LGBTQ+ Trailblazers: The dazzling editorial command of Edward Enninful OBE

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Edward Enninful, Editor in Chief of British Vogue and European Editorial Director of Condé Nast, possesses the kind of creative brilliance and superior execution which doesn’t just grab your attention, it commands it.

This is the man who took the devastating impact of Covid-19 on the publishing industry and turned it into a ground-breaking celebration of key workers, the acknowledgement of public trauma, and the struggle with resilience and mental health – on the cover of Vogue. He is a standout changemaker of our time.

Edward Enninful was born in Ghana and moved to the UK with his family when he was young. The son of a seamstress, he grew up in Notting Hill, West London, which, with its annual Carnival and broad African and Caribbean diversity, fed his creativity as a boy. His first opportunity in fashion arrived by chance when he was spotted at 16 and began modelling for magazines. He advanced quickly after earning his stripes on styling shoots to become the youngest magazine fashion editor at i-D Magazine aged just 18. He became known for a distinguished and edgy style that is still evident in his work today.

From i-D, Enninful moved to Vogue Italia in 1998, and then on to American Vogue in 2006 before taking up his current position with British Vogue in 2017, becoming the first Black editor to helm any Vogue globally. Among an ever-growing list of accolades and awards, in 2016 he was appointed Order of the British Empire for services to diversity in the fashion industry. He lives in London with his long-term partner, filmmaker Alec Maxwell. The couple married in February 2022.

In September 2020, mid pandemic, Enninful featured on the cover of Time Magazine, with an interview recognising his revolutionary work at Vogue. Growing up in London in the 1980’s he said: “I was always othered, you know, gay, working-class, Black. So, for me it was very important with Vogue to normalize the marginalized, because if you don’t see it, you don’t think it’s normal.”

I was always othered, you know, gay, working-class, Black. So for me it was very important with Vogue to normalize the marginalized, because if you don’t see it, you don’t think it’s normal.

Since his appointment at British Vogue, Enninful has tackled issues around the lack of representation in the magazine and fashion industry head on, and with an artistic and razor-sharp capability rarely seen on such sensitive topics. He referenced his early life in London in the Time interview: “I wanted to reflect what I saw here growing up, to show the world as this incredibly rich, cultured place. I wanted every woman to be able to find themselves in the magazine.”

His cover stars and features are deliberate and a celebration of representation, the first with British model Adwoa Aboah, followed by a long list of stars and changemakers from Beyoncé to Judi Dench, and Greta Thunberg to Jane Fonda.

“Edward understands that images are political, that they say who and what matters.” – Oprah Winfrey

He continues to push boundaries, broadening Vogue’s reach far beyond fashion or lifestyle and deeper into cultural exploration and evolution, unafraid to challenge traditional norms surrounding beauty, age, race, sexual orientation, gender and social background. He prefers to show and reflect the world as it really is and to offer up alternatives and create change. It has certainly paid off; British Vogue still reigns supreme on the magazine racks and digital subscriptions have doubled under Enninful’s leadership.

Oprah Winfrey, who graced the cover of the August 2018 issue of British Vogue, said she felt “Empress Like” at the shoot. “Edward understands that images are political, that they say who and what matters.”

Enninful himself has told Vogue Business: “I feel I am in charge of more than just the magazine. Now we have so much to do as an editor. I have a lot of energy — I never stop; I never switch off. For me to be able to go from digital to events to the magazine to consumer-facing projects to branded content — it excites me. If it were just the one thing, I would probably be bored.”

Enninful is outspoken on diversity issues, having experienced racism in many forms. In one incident, not long after the Black Lives Matter protests, he was racially profiled at Vogue House by a security guard who advised him to use the loading bay entrance instead. His response? To calmly use the moment and his social media platform (1.3m followers on Instagram alone) to highlight the need to ensure equality, representation and respect. This is the sort of intelligence, determination and grace which has the power to create real change.

I never stop; I never switch off. For me to be able to go from digital to events to the magazine to consumer-facing projects to branded content — it excites me. If it were just the one thing, I would probably be bored.

Operationally, Enninful has made developing young and diverse talent a priority across the teams at British Vogue and he has been recognised for many years for his contribution to diversity and inclusion in the fashion industry.

Enninful was appointed as Global Ambassador for the Prince’s Trust in 2021, a charity founded by HRH Prince Charles in 1976 to support disadvantaged and vulnerable young people, providing education and career development access and opportunities. He gave an opening speech at a dinner for the charity at Windsor Castle, saying: “As a Global Ambassador, it has been wonderful to see the Trust extend its reach around the world and support even more young people from such diverse backgrounds.’’

British media has been criticized for traditional thinking and a lack of cultural representation and innovation. Enninful is a breath of fresh air championing change. His glorious transformation at British Vogue is an inspiration, bringing representation and light to so many.

Video Interviews

Amanpour & Co – Edward Enninful Discusses Diversity and Inclusion at Vogue
BFI London Film Festival 2021 – Edward Enninful OBE in Conversation

Credits

Vogue Business – profile
Business of Fashion – profile
Time Magazine Interview – How British Vogue’s Edward Enninful Is Shaking Up the Fashion World
The Urban Journal Profile – The rapid rise of Edward Enninful, the loudest voice in British fashion
Tatler – Edward Enninful honoured as new Global Ambassador for the Prince’s Trust

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