On the eve of her 96th birthday and after 70 years on the throne, Queen Elizabeth II is a British Vogue cover star — or rather, co-star. She is one of two women featured this month. It’s the first time Her Majesty’s photograph has fronted the respected fashion magazine, part of a thoughtful package marking her historic Platinum Jubilee.
I saw the cover when it was released during the Cambridges’ tour of the Caribbean and ran out of time that week to talk about it. So! I wanted to circle back and share a few thoughts, which you will find below.
Also, I’m mapping out these Friday deep dives for the next few months and would love to hear what topics you would like me to cover. I am open to any ideas, from the royals to fashion and beyond (currently mulling over the Met Gala and the upcoming Downton movie). Have thoughts? Please send me an email at Hello@SoManyThoughts.com. Thank you!
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Yes, according to Reuters: “It is the first time Elizabeth appears in photographic form on the magazine's cover, having previously featured in illustrations marking her marriage to Prince Phillip in 1947 as well as for her Silver Jubilee in 1977.”
The magazine selected a portrait by Antony Armstrong-Jones, a British photographer and filmmaker with close ties to the Windsors. Tony, as he was known, went on to marry the Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret, in the first televised royal wedding in 1960. A year later, before the birth of the couple’s first child, Tony was styled the Earl of Snowdon. (Town & Country has a great primer on him here.)
The British Vogue cover photograph was taken in October 1957, according to the National Portrait Gallery, which would be when Elizabeth was 31 years old and about five and a half years into her reign.
(Sidenote: The royals tend to trust photographers within their circles! Chris Jackson, a royal photographer for Getty Images who has taken many portraits of the Cambridges, is married to Kate’s stylist and close aide Natasha Archer. You can see pics of their wedding here.)
It is the royal family’s Diamond Diadem. The unique piece was made in 1821 for the coronation of King George IV. (He was the uncle of Queen Victoria, the great-great grandmother of Queen Elizabeth II). The diadem features 1,333 diamonds, including a pale yellow stone in the center, along with “four sprays representing the national emblems of England, Ireland and Scotland; roses, shamrocks and thistles,” according to the Royal Collection Trust. “Together with a diamond-studded loop (which was broken up to help make Queen Victoria’s Garter armlet) the bill for the diadem amounted to the large sum of £8,216.” (The inflation calculator I found said that would be more than £960,000 today).
Although it was made for a man, the diadem has been worn mostly by royal women, including by Queen Victoria and Queen Mary. The current Queen has worn the Diamond Diadem throughout her reign, including for the carriage rides to her coronation and the State Opening of Parliament throughout the years.
Anya Taylor-Joy is the other cover star, tied to her role in the forthcoming film, “The Northman.” It is about a Viking prince, so there’s a royal tie there, I guess? (You can watch the trailer here.) Taylor-Joy is also well known for her role starring in the Queen’s Gambit, which has the word “queen” in the title. But the one-season Netflix miniseries, which debuted in 2020, was about chess, not royalty.
To more obviously tie the young actress to the elderly monarch, Taylor-Joy posed for the cover with a replica of the Diamond Diadem. In his editor’s letter, British Vogue Editor-in-Chief Edward Enninful calls Taylor-Joy an “actor of the moment” and says the “playful echo” was meant as a “fantasy dress-up moment.”
Pssst: Looking for your own Diamond Diadem? Kate Phelan, Vogue’s contributing fashion director, said it came from Replica Crown Jewels.
I’m not sure. Using multiple covers for a single issue seems to be something of a trend lately? Or, rather, for many years now — as this 2013 piece from the New York Times would suggest: “Multiple front covers are indicative of efforts being made by traditional media like magazines to freshen their offerings.” Which, I get! Multiple covers appeal to more audiences. But still...should Her Majesty share this spot?
I wasn’t the only one with questions! Olivia Truffaut-Wong wrote in the Cut: “I assume Claire Foy, Olivia Colman, and Helen Mirren were busy? One would think that, as Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth might be worthy of her own Vogue cover, but, I suppose, what’s a Queen without her chess set?”
I will say, there are two small but notable signs that reinforce the Queen as the primary subject here. Enninful wrote his editor’s letter almost entirely about the monarchy. Also, the coverlines, industry speak for the text on the front, are the same on both editions. The biggest text that draws your eye in — “Platinum Queen” — is about the Queen.
Edward Enninful is a major star in the fashion industry; I am a huge admirer of his work. Born in Ghana and raised in London, Enninful began his career at the age of 18 when he was named fashion director of i-D, a British fashion magazine. He held that position for two decades before going to work at Vogue Italia, American Vogue, and then as creative fashion director at W Magazine.
Enninful was named Editor-in-Chief of British Vogue in 2017 and has consistently produced some of the most talked-about covers in fashion. He was featured on the cover of Time magazine in September 2020:
Enninful is close with Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, having worked with her when she guest-edited the September 2019 issue of the magazine. “Every single day we were having secret meetings in my office,” he told Afua Hirsch at the Guardian about working with Meghan. (You can read the full profile here, it’s fantastic.) I’m very much looking forward to Enninful’s memoir, called A Visible Man, which is coming out later this year.
Given what a force Enninful is, I was very interested to his thoughts on the monarchy. I’d encourage you to read his editor’s letter in full; here’s a bit I keep thinking about:
According to USA Today: “Queen Elizabeth's daughter, Princess Anne, was featured on the 1971 November cover and the May and November 1973 covers of British Vogue; Princess Diana had four Vogue cover appearances during her lifetime; Duchess Kate was featured for the magazine's 100th-anniversary issue in 2016.”
Meghan guest-edited an issue but did not appear on its cover.
British Vogue put together a package of pieces to support the Queen on the cover. There are stories — with fantastic slideshows — on the Queen’s fashion and her jewelry. But the essay that jumps out to me most is by Robin Muir, looking at the role British Vogue has played in the Queen’s reign. After all, the dance between the monarch and the magazine is mutually beneficial. Her Majesty is a symbolic figurehead who famously remarked, “I have to be seen to be believed.” British Vogue, the most prestigious fashion title in the country, is in the business of, well, showing people — in their best, most fashionable light.
The magazine, which is just a decade older than the Queen, became particularly intertwined with the royal family before WWII, after the abdication of Elizabeth’s uncle and the coronation of her father. “Vogue began to play a key role in burnishing the image of the monarchy, depicting it as a unifying force for good, marrying the virtues of majesty and duty with familial devotion, faith and simplicity,” Muir, a contributing editor to the magazine, writes.
Vogue’s coverage of Elizabeth continued through her wedding and coronation, aided by its ties to famed photographer Cecil Beaton. Known for his portraits of Elizabeth and her mother, Beaton was the official photographer of the coronation, which meant “Vogue had a ringside seat.”
But as the Queen entered middle age, the magazine’s interest trailed off. The story notes, quite honestly I’d say, that Vogue drifted away after the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977 (when she was 50) and into the early 80s, when Princess Diana entered the scene. From Muir’s piece:
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But mostly: I am a huge fan of British Vogue and I deeply appreciate the thought with which Enninful reflected on the monarchy. However, I am so torn by the choice to feature a young Queen Elizabeth II on the cover rather than a more current photograph. Yes, it’s a gorgeous, nostalgic, striking portrait, and a poignant reminder of how long the Queen has served.
And yet, the 2020 debate over Princess Anne on the cover of Vanity Fair echoes in my mind. The interview was timed to her 70th birthday, but the cover photograph of her many decades earlier. The questions raised then apply here. Why, when celebrating a woman’s milestone or a series of accomplishments, do we shy away from showing her in her present form? What message are we sending about the reverence placed on youth and the judgment cast as we age?
The Queen, in particular, with her embrace of neon shades later in life has remained to her credit highly visible well into her 90s. Is that not cover worthy?
I have no doubt this was a complicated cover to pull off; questions of access and approval are tricky with celebrities, I cannot imagine what that dynamic would be when dealing with the royal family. Perhaps it was the Firm who wanted to show the younger Queen? I’m afraid we will never know.
I’d love to hear what you think of the Queen on the cover of Vogue. Please hit “Join the Discussion” below and add your thoughts to the comments of this newsletter.
Have a wonderful weekend, friends. I'll see you back in your inboxes next week.
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