In the last week, whether you’re in the fashion world or just a purveyor of style, there has been no escaping the announcement of British Vogue’s new editor-in-chief. Why such big news? Well considering Alexandra Shulman’s 25 year tenure as editor, these were always going to be some pretty major Prada’s to fill. This prime position at the pinnacle of fashion represents a major coup and right now that belongs to a black, Ghanaian-born male.
Edward Enninful, who was recently awarded an OBE, is quite elegantly a man of the times. His humble beginnings tell a serendipitous story. Edward was handpicked on the Tube, by model-scout Simon Foxton, at the tender-age of 16. My fellow Goldsmiths alumn then mastered the reins of I-D magazine, joining the ranks as fashion director at the age of 18. After two decades of curating edgy grunge portraits, he went on to Italian Vouge, US Vogue and most recently W Magazine. Lo and behold, his “obsession” with underground street-style fostered a whole new desire for cultural diversity in high-end editorial. It’s debatable whether he ever came up for air.
But what makes him so special? And what does his appointment mean for the future of British Vogue?
2011 saw Enninful release his contentious issue for Italian Vogue, showcasing plus-size models only. As always, he persisted in embedding questions of sexuality, image concerns, taboo issues and religion into all his work. Edward meanwhile forged strong relationships with underdog photographers like Steven Klein, granting them seats at the fashion high-table. Together, they pushed the boundaries of social norms and broadened our fashion-thought process.
Fast-forward to current-day, and the social climate still poses trying times. We face the atrocities of race-hate crimes, police brutality and gender bias. Creatives hold the means to address socio-political insecurities. We’re in dire need to delve beyond the façade of glossy glamour and invite a thorough discussion on culture…
2017 has already been an eventful year for Edward. Take February’s narrative – Donald Trump had just announced the Muslim travel ban. In response, with the help of 81 celebrities, Enninful initiated a united front against xenophobia. Each celebrity boldly declared “I am an Immigrant” in front of the camera. It’s undeniable that Edward Enninful’s work still portrays thought-provoking social activism.
Edward holds fast to a progressive style that British Vogue clearly needs to tap into. The 100-year old magazine conglomerate prides itself on being detached from socio-political uncertainties and market trends; a fortress to keep itself from major pitfalls. Considering the socially advanced and diverse framework of it’s younger sister in the US – Teen Vogue – headway has to be made in Britain to resonate with readers. Can Enninful highlight cultural appropriation better than the likes of Teen Vogue’s go-to girls Yara Shahidi and Zendaya? Could he potentially breathe life into a magazine that has lost touch with social issues?
Chairman and Chief Executive of Condé Nast International, Jonathan Newhouse hailed Enninful as “an influential figure in the communities of fashion, Hollywood and music which shape the cultural zeitgeist.” And it’s true. His Instagram pictures speak 1000 words. And show 1000 stars. Whether it’s Jordan Dunn in his lap, or styling Pharrell, to standing alongside Michelle Obama, this man clearly has a likeable and endearing approach to his work.
With a social clout that has evaded other vintage editors, Enninful doesn’t allow protocols, stresses, or his workload to prevent him from moving forward with the times. Edward seems to get it right, with a strong Instagram presence, mainly focused on his work and inspirations. Edward can and most likely will use this social profile to his advantage. And he, as well as all those watching, know this.
In August 2014, Edward made the bold decision to team legendary supermodels Iman and Naomi Campbell with bad girl icon Rihanna for the boutique-luxury powerhouse that is Balmain. A black stylist, under the creative direction of a black designer, embracing African culture…in Paris. It was something unlikely for anyone else to have put together, or lived up to. He put the girls in bold orange tones, beaded bracelets/chokers elongating their necks, roped dresses with gold detailing, large gold bamboo hoops and militant green leather skirts. All beautifully embellished. They looked like enchanting Nubian warriors that would’ve captured Julius Ceasar’s heart…but then wripped it out.
Or revert to 2008’s Italian Vogue’s ‘Black Issue’, that put a spotlight on the top black models on the scene. Jordan Dunn, at the time, was a young newcomer. On behalf of Ms. Dunn (as an admirer of her beauty), I must say, giving her that big break was much appreciated. Edward did not shy away from the underlying issue of racial underrepresentation. The glowing models were strategically posed bare-faced with the question ‘Is Fashion Racist?’ emblazoned right in front of their faces. The response: a media-frenzy. Much backlash claimed the issue to be unfair, or half-hearted even. The main rhetoric being, “Vogue should always be all-inclusive”. Meanwhile, unprecedented support meant the issue sold out in record time of 72 hours in the US & UK.
So, in an editorial world full of investors stuck on the monthly sales aspect of the Vogue magazine, Edward can be a driving force behind social trends that will lead readers back to old-school print. Or perhaps he will be capable of encouraging the shift to digital print without damage. It is possible, as British Vogue is a standalone empire.
Edward gives hope for an eradication of gender bias: A man presiding over a magazine predominantly aimed at a female demographic, and doing it well. Men do care about women’s rights too! His most familiar work, “Makeover Madness” for Vogue Italia, literally moved the needle by addressing the taboos of female cosmetic surgery and ageism, with Linda Evangelista wrapped in surgical bandage. In 2016, he held out a branch of solidarity on behalf of all men when he based his W magazine campaign around Beyoncé’s controversial ‘Formation’. Perhaps, this cries replication. Nevertheless, he honoured the message of black women’s rights on a fashion platform that failed to acknowledge it.
Finally, for those unsure about the course editorial fashion magazines like Vogue would take in future, this is a pivotal moment for the fashion industry. Edward’s appointment alone has permeated barriers of race and gender that plagued the corridors of fashion editorial offices. An unorthodox, “surprising” candidate has been entrusted with creative control over the monarch of British fashion. He potentially invites a new demographic of readers to a magazine currently overwhelmed by social change.
On Instagram, there are nothing but genuine well wishes from celebrities, verified cool-kids, the public and “[…] admirers from afar […]”* all congratulating Edward Enninful. In such a small space of characters, people are telling stories of how they’ve heard of his kindness, how they’ve been impacted by him and how they can’t wait for his first British Vogue issue. Undeniably, these are all odes to black excellence. Something I myself am unashamedly indulging in, just by congratulating Edward. He called it “A dream come true […]”. Yes, one which we all share with him.
*A comment left by Paloma Faith. Faith doesn’t personally know Edward, but this is testament to the inspiration his work brings.