“Racism is a part of my life whether I like it or not,” says Edward Enninful, the Ghanaian-born West London-raised designer who became British Vogue’s first black editor in 2017.
It’s a light and sunny Monday in August and a momentous occasion for the 48-year-old, who in a few hours will unveil the cover of September, the most important issue of the year. He’s dressed in iconic black-rimmed glasses and a navy wool Burberry suit, ready for a day of TV appearances – first Sky, then CNN – and a photoshoot with the FT, for which he will soon change into a black suit.
But we’re not talking about the September issue right now, a neatly leafed copy of which sits on his desk. We discuss an incident that Enninful tweeted about on July 15, when he walked through the front door of Condé Nast Britain headquarters in Mayfair and was told by a security guard to use the dock in rear loading. “I’m a black man – this isn’t the first time I’ve been profiled and I won’t be the last,” he says now. (The security guard, who is employed by a third party contractor, no longer works in the building.)
Bringing public attention to such events is relatively new to Enninful, who in a 2018 interview said he tried to “ignore” racism. “When I was younger I would have been so nervous,” he says. “But at my age I feel like I have to voice it so people don’t have to go through it and think everything is fine.”
Enninful recently read Memoir by André Leon Talley, which details the systemic racism the 71-year-old former US creative director of Vogue encountered in the fashion industry. Enninful, who burst into the industry as a model at 16, has he found her exact portrayal?
“Yes, although André came before me,” he said. As Talley did, Enninful learned early on that “if you are black you have to work 10 times harder.”
“I did it by studying more, looking at more pictures, owning my craft and educating myself,” he says.
At a time when The American operation of Condé Nast is under surveillance for his treatment of people of color – leading to the resignation of two executives and a memo from American Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour conceding that her magazine “has not found enough ways to uplift and give ‘Space for Black Editors’ in June – Enninful showed what modern Vogue can look like: inclusive yet luxurious, multicultural in outlook and staff, primarily in fashion but with an eye to the world.
His acts celebrated activists and cultural “change makers”, and broadened the brand’s historically narrow definition of what is beautiful, elegant and ambitious. He was the first publisher to feature covers featuring subjects in a hijab and durag, and pushed the age ceiling back, making Judi Dench, 85, the title’s longest-running star in June.
With 352 pages, its latest issue travels in the same vein. September is the most important issue of the year for fashion magazines and the one with the most advertising. It is also generally used as a lure for the less accessible celebrities: the last September issue was edited by Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, in a celebration of the “pioneers” which proved to be a real coup in the world. hurry.
For the first time, the 26 international editions of Vogue have agreed on a common theme for their September / October issues: hope.
“For me, I knew that with everything that had happened, our interpretation had to be about activism and education,” Enninful says. He enlisted Nigerian-born photographer Misan Harriman – the first black man to photograph a British Vogue cover in its 104-year history – to capture model and mental health activist Adwoa Aboah alongside footballer from Manchester United. Marcus Rashford, who wrote a moving letter in June that persuaded the government to extend its free lunch vouchers to underprivileged school children during the summer vacation. The cover unfolds to reveal the individual portraits of 20 activists featured in its pages, including Angela Davis and Alice Wong.
Enninful has made a name for itself with timely covers that resonate on social media. In an age when magazine and website audiences are just a rounding error compared to Instagram and WeChat, which each reach over a billion people a month, it’s all the more important.
He also changed the people behind those covers. Most of the blanket crew were black, Enninful says, adding that “the clothes are from BAME [Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic] creators ”including Martine Rose and Samuel Ross of A-Cold-Wall. It was important “to have a contribution not just in front of the camera but behind it” – something fashion brands need to do more, he says.
“It’s not enough to put an image on your Instagram feed, or post a photo in a magazine or a photo shoot. The infrastructure behind the scenes has to change,” he says.