It has just been revealed that the latest iteration in the global Vogue franchise, Vogue Arabia, has replaced its female editor in chief after just two issues with a seasoned editor Manuel Arnaut. Arnaut is the second male editor in chief of an international edition of Vogue to be announced in under a week and the third this year.
Edward Enninful was revealed as the hotly anticipated replacement for British Vogue‘s outgoing editor in chief Alexandra Shulman on Monday of this week and Emanuele Farneti was revealed as the replacement for the late (and legendary) editor in chief of Vogue Italia Franca Sozzani in January.
Arnaut’s appointment was announced yesterday, just days after it was revealed that Vogue Arabia‘s launch editor Deena Aljuhani Abdulaziz would be leaving. While she has not commented publicly on her abrupt departure (she had been in attendance at a high-profile Vogue party just days before), sources suggest a falling out with Nervora which publishes Vogue Arabia under license in the region from the brand’s ultimate owner Condé Nast.
To those on the outside Aljuhani Abdulaziz’s departure was a surprise, given that it came so early in her career at the publication but also because she had been appointed with great fanfare and was already on her way to being as recognised as (if not more so) than many of her longer standing peers at the helms of global glossy publications. That she is royalty (she married Sultan bin Fahad bin Nasse in 1998) and that she chose to put Gigi Hadid in a veil on the cover of her inaugural issue sent her profile sky-high.
No Vogue editor worth their stripes doesn’t ruffle a few feathers from time-to-time (and in particular on the issue of diversity and race, but more of that later). Many argued that she should have selected a local model but Aljuhani Abdulaziz argued that her Palestinian heritage (via her father) made Hadid a perfect Vogue Arabia cover star and there can be no doubt that the Inez and Vinoodh-shot cover was beautiful.
It is tempting to suggest that the cover controversy is what did it for Aljuhani Abdulaziz so early in her tenure but a report in WWD suggests it was more down to differences of opinion with Nervora. Nervora, which also produces versions of lifestyle platform Popsugar and shopping destination Shopstyle in the Middle East, is apparently more used to an “advertorial” style of publishing where brands pay for content and had expectations of an early profitable return for the publication, whereas Aljuhani Abdulaziz was attempting to uphold a greater degree of editorial independence.
Whatever the reason it’s clear her departure wasn’t amicable and she has since said she was sacked in a break from the usual “by mutual agreement” line that is usually trotted out on such occasions. But given we were only two issues in it was fairly obvious no one would buy that line on this occasion. Nervora had also had her successor waiting in the wings, and, he’s male and not from the Middle East either – neither of which points make him unqualified for the job.
Arnaut is a a seasoned editor and was previously editor in chief of Architectural Digest Middle East, having launched the title (another Condé Nast brand that is licensed in the region by Nervora) in 2015. His career in fact began at Vogue Portugal after which he moved on to edit its stablemate GQ Portugal.
In a statement he revealed his lifelong passion for the Vogue brand, which, given where his career started, rings true. And, perhaps more importantly if he is to last longer than his predecessor, he understands the workings of Nervora. “With the rich heritage of the Middle East as a starting point — and its eyes on the future — Vogue Arabia celebrates the region’s fashion and cultural identity, presenting it to the world in a luxurious, upbeat, and contemporary style. In an exciting climate of modernity and creativity, the team and I are committed to working towards a Vogue Arabia that is the proud voice of the region, representing the strength and allure of the Arab woman,” Arnaut said.
What’s striking about the statement is the focus on “modernity, creativity and contemporary style”. The Middle East is a hugely significant fashion market globally – it’s estimated that around a third of the world’s haute couture is bought by customers in the region but it’s also demonstrating huge growth in e-commerce and its “super-malls” are a magnet for global brands at all levels of the market. Furthermore it is working hard to promote its home-grown designers to a local and global market with initiatives such as the Dubai Design District (d3). This is definitely a market that, while not necessarily wholly embracing the concept of Gigi Hadid as a cover star, will respond to an editor that places the emphasis on modernity while respecting its heritage.
And that is certainly what British Vogue will get with Edward Enninful, and, many would argue, exactly what it needed. Forget his ethnicity and gender, the reasons Enninful promises to be a great editor of British Vogue are his credentials, creativity, connections, and character. He was a fashion director for i-D at the age of just 19 and went on to work for US Vogue, Vogue Italia and W Magazine, he pushes boundaries (but has great taste), he knows everyone who matters not just in fashion but across the arts and entertainment, and he is, it would seem, universally loved.
There had been some concern in the industry at large that Condé Nast would make a “safe” appointment at Vogue (someone who went to right school and has the right surname, for instance) or, in a bid to look hip, would go for someone who may push things too far for the Vogue audience. What they needed was someone would challenge readers, attract new ones, but not alienate them with gratuitous wackiness. “You don’t want someone who’s just going to put someone in a posh dress with a sandwich on their head or something, just for the sake of it,” said one insider who described Enninful’s appointment as a “relief”. (Perhaps in some respects he is a safe appointment after all.)
While there may not be sandwiches on heads (if there are, they will be chic anyway), Enninful will be a different proposition altogether from his predecessor. Shulman is an accomplished journalist and author and a true publishing professional – she knows what sells and has grown the circulation of Vogue to 195,000 (while the website clocks up more than 22m views) during her 25-year tenure.
However anyone who watched the BBC 2 documentary, Absolutely Fashion: Inside British Vogue, aired last year to co-incide with the publication’s 100 years will sense there was some frustration at the lack of willingness to divert from a tried and trusted formula. Her veto of a proposed Kate Moss cover by creative director Jaime Perlman, which showed the supermodel draped in a Union Jack in a casual pose, in favour of a more conventional head and shoulders “beauty” shot was the cause of much chatter during London Fashion Week last September when the show was aired. Suffice to say most watchers were on Perlman’s side.
Also British Vogue‘s record on diversity is, by any standards, not great. Shulman, deservedly, was celebrated for never having published an article on dieting in 25 years and for chastising the industry for issuing its samples in such tiny sizes that only the slimmest of models could fit them. However when it came to models of colour the record is woeful; only two (Naomi Campbell and Jourdan Dunn) have been given solo cover shots since 2002. And, last year, when it published what should have been a revolutionary “no models” issue featuring “real” women, the cover was given over to actress Emily Blunt.
Here’s where Enninful’s ethnicity probably is relevant; he will no doubt introduce more colour to the pages (and, let’s hope, the cover) in more ways than one. Also his background – he was a working class kid plucked from a tube train to be a model when he was a teenager – will also inform his choices. He has his finger on the pulse of street culture, as well as haute couture, and, while he’s close friends with Kate Moss, it’s hard to imagine him featuring her (fabulous as she is) on the cover with the same monotonous regularity that Schulman did; she used her no less than 37 times in 25 years.
As for Farneti, he too brings a different perspective to Vogue Italia. He started started his career in the television and joined Condé Nast in 1999 working on the launch of GQ. He then went on to work at various Italian publications — including La Gazzetta dello Sport, Sportweek, Men’s Health, Flair and Icon. He returned to Condé Nast in 2014 as editor in chief of interior design magazine AD. In December 2015, he was named editor in chief of GQ.
To say he has big shoes to fill is an understatement. Franca Sozzani was famed around the world for producing what was arguably the most creative version of Vogue internationally, exploring issues such as plastic surgery and ethnicity in her shoots (she collaborated with Enninful on the famous Black Issue in 2008 stating: “Mine is not a magazine that can be accused of not using black girls“.) Sometimes she caused controversy but she never compromised. If Farneti is as uncompromising, he too looks set to be an exciting appointment with such a strong publishing pedigree behind him.
It’s tempting to ask which iteration of Vogue might change its figurehead next. French Vogue‘s editor in chief Emmanuelle Alt has been in post since 2011, which by Vogue standards (with the obvious exception of Vogue Arabia) is still a relatively recent appointment. But Anna Wintour will celebrate 30 years at the helm of the world’s most influential version, US Vogue, next year. Anyone care to open a book on who might be the best man for that job?