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Sept/Oct Editor's Letter: "Fashionably Black"

Corey Stokes, Senior Vice-President of Creative, and Interium Deputy Editor writes his first editor's letter with ESSENCE magazine.
Corey Stokes, ESSENCE Sept/Oct Editor’s Letter
Photo: Eric Johnson

I’m writing this editor’s letter—my first ever, actually—on a plane from Atlanta, where we shot our September/October cover stars: musicians and actresses Chlöe and Halle Bailey. I feel extremely nervous and excited but most importantly blessed as I wrap my premier cover shoot in this position— and as we usher ESSENCE into its next chapter. I joined this legacy brand four months ago to lead its creative vision—charged with the mission to “make sure that Blackness is returned to greatness,” in the words of our fearless leader, ESSENCE CEO Caroline Wanga. She often says this, reminding me of our larger purpose. In this issue, she and -Margaret-Mary Wilson, M.D., Chief Medical Officer and EVP of -UnitedHealth Group, touch on this imperative message while discussing Wilson’s career journey and her goal of building health equity (page 116).  

While such conversations are extremely important, so is the theme of this issue, which is fashion—specifically Black fashion. The decision to put style icons Chlöe, 24, and Halle, 22, on our cover couldn’t have been more intentional. The sisters embody another idea that has stuck with me as we’ve created this issue, which is that Black excellence isn’t defined by age. In the duo’s separate cover stories (page 84 and page 92, respectively), ESSENCE editors Victoria Uwumarogie and Blake Newby speak to the musical geniuses individually, to understand where their heads are as they step into a new spotlight that prioritizes their solo careers. The cover images were captured by legendary photographer Eric Johnson (working with him was a check on my own professional bucket list). We really wanted to show the inner rock star in each young woman—and with Eric’s eye for the realness of his subjects, we nailed it. I am forever grateful for his collaboration.  

Throughout the rest of the book, we continue speaking to the theme. In “Expect the Unexpected” (page 32), we rethink women’s wardrobe staples with a fun fashion story; and in “Black Women -Shaping the Future of Menswear” (page 111), we profile four designers who have made a lane for themselves in a field where few like them have thrived. Meanwhile, our reimagined Culture section is loaded with meaty conversations. Enjoy the one between writer Veronica Wells and actress Sheila Atim (page 68) about the latter’s showbiz journey, which led to her starring in director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s The Woman King alongside powerhouse Viola Davis (find the entire cast on our September digital cover, at ESSENCE.com). 

I would be remiss to not mention the redesign of our pages this month—with the focus on original photography, more fashion and beauty content, and type as text. I have to take a moment to shout out the creative production department: To Ally Brown, Nia Lawrence, Preston Thompson, Becky Eaton, Sophia Little, Elsa Mehary, Imani Nuñez, Michele Brea, Wendy Correa, Breanna Nichelle, Michael Quinn, and The Morrison Group—thank you! I know it wasn’t easy as I tried my best to articulate my ideas. I truly appreciate each and every one of you.  

I ask that you, the reader, take this issue as a soft launch into a shift in the look and feel of our print magazine—and as a commitment to continue uplifting Black creativity and the Black woman, because she really will save us all. 

Corey Stokes – @coreytstokes 

SVP, Creative + Interim Deputy Editor 

Corey Stokes, ESSENCE Sept/Oct Editor’s Letter