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Chioma Nnadi: British Vogue's new editor says she has big shoes to fill

Chioma Nnadi, by her own admission, "has big shoes to fill".

The new head of British Vogue is replacing Edward Enninful, who spent more than six years breaking boundaries and championing diversity at the top fashion magazine.

But London-born Nnadi, who is the first mixed-race woman to take on the role, told BBC News there is still more to be done.

"Obviously what Edward did was incredible, I'm only taking the conversation further," she said.

Nnadi, 44, started her career in newspapers in the UK, before moving to New York and joining Vogue there.

She spent the next 14 years climbing her way up the ranks, eventually reaching the position of editor of Vogue.com.

Nnadi has interviewed stars including Rihanna and Angelina Jolie, and describes herself "first and foremost as a storyteller".

But Enninful's decision to step down last summer created a gap at the top of British Vogue, and Nnadi recently relocated back to the UK to take up the role.

Speaking to BBC News in Vogue's new central London office, Nnadi - whose official title is head of editorial content - admitted to feeling the pressure.

"Absolutely," she said. "But it's exciting. It's an exciting time."

Edward Enninful with Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss
Enninful, pictured with Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss, broke boundaries at the magazine

Enninful, who was a high-profile champion for greater inclusivity in the fashion industry, changed the tone at British Vogue.

Under his leadership, the publication featured an openly transgender woman (Laverne Cox) on the cover for the first time, as well as disabled models.

"I have a great deal of admiration for what he did, he was someone I looked up to," Nnadi said. "So I know it's big shoes to fill but I'm excited to take on that role."

Journalist and author Yomi Adegoke told BBC News she thought Nnadi would continue the work started by Enninful.

"I think it feels like a really exciting time, because I think the change that Edward has made, she is going to continue that legacy," she said.

Nnadi was born to a Swiss-German mother and a Nigerian father, who came to the UK to study in the 1960s.

Growing up, she said she didn't see many people who looked like her in senior roles.

"Thinking about younger baby Chioma, thinking about what she would've thought, and it's not something in my wildest dreams that I would've imagined for myself," she said.

"And I know how meaningful it is for younger people to see people like me, who look like me, in a position like this."

She added that Vogue has become "much more diverse" since she started more than a decade ago.

For her debut issue, Nnadi chose to feature the singer FKA twigs, a nod to her own early days as a music journalist.

"She's someone whose music and style I've always loved," she said. "For me, she represents the modern British eccentric."

Chioma Nnadi attends The 2022 Met Gala in New York City
Chioma Nnandi spent 14 years working at American Vogue

British Vogue's circulation is around 190,000, according to the latest Audit Bureau of Circulation figures. Despite the challenges facing the print industry, that figure has remained steady in recent years.

But it does still face challenges, including attracting new readers in an age of TikTok and Instagram.

Terry Newman, a fashion writer, said it's "survival of the fittest" for media brands like Vogue at the moment.

"It's about attracting young consumers, and getting advertisement. They have their work cut out for them, as they try to reach that all important Gen Z reader."

She added: "It's currently all about digital. Very few people connect with the print media in the same way as we used to."

That's something students at the London College of Fashion agree with.

Hannah Jones, who's studying fashion marketing, told BBC News she does read Vogue, "but I find TikTok to be a lot faster".

"I don't necessarily find myself reading a lot of the physical copies," said Zena Utsalo, who's studying fashion styling.

Nnadi herself admits she sees social media as the magazine's main competitor, rather than another fashion media brand.

Fashion is one of the biggest polluters. That's another challenge, Nnadi says. "I think there's a big responsibility on the industry to wake up and see and do things in a more responsible way," she said. "I'm definitely seeing progress in that regard."

The magazine has also been criticised for being out of touch, and for displaying fashion that's unaffordable to most people - particularly given the high cost of living.

Nnadi admits there's "a fantasy aspect to fashion," but argues that's what draws people in. "For me, when I open a magazine, that's really what I want to see."

Chioma Nnadi
Chioma Nnadi says she learnt her sense of style from the streets of London

Nnadi says she was "always" into fashion. One of her earliest childhood memories is fixating on a pair of pair of shiny patent leather shoes, when she was about five years old, and getting her father to buy them for her.

Growing up in central London, she learnt her sense of style from people-watching in the city.

"Back then when I was a teenager, I didn't have the means to buy designer brands but it was about the fantasy and being able to recreate looks I saw, and I got very into the idea of styling my clothes in a specific way, and buying vintage," she said.

"I had a sort of energy and enthusiasm about fashion and getting dressed that was really informed by walking around the streets of London."

She still loves street-wear, and vintage, and is known to be a fan of sambas. Getting dressed is, for her, "one of the most joyful things" she does all day.

Chioma Nnadi and Dame Anna Wintour
Chioma Nnadi will have to manage her relationship with Anna Wintour

Enninful's departure was plagued by rumours of a rift between him and Anna Wintour, Vogue's editor in chief.

So how does Nnadi plan to manage her own relationship with the legendary Wintour, who inspired the movie The Devil Wears Prada?

"Anna's my boss, I've always had a really great relationship with Anna," Nnadi said.

"She is someone who I think is impossible to keep up with because she's so incredibly hardworking and I've been very fortunate to have her mentorship."

As for Nnadi, would her colleagues describe her as a terrifying, Devil Wears Prada editor, or is she more easy-going?

Nnadi laughs. "I hope I'm not terrifying."