Edward Enninful’s appointment as the new editor of British Vogue marks a huge shift in fashion – a black man at the helm of the most established fashion magazine in Britain is exciting, but not just because of Enninful’s race and gender. The stylist has a history of making beautiful, timely – and sometimes controversial – images. He has a reputation as someone who shakes up mainstream fashion titles, and makes them chime with the interests of younger readers. Condé Nast International chief executive Jonathan Newhouse rightly describes Enninful’s work at Italian Vogue as attaining “landmark status in recent cultural history”.
Edward Enninful: ‘We need people of different ethnic backgrounds in all parts of the industry.’ Photograph: Mert & Marcus/PA
Ghanian-born Enninful will undoubtably bring more diversity to Vogue. As contributing fashion editor at Italian Vogue, he oversaw the magazine’s “all-black” issue in 2008, which became a bestselling number (Condé Nast printed an extra 40,000 copies). As fashion and style director at W he worked with known A-listers (Cara Delevingne and Emma Watson), but also championed diversity of models and celebrities. Naomi Campbell, Rihanna, Ruth Negga and Jourdan Dunn were favourite subjects.
Enninful has been vocal about the need to make change from the inside in this largely white industry. “If you put one model in a show or in an ad campaign, that doesn’t solve the problem,” he said at a talk last year. “We need teachers in universities, we need internships, we need people of different ethnic backgrounds in all parts of the industry. That really is the solution; you have to change it from the inside.” Arguably his appointment is a sign that this is beginning to happen. British Vogue has previously been called out for its lack of diversity in model casting. In 2015, Dunn became the first black model to be the solo star on the cover since Campbell in 2002.
As someone who has worked in fashion since the late 80s and has been in New York for six years, Enninful is fabulously connected. He regularly works with Steven Meisel, one of the most in-demand photographers in fashion. Campbell and Rihanna aren’t just models in his shoots – they are cheerleaders and friends. Campbell accompanied Enninful to Buckingham Palace last year to receive his OBE. To celebrate, she and Kate Moss hosted a party, which was attended by Madonna. His last Instagram post was a birthday tribute to Marc Jacobs, with a picture of the two of them arm-in-arm. Having these household names on speed dial will no doubt mean British Vogue’s profile will rise internationally.
Enninful receiving his OBE at Buckingham Palace last year – accompanied by close friend Naomi Campbell. Photograph: Reuters
What will the pages of Enninful’s Vogue look like? Knock-out shoots are a sure thing – though it’s unclear if he will continue to style them. Enninful is 44 and a younger point of view might well be introduced. He has always wanted to “talk about the times we live in”. In line with that, Enninful – who has 483,000 followers on Instagram – has said how much he loves social media and has been quick to work with so-called Insta-girls such as Gigi and Bella Hadid. Perhaps a melding of the digital and print sides of Vogue may be encouraged. More diverse cover stars are surely a given.
If current Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman came from a features background – the daughter of a theatre critic for the Evening Standard, who worked at the Sunday Telegraph and GQ before joining Vogue in 1992 – Enninful’s strength is certainly images, which perhaps signals that there will be a priority shift at Vogue. He saw off other candidates – Vogue’s deputy editor Emily Sheffield and the Financial Times’ Jo Ellison – more similar to Shulman. This suggests Condé Nast is in the mood to shake things up rather than continue in the tradition of the last 25-year-tenure. Shulman has been graceful in the handover. She posted her congratulations on Instagram, writing: “I hope you love Vogue as much as I have.”