“It’s so unusual what we’re capable of, isn’t it? I indicate, we’ve been putting Vogue together from our kitchen tables. It’s kind of mad,” says British Vogue’s Deputy Editor, style authority and recent jewelry creator, Sarah Harris, as she opens up about life during the pandemic.
Harris has been swirling at the top of the fashion universe for almost two decades, starting at British Vogue almost 17 years ago with stints at Tatler, W Magazine and WWD before. During her tenure at Vogue, she has worked her way up to the #2 spot at the publication all while she established herself as a bona fide fashion star along the way. Known for her minimalist-yet-edgy style and her trademark long, silver mane, she has inspired legions to pursue her bold, contemporary and elegant vibe while she has singlehandedly made it cool for women to keep grey hair (I dare you not to consider it for yourself after seeing her).
She’s speaking to me on the pandemic medium of choice, Zoom, from London where it’s currently 3PM while it’s 7AM where I am in San Clemente, California. She arrives onto the screen settled into the living area of her home where a towering bouquet of white blooms holds court far off in the background.
“Your hair looks great,” I say. “I just washed it,” she replies, smiling and shifting it about a bit. “That’s how it dries? That’s just not fair,” I respond, making a point of how without fuss and effortlessly gorgeous she is, and we take in a laugh. The scene seems like an entire universe away from Mayfair and the hallowed halls of Vogue House. I remark that it’s almost time for her day to come to an end, and she corrects me with a sweet smile: “The end of my workday is late. Sometimes around 10PM.”
In her almost two-decades-long run in the magazine world, she’s bore witness to a landslide of change. She recalls her first job at British high-society publication, Tatler, where she worked on the same team as Natalie Massenet, the founder of the luxury e-tailer, Net-a-Porter, which she left Tatler to start. “I remember the whisperings in the corridor, people thought she was mad. I remember everyone saying, she’s got such a great job. She’s at Tatler, a fashion editor, why would you leave that job to sell clothes online?”
Little did anyone know Massenet’s new venture was only the tip of the iceberg which gave way to a digital revolution that would come to shift the fashion industry irrevocably.
“When I got to Vogue, the website was so young. There was no social media,” Harris explains. “Back then it was your only job to produce a magazine. Whereas now, it’s your job is to produce content for the website, to produce videos, to produce content for social. It’s so multi-dimensional now, it’s just…you can’t even compare it to where it was that long ago.”
But it’s impossible to ignore the biggest shift at British Vogue to date: The exit of the former editor-in-chief, Alexandra Shulman, after 25 years followed by the installation, and history-making appointment, of Edward Enninful, the first black man to ever helm British Vogue in the magazine’s 104-year existence.
When Enninful came on, Harris was prepared to go on maternity leave for the birth of her firstborn, Dree. “I think I had a solid three weeks of working with him before I left,” she recalls, and notes that in spite of being gone for nearly 8 months—“Which I know sounds like so much for an American, where you get 4 months or something?” This time, I correct her, “8 weeks if you’re lucky,”—she returned to Enninful appointing her as his Deputy in addition to her existing role as Fashion Features Director, birthing a new era for her career while becoming involved deeply in supporting the new era Enninful was creating for all of fashion.
“I think before his [Enninful’s] arrival, Vogue for the most part, probably did represent a sort of very white, privileged world. But I think Edward has really ushered in a new age and I think, probably not only in magazines, but I think across the industry as a whole,” she says. Harris goes on to explain Enninful’s passion for his Vogue which personifies a vision where every woman is able to see themselves in the magazine. “I think it’s impacted the way designers are thinking about their collections and thinking about their casting and thinking about what women they want to have in their campaigns and how they talk to their customer.”
Since he’s taken the reins, the publication has successfully put on its covers the most diverse cast of characters to date, including Rihanna, Oprah Winfrey and Judy Dench, the last being the oldest female cover star in the magazine’s history at age 85. “It’s so exciting to be a part of his Vogue and he’s wonderful to work with. We work closely together on mapping out the issues; he’s interested in other people’s opinions, he listens. But yes, it’s a big job and you don’t ever really switch off from it, but I love what I do.”
Does she find ways to switch off from it? Yes, indeed, to fulfill the other major role in her life as a mother to Dree, for which the pandemic has been incredible in creating a new connection with the 3-year-old.
“I’ve been able to spend a lot more time with Dree. I drop her off at nursery every morning at 9 and when she comes out of nursery she comes bounding home and is like, ‘Mama, Mama,’ while I’m in the middle of a Zoom call, and it’s fine. People just roll with it, right? What can you do when you work from home?” she says, with a smile breaking across her face. Harris then puts her phone down from 6 to 730 each evening to take care of bath time and dinner for her daughter before she puts her to bed. “Then as soon as Dree’s asleep, I’m back on my phone, back on emails.”
Harris has managed an important milestone during the pandemic and that’s the launch of the first collaboration of her career with jewelry brand, Mejuri. The collaboration marks not only her passion for jewelry but also positions her firmly as someone whose profile is impactful enough to deepen, propel, or even help create a brand’s position in the market.
“Our whole team and I have been long admirers of Sarah for her elegant take on modern minimalism. There is such synergy between her sartorial proposition of discreet luxury in her everyday essentials and the Mejuri aesthetic,” says Mejuri CEO, Noura Sakkijha. “So when it came to expanding our brand into the UK market, Sarah was the obvious choice for a collaboration given her expertise in jewelry design and her position as a global authority on style.”
The Mejuri collaboration features 2 pairs of curb link chain earrings of which one pair consists of small gold links which can be worn hanging or pulled back into the post as a loop. The second pair consists of 3 large links, two in gold and one in black enamel, inspired by Harris’s love of the combination of gold and black.
“We landed upon the idea of an earring because it’s one size fits all and we wanted it to be inclusive and not have to worry about different sizing. Also, people aren’t buying tailoring necessarily, or smart dresses, because no one’s going anywhere. I know that I am not, I’ve got track pants on right now,” the editor laughs. “But I add a little piece of jewelry and it elevates everything. I feel like you can get away with wearing a hoodie if you have actually got a cool pair of earrings on. You feel like you’ve made that bit of extra effort.”
Jewelry design is hardly miles off from who Harris intrinsically is. Had she not landed on a career in fashion, then, “For sure, I would have done something in the jewelry world in some capacity,” she says, and describes how through Zoom calls, shipments of prototypes and virtual back-and-forth for feedback, she was able to birth this collaboration remotely.
This brings it all back to the kitchen table, the bedrock where everything is being brought to life during these pandemic days, and she muses, “It’s kind of amazing how it’s come with each other.”