on.
There have been a lot of firsts. The first 80-something to appear on Vogue’s cover happened in 2020 (Judi Dench, followed in 2023 by another amazing octogenarian Miriam Margolyes). In 2019, Laverne Cox became the first (I’m pleased to say not the last) out trans person to front an issue when she joined 14 other brilliant women on our Forces for Change edition. Sinéad Burke also appeared there, and four years later would be our consultant editor and star in another Vogue cover story when she helped us craft a portfolio featuring 19 Disabled talents entitled Reframing Fashion.
Fashion’s transformative power to thrill and excite was always our guide, and we were blessed to photograph the faces of the decade in some of their most memorable editorials: Beyoncé on a stallion (2022), Rihanna and child (2023), Rihanna in a durag (2020), Rihanna with what must have been the thinnest brows on film since the early Noughties (2018), to say nothing of Adele (2021), Timothée (2022), Billie (2021), Malala (2021), and so many more. There were countless amazing days on set. So much laughter. So much fun.
Change was afoot behind the lens too. In 2019, Nadine Ijewere became the first photographer of colour to shoot a British Vogue cover, while I’m pleased to say that last year women photographers shot the cover of the magazine five months in a row. The make-up of the office has been changing too. I still find myself in too many senior management meetings where I’m the only non-white person, but when I look around the British Vogue office I feel proud to see things moving in a better direction. Real legacy is never only about your own story.
Having the right team made it all possible. If you’re on a mission, nothing is more important than those around you and I truly rode a wave of the best. Genius Vogue writers and editors, phenomenal stylists, amazing photographers and directors, incredible hair, make-up, nail and set designers, charming talent bookers, indefatigable producers, video and social media teams, to say nothing of our thrilling list of contributors and art and photography departments who steered it all into life. They are the people who made it happen and I will miss them all.
Though, when all is said and done, you know who I will miss most of all? You, our readers. The passionate and supportive community that become the new Vogue audience is unlike any other in the world, and it drove me every step of the way. You were always kind enough to let us know when stories felt special to you, when they cut through all the noise and brought you a perspective you felt we’d all been hankering for.
Likewise, you were just as speedy to tell me about those times when we got it wrong, always allowing us a moment to course-correct and for us all to make our way together more assuredly in this fast-moving world. I love you for both reactions and can honestly say the shape and evolution of everything that has happened at British Vogue would not have been possible without all your voices.
So here it is: the 76th and final edition of Vogue, six and a half years and 153 cover stars later, including the 40 legendary women who feature on this cover. It’s been an extraordinary ride and an absolute honour. As I step into my new role, as Condé Nast’s global creative and cultural advisor for Vogue, I’m determined to keep championing the incredible array of voices in fashion and media, and ensure we keep the energy explosion of the last few years going. We always say it, because it always needs to be said: there is a great deal yet to be done.
As for my own next steps? Well, you know me by now. It’s worthwhile – important even – to reflect sometimes. But as ever in life, my eye is already on to the future. I’ve loved my time here and am proud that some important work has been done. But I’m always excited for what’s next.
The March 2024 issue is on sale from 13 February 2024
The original article can be found on British Vogue.