A Dame On The Cover

In André Leon Talley’s soon to be released autobiography, he said he is “too old, too overweight, too uncool” to continue to be worthy of Anna Wintour’s friendship and professional appointment. Will British Vogue’s latest cover make the feared supremo look worse, and American Vogue out of touch?

 

Judi Dench Vogue May 2020

British Vogue has proudly announced their oldest cover model: Dame Judi Dench. This came shortly after the publicity surrounding the publication (and now early launch) of André Leon Talley’s autobiographical grievance The Chiffon Trenches: A Memoir. Mr Talley’s book has generated so much interest following the release of advanced copies (or galleys?) to the media that it would now enjoy an early release after a postponement from an original date that was to coincide with the the now-also-postponed Met Gala.

It has been reported that in Mr Talley’s book*, he has expressed the view that American Vogue’s equally lauded and lashed out at editor-in-chief Anna Wintour is no longer chummy with him because the 71-year-old, (reportedly) 130-plus-kilo former colleague and front-row companion is “too old, too overweight, too uncool”. Whether that is true of the also-71 and (reportedly) 61-kilo Ms Wintour (a dame too) in this age of body- and age-positive communication and tolerance, we may perhaps never know for sure. But British Vogue’s latest cover featuring the 85-year-old stage and screen actress and Mr Talley’s indignant charge do not do anything to diminish Ms Wintour’s persistently cold image.

During this COVID-19 pandemic, when geriatrics are in the news, not for the life they had led, but its tragic end, and the staggering many that meet this fate, Ms Dench on this cover is, for many in the media industry, a smart move. She is not known for her fashion, which makes her Vogue cover debut all the more deserving of applause, especially when she could have, 21 years earlier, been front-page material after winning the Oscar for best supporting actress, appearing approximately eight minutes as Queen Elisabeth I in Shakespeare in Love. Indeed, those who grew up on Twitter and Instagram may only remember her as M in the 007 movies, but editor Edward Enninful, who chose her as the cover face, was canny not to train a telephoto lens on merely young, (still) Twilight-loving readers.

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In the interview, Judi Dench is described as “a kind of cultural tea cosy to be popped soothingly over the nation’s beleaguered identity in times of crisis”. Somehow, it is difficult—unthinkable—to imagine Anna Wintour as “cosy” and “soothing” after so successfully cultivating an image of such iciness that “cold” and “tough” are far more synonymous with her, as described in Thomas Maier’s All That Glitters. To be fair, Ms Wintour’s Vogue does cover or give coverage to women of a certain age. In 2017, she put Meryl Streep, then 67, on its cover (after a “first” in 2011 that saw Ms Streep, at 62, smiling under the recognisable masthead). In addition, there is the annual “Age Issue”, yet there hasn’t been on the cover a face with the happy wrinkles that say 85.

Ms Dench lives in her country estate in Surrey. For all we know, it just might be her Capri! While in self-isolation because of the lockdown, she acknowledges in the interview that although she is surrounded by lush greenery, she is “very aware of people who may not have a garden and are not as fortunate to be able to sit outside in the sunshine”. Empathy is presently very appealing, so is honesty. On aging, she shows less tenderness, more truth—perhaps for humour or editorial meat. She said that there is “nothing” about being 85 that she enjoys, and that age is not “an attitude; it’s horrible”.

In his Editor’s Letter, Mr Enninful wrote, “…the dame is not a fan of the term national treasure. But treasure her we do”. Which got us thinking: Who do we have that we can treasure? Here’s looking at you, Her World. We challenge you to put Jin Yinji (also known as jin jie or sister Jin, the Korean actress, who, at 74, is believed to be the oldest among Mediacorp’s still-performing sorority) on your cover. Or, perhaps not someone as silver. Say, the 67-year-old Ho Ching?

*Watch this space for a review of the book. Photos: Nick Knight/Vogue

 

E E Coming

Actually, make that arrived. The welcome mat was laid for Edward Enninful at British Voguewhere he will be the magazine’s first male—and black—editor-in-chief

 

Edward Enninful

In the world of fashion editorials seen north of the equator, black male stylists are as common as Kanye West X Bape Bapesta kicks (that first collab that got Yeezy hooked on creating sneakers). The British-Ghanian stylist Edward Enninful is considered to be up there among the best—in a pantheon dominated by Caucasian women. Now that he’s secured the editorship of British Vogue, all eyes are on Mr Enninful to see what he can do to bring the magazine out of the lull that kept on under the stewardship of the previous EIC Alexandra Shulman, who was with title for 25 years.

Sure, there is, of course, Andre Leon-Talley, long associated with (American) Vogue, but Mr Enninful appears to be the quieter of the two, with no perceptible predilection for appearances on the Oscar red carpet or America’s Next Top Model, bearing pronouncements such as “She’s conveying to me a volcanic sultriness under the iceberg of cold, frozen, incandescent beauty. She’s hot, and she’s cold.” Mr Enninful is less of a public face that way, and seemingly less voluble too (his appearance in the post-Trump filmlet I am an Immigrant could have been missed in a blink), but his work has always caught the attention of designers and fashion followers. The images that he styles have an edge that grabs, an over-the-top sensibility that does not, regardless of the excesses of the post-Internet age, spill over.

Vogue Italia 2005Edward Enninful styled this 2005 Vogue Italia cover featuring Linda Evangelista, and lensed by Steven Meisel

Most memorable were his contributions to Italian Vogue, in which, together with the late Franca Sozzani, Mr Enninful dreamed up some rather controversial editorials. One of them, in 2005, featured Linda Evangelista getting ready, going through, and emerging from cosmetic surgery, entitled “Makover Madness”. The spread brought attention to the photographer Steven Meisel (more than Mr Enninful), and critics were vocal about magazines promoting unattainable beauty by encouraging readers to go under the knife.

Another, three years later, was “A Black Issue” (and it was exactly that—the entire magazine was dedicated to black models and creative individuals). The European editors, it was thought, were more advanced than their American counterparts when it came to diversity, and Mr Enninful did not disappoint. “A Black Issue” was a huge success, so much so that, according to a Time magazine report, “after the original run of the July issue sold out in the U.S. and U.K. in 72 hours, Vogue Italia has just rushed to reprint 30,000 extra copies for American newsstands, another 10,000 for Britain and 20,000 more in Italy. The only complaints about the reprints might come from those currently trying to sell copies on eBay for (US)$45 apiece.” (Interestingly, Vogue Italia’s newly appointed EIC is also a guy: Emanuele Farneti.)

Vogue Italia 2008Vogue Italia’s “A Black Issue” styled by Edward Enninful and shot by Steven Meisel

Mr Enninful continued to embrace coloured models in his work, unafraid of the possible losing battle against what he called “white-out that dominates catwalks and magazines”. In fact, it is his visual acknowledgement that diversity can be fashionable that has set his work stunningly apart, such as the “We Are the World” spread for the September issue of Vogue in 2010. Half a dozen models of different races (including China’s Liu Wen) was probably unusual under Anna Wintour’s watch, but the editorial may have laid the groundwork for the magazine’s first “diversity” cover last month. Reportedly, it was Ms Wintour who championed the hiring of Mr Enninful, even when he already holds a full-time job as fashion and style director at W.

Although he may have let his imagination run wild in most of his influential works—no doubt goaded by the editors who commissioned him, these were not hangover from his teenage years. Mr Enninful had an early start in the business. It may be hard to tell now, but he was a model at age 16, and, later, assistant to one of the most influential stylists of ’80s London, Simon Foxton, whose editorials for i-D and Arena at that time made British fashion/lifestyle titles more compelling to read than those across the Atlantic. At 18, he was appointed fashion director of i-D magazine, which left for posterity his fate as the youngest ever fashion director with an international title.

Vogue US 2010A spread styled by Edward  Enninful for American Vogue’s September issue of 2010, also shot by Steven Meisel

By then, he was working with photographers such as Nick Knight and Corrine Day. His successful pairing with Steven Meisel and his striking output for Vogue Italia, placed him as one of fashion’s most important image makers. His advertising work for designer labels such as Calvin Klein and Lanvin underscore his keen commercial sense. And his close friendship with industry heavyweights such as Pat McGrath and model model Kate Moss, whom, according to Suzy Menkes, he has known since she was 14, makes him somewhat of an industry darling.

Mr Enninful’s appointment at the 101-year-old British Vogue as its 11th editor was met with palpable joy. Congratulatory messages on social media came fast and furious, from Grace Coddington to Vanessa Friedman. The media was no less fervent in their reports, with the Guardian rhapsodizing about him as “someone who shakes up mainstream titles, and makes them chime with the interests of younger readers”. It would seem then that Britain’s “most established magazine” made a well-supported choice. We’ve always been partial to British magazines, from the now-defunct The Face to the very present Porter for their willingness to be unconventional and exhilaratingly current. We can’t wait to see what Edward Enninful will bring to British Vogue.

Photos (from top): Giorgio Niro, Vogue Italia/Steven Meisel, Vogue Italia/Steven Meisel, American Vogue/ Steven Meisel