OXFORDSHIRE, United Kingdom — When Edward Enninful — recipient of this year’s Global VOICES Award — became editor-in-chief of British Vogue in August 2017, he ushered in a new era for the publication, placing inclusivity and what he calls a “diversity of perspective” at the core of the title.
His hometown of London, and its multicultural, global identity in particular, has informed Enninful’s approach ever since he began his career as i-D magazine’s youngest ever fashion director, aged 18. Thus, on Friday, Soho Farmhouse’s Barnwell Barn was transformed into a colourful interpretation of “Global London” where guests gathered to honour the editor for his outstanding contribution to the fashion industry and exemplary impact on the wider fashion media landscape.
“I’m so grateful to be from London. A bold city, with all the colourful and creative people I grew up alongside, including many of you in this room,” the Ghanaian-born editor recounted later in the evening after accepting the award. “London taught me the meaning of hard work, it challenged me, but sometimes when I failed, this city picked me up and inspired me. It gave me opportunities I could never have dreamt of, and lead me down paths to friends who are now family.”
The gala wrapped this year’s VOICES, BoF’s annual gathering for big thinkers, which brings together industry leaders, activists and experts from around the world for a busy schedule of thought-provoking talks and agenda-setting discussions.
This year, the VOICES community hailed from over 25 countries, a mix of C-suite executives, creatives and entrepreneurs from fashion, beauty, media, technology, health and wellness, academia and philanthropy.
“It’s been amazing, it’s been really inspiring to hear people from all places on earth talking about such relevant issues of our time,” said Matthew Williams, founder and creative director of Alyx.
Protest and activism stood out as an overarching theme from the talks on stage. Speakers including Clare Farrell, a founding member of climate activist group Extinction Rebellion, and youth climate activist Kelsey Juliana pressed the need for urgent action to remedy the current climate crisis; Alexi Lumbroski called on his peers to ban fur, feathers and exotic skins; journalist Carole Cadwalladr contemplated whether digital misinformation is causing the end of democracy.
Iranian-American activist Hoda Katebi spoke about the fashion industry born out of Iran, a country that has long been isolated from the Western world, while Trisha Shetty, a human rights activist and lawyer from Mumbai, spoke about persistent human rights violations.
“My favourite thing over the full two days was someone outside of fashion: Trisha Shetty, talking about resilience and absolutely focus, and not being worried about blowback,” said Caroline Issa, consultant and editor. “I thought it was so great that she’s fighting for people without voices at an event called BoF VOICES.”
Inclusivity and identity were also central to discussions: Dan Doty spoke on the masculinity crisis, while Alok Menon made a case for why fashion and beauty should be genderless.
“My horizons, my outlook is always challenged slightly, and then it grows. So I always come away more informed and feeling a greater sense of connection with what’s going on,” said Jasmine Hemsley, who returned this year for her second BoF VOICES.
But for the final event of the programme, all attention was on Enninful as he accepted the Global VOICES Award.
Since Edward took over editorship of British Vogue, the magazine has consistently featured strong women on its covers, from Oprah Winfrey and Adwoa Aboah to Naomi Campbell and Stella Tennant. His sell-out September 2019 issue, which was guest-edited by Meghan Markle HRH Duchess of Sussex, featured 15 trailblazing “forces for change,” from Greta Thunberg to Jane Fonda.
In 2016 the editor was awarded an order of the British Empire (OBE) for his services to diversity in the fashion industry, and last year he received the Media Award in Honour of Eugenia Sheppard from the CFDA in recognition of his career-long contribution to the fashion industry.
Enninful has influenced fashion “In a huge way,” said British Vogue Deputy Editor Sarah Harris. “He’s made such a change in the industry. [There’s been] such a huge shift that he’s really been the catalyst of: who designers are casting for shows now, who they’re considering for their campaigns.”
After cocktails, the crowd made its way into the gala tent to sample a menu of Italian-inspired wild sea bass mousseline; Indian roasted lamb spiced dhal; and Jamaican-style jerk chicken and sour mango salad. Lagos-born Tiwa Savage, friend of Enninful, took to the stage to perform her Afrobeat hits, before guests danced the night away to music by DJ Kesh.
After dinner was served, model Jourdan Dunn and designer Duro Olowu presented Enninful with his award. Dunn recounted her special relationship with the editor whom she had known since the very start of her career.
“Edward represents many things. His position at British Vogue has given an entire world of black people [and other marginalised communities] that they have a seat at the table … reminding us our dreams are achievable,” she said. “You give opportunities that change lives.”
“He’s a maverick charting a bold course, a real visionary editor-in-chief,” added Olowu.
When Enninful took to the stage to accept his award, he reflected on the future of the fashion industry that he has helped to shape.
“I’m so grateful to this industry and the community we now represent. A diverse and inclusive one,” he said. “All of us are so excited for a whole new decade ahead.”