Well, well, well…confirmation that the Duchess of Sussex guest edited this year’s September issue of British Vogue has created quite the fire storm. I’m breaking this up into two parts, the first of which will cover some (but definitely not all) of the substance that’s come out of the actual magazine, and a second that will get into some of the controversy. Let’s begin, shall we?
First things first, Meghan wrote an editor’s note to accompany the issue that detailed how this project came about. She first met with Editor-in-Chief Edward Enniful (who she described as someone with whom she has several mutual friends) in January because she was seeking his support for Smart Works, one of the charitable organizations with which she works. More on that later. She writes:
“What evolved over the next hour was a promising pow wow of two like-minded thinkers, who have much in common, including our love of writing. Over a steaming cup of mint tea, we teased through how one can shine light in a world filled with seemingly daily darkness. Lofty? Of course. Worth it? Without question.
“Within hours of our meeting’s end, we were already texting one another – philosophising about how to communicate this shared understanding and the lens through which we see the world, how to pivot from a perspective of frustration to one of optimism.”
“I had read a book many moons ago called The Four-Chambered Heart, by Anaïs Nin, which had a quote that has always resonated with me: “I must be a mermaid, Rango. I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living.” For this issue, I imagined, why would we swim in the shallow end of the pool when we could go to the deep end? A metaphor for life, as well as for this issue. Let’s be braver. Let’s go a bit deeper.”
And this reference to Archie, which has prompted several articles:
“I was about five months pregnant when this process began, and by the time you hold this issue in your hands, my husband and I will be holding our three-month-old baby boy in ours. It’s a very special time for me personally, on so many levels; working with Edward and his team, both during my pregnancy and my maternity leave, has played no small part in that joy – it has been a privilege to be welcomed and supported by this amazing team.”
Vogue also ran an interview with Enniful on the process. On why Meghan isn’t on the cover:
“The pair began working together in January, and together have crafted an issue entitled ‘Forces for Change’. The Duchess chose not to be on the cover herself, deciding instead to highlight an impressive roster of trailblazing female changemakers – from activists to artists, prime ministers to climate change campaigners – who are breaking barriers and setting the agenda across the globe.
“Enninful added, of the Duchess: ‘As you will see from her selections throughout this magazine, she is also willing to wade into more complex and nuanced areas, whether they concern female empowerment, mental health, race or privilege. From the very beginning, we talked about the cover – whether she would be on it or not. In the end, she felt that it would be in some ways a “boastful” thing to do for this particular project. She wanted, instead, to focus on the women she admires.'”
One of the first features released was an interview with former U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama. Meghan’s husband, the Duke of Sussex, has a longstanding friendship with the Obamas that dates back to their meeting over the Invictus Games. The former president even attended the games in Toronto in 2017 after he had left office, as well as sitting down for a radio interview with Harry when the latter was doing his own “guest editorship” of sorts for BBC. Harry also made it a point to attend the inaugural Obama Foundation Summit in 2017. So, there’s a relationship there, the implication of which we’ll get into next post.
“Like a beautiful meal: the first bite sets the tone and the final spoonful leaves you satiated, smiling, and sometimes (if you’re dining under the direction of a forward-thinking chef) even inspired. So how could I bring this issue to its logical conclusion? How could I meet that very lofty self-imposed goal?
“Turns out British Vogue famously has a back page Q&A feature that is equal parts informative and whimsical, with a special guest each month. My first thought was that it needed to be someone kind, inspirational, motivating, funny, with gravitas and as much depth as levity. My second thought: it needed to be Michelle Obama.
“So, over a casual lunch of chicken tacos and my ever-burgeoning bump, I asked Michelle if she would help me with this secret project.”
The questions that follow are about motherhood and Mrs. Obama’s work on female empowerment. I’ll include the last answer here, in which she answered Meghan’s question on what the most beautiful sound she’s ever heard is:
“When Malia and Sasha were newborns, Barack and I could lose hours just watching them sleep. We loved to listen to the little sounds they’d make – especially the way they cooed when they were deep into dreaming. Don’t get me wrong, early parenthood is exhausting. I’m sure you know a thing or two about that these days. But there is something so magical about having a baby in the house. Time expands and contracts; each moment holds its own little eternity. I’m so excited for you and Harry to experience that, Meghan. Savour it all.”
Harry also makes an appearance in the pages via an interview with Dr. Jane Goodall during which they talk about environmental and racial issues. From one write up of the exchange:
“Later, the pair were discussing animals’ aggressive tendencies, with Goodall noting that ‘we mostly control them’ with our brain. Harry then pointed out that, in order to control racist tendencies, one has to be aware of them in the first place.
“‘It’s the same as unconscious bias—something which so many people don’t understand, why they feel the way they do,’ the royal said. ‘Despite the fact that if you go up to someone and say “what you’ve just said, or the way you’ve behaved, is racist”—they’ll turn around and say, “I’m not a racist.”
“He went on, ‘I’m not saying you’re a racist, I’m just saying that your unconscious bias is proving that because of the way that you’ve been brought up, the environment you’ve been brought up in, suggests that you have this point of view—unconscious point of view—where naturally you will look at someone in a different way. And that is the point at which people start to have to understand.'”
And then this:
“Goodall pointed out that climate change was indeed ‘terrifying,’ perhaps even more so to Harry now that he and Meghan have brought a child into the world. Their son, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, was born in May.
“When Harry spoke about how he had wanted to preserve nature for future generations and his own children, even before he became a father, Goodall joked that hopefully he didn’t want ‘too many’ kids.
“’Two, maximum!’ the royal replied — meaning Archie might have a little sibling in the next few years.”
And finally, there is the announcement of Meghan’s new clothing line…though that description is a tad misleading. Meghan has overseen a capsule collection that’s been designed by her good friend designer Misha Nonoo and will be available at Jigsaw, John Lewis, and Marks & Spencer. When you buy an item from the collection, an identical one is donated to Smart Works in an attempt to ensure there are more mainstream sizes and styles available for women seeking the organization’s professional services.
“The reason why I was drawn to Smart Works is that it reframed the idea of charity as community … it’s a network of women supporting and empowering other women in their professional pursuits. It’s the enthusiasm of the volunteers, the earnestness of the staff and, most of all, the blushing, bashful and beautiful smile that crosses a client’s face when she sees herself in the mirror, that I have found so profoundly compelling.”
So, those are the big ticket items from the substance of the magazine…and the features/quotes that have garnered the most media attention. I wanted to present them by themselves without comment, and tomorrow I have a follow-up post scheduled in which we’ll discuss how this has been received by various audiences. As always, I welcome your thoughts here or on Instagram as well.