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British Vogue, Forces for Change

By using her platform to deliver positive change, the Duchess of Sussex is successfully moving the dial on what it means to be a royal role model in the age of activism.

Izzy Ashton

Assistant Editor, BITE

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The first issue of British Vogue was published in 1916 when Britain was in the midst of the First World War, George V was on the throne, and the magazine cost one shilling. Long since held as fashion’s ‘bible’, being featured as the magazine’s hallowed cover star is a privilege shared by just a handful of individuals each year, namely top models, actors and, occasionally the odd member of the royal family.

The latest royal to be involved with the publication is HRH the Duchess of Sussex, who has become the first person to guest edit a September issue of British Vogue in the magazine’s 103-year history. After choosing not to be featured on the front cover, not wishing to seem by her own admission “boastful”, the Duchess instead chose 15 women who she feels are ‘Forces for Change’ to be shot in black and white by photographer Peter Lindbergh.

Each star was styled by British Vogue editor Edward Enninful and contributing fashion editor Grace Coddington. From models to actors, activists and a boxer, the list includes the author and activist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, actor and activist Jane Fonda, one of the magazine’s oldest cover stars and climate activist Greta Thunberg, one of its youngest. The actor and LGBTQIA+ advocate Laverne Cox is the magazine’s first trans cover star, while Jacinda Arden, the Prime Minister of New Zealand was photographed via video link.

These 15 women were chosen because each individually is helping to shape society in radical and positive ways for future generations. According to the Duchess, the decision to place each woman alongside one other on the same cover was about “the power of the collective.” It's a trend which is taking place across many sectors of the creative and media industries as previously competitive companies come together to push for progress on diversity.

The importance of this collective power is also highlighted by the editorial decision to include a mirror as the 16th spot on the cover, designed to allow the reader to see themselves as a vital part of the change.

Also included in the issue are pieces of writing from Brené Brown and Jameela Jamil while the Duchess interviewed Michelle Obama. The issue also features an interview by her husband Prince Harry with Dr Jane Goodall to explore how we can all look after our world better. Prince Harry is among other members of the Royal family who have also turned their hand to guest editing having worked on BBC Radio 4’s the Today programme. The Duchess of Cambridge previously teamed up with the Huff Post UK while Prince Charles has worked with Country Life.

There has been a somewhat predictable backlash to this September issue, with media responses harping back to the supposed rivalry between the Duchesses of Sussex and Cambridge, while others wondering why the Queen wasn’t chosen to be on this month’s cover star. In reality, the media response to the cover feels out of touch from that of the general public, who are able to finally see people on the front of a high-end fashion magazine that deliver the kind of authenticity that brands often talk about, yet rarely deliver.

By using her platform to deliver positive change, the Duchess of Sussex is successfully moving the dial on what it means to be a royal role model in the age of activism. By choosing to turn their cover into a platform for change in the most commercially important September issue, Vogue is proving its commitment to inclusivity is more than just a PR platform.

In 2007, British Vogue ran 2,020 pages of advertising at an average cost of £16,000 per page and the magazine is the most profitable title in the UK. It is also one of the world’s most recognisable magazine brands, sitting on almost every newsstand in the country, in every waiting room and doctor’s surgery. With this sort of reach, and this sort of commercial offering, the fact that there are 15 changemakers on the cover, who aren’t all supermodels, matters. This is what changing the narrative looks like in action and brands should get on board.

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Publishing Inclusion