April 2016 Editor's Letter: Generation Z
W's editor-in-chief discusses how talent knows no age.
When I received the initial images from our April couture shoot in Los Angeles on my cell phone late one January night, it occurred to me just how young our three cover stars—Zendaya, Willow Smith, and Kiernan Shipka—are. Certainly, I had done my due diligence: I’d met each of these women on more than one occasion, and we had already featured them all, as new faces, in the pages of this magazine. What’s more, their massive presence on the red carpet and in social media is pretty much unavoidable. Still, I found myself compelled to Google their ages, and, without ruining the surprise, I will tell you that if you add them all up, you would just about get my own age, not to mention those of the majority of my senior colleagues!
So, the question is: Are they too young to appear on the cover of W? Are we, like so many other media and commercial enterprises, simply surrendering to the cult of youth that is driving contemporary society? Why should we pay so much attention to people who have only just begun to prove themselves? For W, it all comes down to merit.
The new generation, Gen Z, which spans current teenagers like the three on our cover and their peers in their early 20s, is in a hurry to be recognized, yes—but in a refreshingly thoughtful way. Unlike their predecessors, they are no slackers. Generally speaking, they are curious, determined, and hardworking. If there is anything they lack, it’s a sense of entitlement.
Take Willow Smith, who, as the daughter of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, got a generous head start over most girls her age. But since the age of 10, when she released a hit single, Smith has claimed a spotlight all her own. Zendaya, on the other hand, is the daughter of schoolteachers, whose ambition for her was that she play professional basketball. But the actress, who has become well-known for her Disney Channel roles, had other ideas. Finally, Kiernan Shipka has come of age before our eyes, in the role of Sally Draper on Mad Men. As Matthew Weiner, the series’ creator, tells W Editor at Large Lynn Hirschberg, the only sequel he can imagine to his wildly popular AMC television show would be a continuation of Sally’s story. “I want to know what happens to her,” he says. “And that is because of Kiernan.”
And while we have singled out these three impressive young women, they are certainly not alone. Every April, we seize the opportunity to introduce our readers to exceptional new talents in a variety of fields. This month, we also profile the French designers who are quietly staging a fashion revolution: Vetements’s Demna Gvasalia, who was recently appointed artistic director of Balenciaga; Simon Porte Jacquemus; and Sébastien Meyer and Arnaud Vaillant, the duo tasked with reinvigorating Courrèges. In our expanded Who’s Next section, we bring you a trove of names to know from the worlds of film, music, literature, design, and more. Our track record in this department speaks for itself (see our early coverage of Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, et al), but let’s not forget that last year, around this same time, our cover was graced by Jane Fonda, who, though well into her 70s, is as gorgeous as ever and entering a whole new phase of her career, not least thanks to her riveting cameo in the 2015 dramedy Youth.
So perhaps there is no such thing anymore as too old or too young. Where talent is concerned, age is simply not an issue.