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UK Vogue turns profound for September, but is it just playing strategically?

With the brand-new Vogue cover portrait of influential Black activists in the UK in place of the usual pouting stars, Misan Harriman hopes to encourage employers to cast the recruitment net more widely.

The Footballer Marcus Rashford, an English professional footballer who plays as a forward for Premier League club Manchester United and the England national team, who helped force a UK government U-turn on children’s meal vouchers, and Adwoa Aboah, a model and mental health campaigner are featured with the banner “Activism Now, The Faces of Hope” on the front of the fashion bible.

Photographer and founder of What We Seee, Misan Harriman, sits in his garden as he holds the September issue of British Vogue magazine displaying his photograph on the cover, at his home in Woking, Britain. Image credit REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

It was Harriman’s pictures of London’s Black Lives Matter movements that brought him to the attention of UK Vogue editor-in-chief Edward Enninful, who himself is the first Black person to lead the magazine.

For Harriman instead, the first Black male photographer to shoot a UK Vogue cover, the picture is “really of this moment”, reflecting months of protest for social justice following the brutal murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis that inspired worldwide protests.

Vogue needed to change in the wake of the protests and the coronavirus pandemic, Enninful spoke out to the BBC, and that is what led Harriman to reimagine and send a strong message with the cover for the September issue.

“You couldn’t just sell, you know, beautiful clothes and shoes when the world was going through such a crisis,” the editor pointed out.

Harriman also that said he felt that the cover stars Rashford and Aboah are symbols of hope and empathy in the UK after their activism to make a change for the society, and also reflected his achievement as a Black individual.

Image credit REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

He is the first Black man ever to shoot a Vogue cover after Nadine Ijewere became the first Black photographer to shoot a cover when she did the January 2019 issue.

“If you’re looking for talent in a non-diverse place then it doesn’t matter because you’ll never see the talent,” he admitted in an interview.

“So, I think you have to cast the net wide. I’m not the only black photographer - there are thousands, hundreds of thousands, of amazing black photographers out there.”

It is expected that the September issue will sell more copies as fashions shift from summer to winter. Last year it was guest-edited by Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, and featured influential women on the front, in particular after Meghan’s feminist controversial relationship with the Royal family that Vogue thoughtfully took advantage of.

Yet, why is Vogue trying to reach a different and wider audience only now? Why is the “fashion bible” giving importance to the Black Lives Matter movement only now where the racial equality problem has been going on for years? Where was the magazine for all this time? Is it playing strategically or is it really interested in making a change? And also, for how much time will it last if it is genuine?


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