Is the Age of the Stylist Turned EIC Over?

Photo: Patti McConville / Alamy Stock Photo

Their fashion magazines couldn’t be more different, but two outgoing editors-in-chief who made headlines recently — British Vogue’s Edward Enninful and i-D’s Alastair McKimm — have more in common than their surprise resignations. Both are first and foremost known as stylists.

While fashion magazines build their reputations on their photography, few of the industry’s longest-running top editors spend much of their time on set overseeing the nitty-gritty details of making images — swapping out coats or adjusting buckles and flipping collars.

And yet, many of the people who have assumed editor-in-chief positions in recent years were stylists or career fashion directors like Enninful and McKimm. They include Samira Nasr at Harper’s Bazaar, Mel Ottenberg at Interview, and Sara Moonves at W. The type of editor who, a generation ago, was more likely to work closely with the editor-in-chief of a major magazine than actually become one. (Of course, there are notable exceptions, like Carine Roitfeld, the former editor of Vogue Paris.)

The ascension of many stylists as editors-in-chief made sense in a digitally driven world. Fashion images spread widely — and for free — online, and publications with the most memorable covers or shoots win the most engagement. An executive at an independent fashion magazine told me he would rather readers follow the publication on Instagram than visit its website. His advertisers care more about the number of social-media followers than web traffic or newsstand sales.

“At the end of the day, we get judged not by the articles or the features that we put out there but by the imagery and covers — and how the fuck you’re going to please an advertiser,” said an editor at another independent fashion magazine.

Enninful and McKimm leave their posts at the top of fashion media at a turbulent time. Layoffs are rampant across the industry, from Sports Illustrated to the Washington Post. Entrepreneurial writers are launching subscription newsletters. Condé Nast is stuck in a protracted battle with its unionized staff as it tries to cut costs. In recent years, Vogue has consolidated its global operations and started to share more photo shoots across its different regional editions. All sorts of publications are trying to figure out ways to stretch budgets, rely on advertisers less, and diversify their revenue streams with digital subscriptions and events.

“As an industry, it’s been all about savings, and saving the status quo,” said Stefano Tonchi, the former editor of W who now edits two new print magazines, Palmer and TheWrapBook.

The business pressures are also taking a toll on editorial images, budget-heavy projects increasingly controlled by advertisers. “Either the celebrity or the magazine is being paid,” said one editor. These days, many brands mandate their celebrity spokeswomen only wear their clothing on covers or refuse to lend their collections for photo shoots unless magazines follow certain rules, like replicating the way a look was styled on the runway or promising not to feature a competitor in the same shoot. (Last year on fashion covers, for example, Kate Moss wore Saint Laurent, Kendall Jenner wore Miu Miu, and Hunter Schafer wore Mugler — all brands those women simultaneously fronted in advertising campaigns.) The results can be boring. “Do I really want to see another picture of Miley Cyrus in Gucci?” said the editor. “We are bombarded by content from the social-media platforms, day in and day out, but hardly anything is remarkable or memorable.”

When i-D announced on social media this week that it was temporarily pausing its operations, many readers assumed the magazine would soon disappear. They’ve seen the same routine before. (Remember Love? Condé Nast insisted the magazine would continue after its founder, stylist Katie Grand, left in 2020. She then started another magazine, Perfect.) But according to a source with knowledge of the situation at i-D, the magazine’s new owner, model Karlie Kloss, has indicated her ambitions to grow the magazine, not let it wither. She will need an editor willing to put in the time and energy to do more with less and wrangle advertisers and talent. Someone like McKimm — who also styles for Gucci and Marc Jacobs, among other brands — likely has neither the time nor the interest.

As an editor-in-chief, “you are the mascot for the whole thing, and a lot of fashion is still based on showing up,” said Laura Brown, a media consultant and former editor of InStyle. She made a point to be on set for most of her major shoots at the magazine, but her travel schedule sometimes made it impossible. “I loved knowing you had a cover in the room,” she said. “I don’t miss going to shows in Europe for two months a year and having to go hurtle in to see the Italian cashmere advertiser for eight minutes to see if you can get money.”

Is the Age of the Stylist Turned EIC Over?