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The new editor-in-chief of Elle UK is shaking up the magazine

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

If you love fashion, as many of us do, then you know September is a big month. It's when New York, London, Paris and Milan hold their fashion weeks, where designers show off their upcoming collections. And that's when fashion magazines drop their coveted and lucrative September issues, even though, yes, the book generally comes out in the summer.

Earlier this year, Kenya Hunt became editor-in-chief for one of the top fashion books, the U.K. edition of Elle magazine - the first Black woman to be in that role. And this month's issue is the first to be edited entirely under her supervision. So not surprisingly, she used this month's issue to make a statement. She introduced new features, new contributors and put a new fashion icon on the cover - Lizzo, the pop star who's breaking new ground for larger-sized women in fashion and culture. Given all that, we thought this would be a great time to hear from Kenya Hunt about her vision for the magazine and, of course, new looks for the season. And she is kind enough to take time out from her busy schedule to talk to us now. Kenya Hunt, welcome. Thank you so much for talking with us.

KENYA HUNT: Oh, thank you for having me. It's a pleasure to be here.

MARTIN: Well, you know, obviously, your appointment is notable for so many reasons - I mean, in part, because you are the first Black woman to lead the U.K. edition of Elle magazine, and you're also an American. And I'm just wondering how you feel that you have been received in that role.

HUNT: I have to say it's been very positive, and it's been quite a heartwarming experience because I do feel that I'm a part of a wave of editors and creatives and image makers who have broken through in recent years. So there is a real sense of kinship and community among us, which has been really beautiful to see. But I've always loved Elle as a title, and it's always resonated with me. I'll never forget watching a show that used to air called "Style With Elsa Klensch," and she was interviewing the editor of Elle at the time about her choice to put a Black model on the cover, and this was Naomi Campbell. And she, you know, questioned her and asked her, you know, about her feelings about making this bold and courageous decision to put this woman of color in the cover.

And, you know, her reply was quite, you know, simple. She just thought she was - she didn't think it was this courageous move at all. She just thought it was - you know, that she was the woman who reflected the moment. And, you know, she just felt she was the best woman for the cover. And so I think that resonated with me, and it never left me. So even now, just, you know, having this role as editor-in-chief, I often think about that. And having Lizzo on the cover for September, it was - you know, it was such - it was thrilling for so many reasons. But also, I was quite tickled because the fact that she was a Black woman was not the headline because we've evolved.

MARTIN: Well, I will have to say, there are so many things about Lizzo as the cover that is remarkable for - first of all, it is September. You know, like, I remember when Beverly Johnson was the first Black model on the cover of Vogue, and it was deliberately chosen to be August...

HUNT: Yep.

MARTIN: ...Because August is the small book that precedes the big book, which is September. And it was deliberately chosen because it was - there was a feeling that some of the buyers and subscribers and advertisers would rebel. So there is that history, and that's not when dinosaurs walked the earth, you know? This is...

HUNT: It was recent. Yeah.

MARTIN: ...In our lifetimes. It was in our lifetime. So tell me about Lizzo. Why was she so important for you to choose?

HUNT: She is - she represents so many things to so many different people. I like how she uses her platform to really speak out and celebrate Black women, women of size. You know, I love that she is not afraid to speak out about issues like women's reproductive rights. You know, she talked a lot about how she really wanted to use her new album, "Special," to speak to this experience that we all collectively had during the lockdown period and also inspire people to feel a sense of hope and optimism. But also, most of all, I think we all know that the history of women's magazines has been very insular and exclusive and the opposite of inclusive. You know, there's that sense of there being historically a very, very narrow standard of beauty. And, you know, I'm excited to open that up and to really sort of look at the expansiveness of what womanhood looks like. And I thought Lizzo was a really great starting point for that.

MARTIN: Well, you know, speaking of inclusion, I was really struck by your editor's note where you don't shy away at all from the uncertainty, frankly, of - that a lot of people are living with right now. I mean, I think some people have seen, you know, fashion in the way that some people have seen sports. It's like their escape. You are very much not taking that approach, and I was curious about that. You specifically referenced the sense of unease that many people feel with the politics of the moment, whatever side they are on, you know, as it were, and the war in Ukraine, obviously. You are there in Europe. I was just curious, like, why you took that approach. And did you ever second-guess yourself and think, maybe not? You know what I mean?

HUNT: Yeah.

MARTIN: Like, how did you come to that?

HUNT: For me personally, I've always admired those journalists who drew those connections between fashion and culture and politics and really sort of contextualized fashion. But also, I think we've witnessed fashion sort of evolve to a place that's more purposeful. I think we're in a moment in time and in history that requires us to be much more honest and expansive in the way that we look at fashion and beauty, and to look at it against the backdrop of, you know, value systems and identity. Like, I don't think we can solely look at clothing in a bubble.

But that said, I do think it does have the power to inspire hope. And, you know, I do think there is power in a really beautiful and gorgeous fashion shoot that can make you dream. And we definitely still give you that. I think it's the most modern approach is to sort of speak to the world that we're living in - also because our readers are so savvy, and that's what we're talking about. And I think we - it's an exchange. Like, it's an - a dialogue exchange as opposed to before, I guess historically, when you look at women's magazines in the historic sense, where it's a monologue. Like, they're telling you how to live, how to dress, how to be.

MARTIN: So, you know - forgive me. I have to ask, are there any looks in particular you're excited about for fall? Now, I know you said, you know, fashion used to be top down and now it's more of a dialogue. And it's no longer the designers, you know, pointing the finger and saying, this is the color, this is what you're going to wear, this is the silhouette. But having said that, are there any key trends that you can point to that our listeners should be on the lookout for at whatever price point they're comfortable with?

HUNT: Yes. Hot pink is not a color I would ever normally gravitate towards, but it emerged as this dominant color story that came out of the collections. And it looks very sharp and intelligent and dynamic and cool. And so for me, as a color, I'm really interested in that. And then also, I'm really into heels again, which I didn't expect because I love my Jordans. I love a flat. I love a sandal. I broke a couple toes during the lockdown period, and so I had like, collected a whole range of like, you know, flats. And all of a sudden, I'm like, really enjoying wearing a heel again and dressing up.

And so I think it's the looks from the catwalks that really inspire you to - you know, to dress up, to wear some color, to go out and have an experience. That's what's really resonating with me. And I'm seeing it, you know, here as well. Like, during the summer, people were just getting their life - like, going out, traveling all over the place. So for me, it's, like - it's those pieces that inspire you to dress up. So I think there's a lot to get excited about right now in terms of, you know, options for what to wear.

MARTIN: That's Kenya Hunt. She's the editor-in-chief of the U.K. edition of Elle magazine. Her book, "Girl Gurl Grrrl: On Womanhood And Belonging In The Age Of Black Girl Magic," is also out now. Kenya Hunt, thanks so much for joining us.

HUNT: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: September 5, 2022 at 11:00 PM CDT
In an earlier headline, Kenya Hunt was mistakenly identified as the editor-in-chief of Elle magazine. Hunt is the editor-in-chief of Elle UK.