Yesterday, when news broke that Edward Enninful will be the new editor-in-chief of British Vogue, the word most media outlets used to describe the appointment was "surprising." But what exactly was surprising about this veteran fashion editor’s appointment?
First, there is the list of ‘firsts’ that Enninful’s appointment reflects. Enninful is a black, openly gay man, whose parents are Ghanaian immigrants and settled in the blue-collar London neighbourhood of Ladbroke Grove, where Enninful grew up with five siblings. In demographic terms, he couldn’t be further from the magazine’s previous three editors, including Alexandra Shulman, Elizabeth Tilberis, Anna Wintour — as well as Emily Sheffield and Jo Ellison, who are thought to have been finalists for the job. In terms of diversity alone, Enninful’s appointment is a "surprise" that's most welcome. Indeed, on many levels, he will certainly strike a fresh contrast to the predominantly white middle-class women who work at the magazine today and appeared in Richard Macer’s BBC2 documentary last year.
But demographics aside, what does Enninful’s appointment mean for the future of British Vogue?
There is the fact that Enninful is a stylist and that he has been hired from W magazine, where he was creative and fashion director. (He has also contributed to the Italian and American editions of Vogue, but not the British edition). There’s also the fact that Enninful’s aesthetic is, by and large, glossy and provocative. Think: Linda Evangelista on the surgeon’s table, Rihanna as a post-apocalyptic Josephine Baker and Barbra Streisand as a racy Marlene Dietrich.
Enninful is active on social media, too, often signing off his posts with “xoxo” as well as calling out racism and sharing selfies. He also has close friendships with some of the supermodels and stars he regularly styles in editorials, such as Madonna, Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss and Gigi Hadid.
Indeed, in his attitude towards celebrity and social media, Enninful is something of a bridge between the traditional fashion establishment and the next generation. He was the youngest ever fashion director (at i-D) at the age of 18 and the recipient of the Isabella Blow Award for Fashion Creator at the British fashion Awards in 2014, as well as being appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his services to diversity in the fashion industry. Even to the general public, he is recognisable, having appearing in "The September Issue," R.J. Cutler’s intimate portrait of the inner workings of American Vogue. His predecessor Alexandra Shulman, by comparison, has avoided the spotlight — and her Instagram is mostly snaps of scenery and photos of books and interiors, as well as the occasional fashion show reportage.
Enninful is something of a bridge between the establishment and the next generation.
Enninful and Shulman couldn’t be more different, not least because he is an image-maker and she is a features writer and novelist. Shulman’s tenure can be defined by an aversion to celebrity covers, to which she eventually succumbed; nuanced fashion photography from the likes of Nigel Shafran, Corinne Day, Nick Knight, Juergen Teller and Tim Walker; as well as a strong emphasis on culture and features — memorable contributors have included war reporter Marie Colvin and food writer Nigella Lawson; and the magazine is noted for its portfolios of figures in the arts.
Under Shulman, Vogue’s tone was also defined by the fashionable West London neighbourhoods that are the homeland of British Vogue — the Notting Hill set and Portobello trawlers, Mayfair nightclubbing and Knightsbridge boutiques; second-home country houses and holidays in Mustique. However, as London itself changed and expanded so did the magazine’s outlook, turning further afield — to East and South London, for example — and one can only imagine that it will continue to do so under Enninful’s lead, reflecting more of the city’s cultural diversity.
Enninful is also an editor who has a rare combination of experience at independent style magazines such as i-D as well as American glossies such as W and Vogue. His closest collaborators are long-time members of the Vogue firmament, including Mario Testino, Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott, Pat McGrath, Craig McDean and Tim Walker, as well as Steven Meisel, whose work has not been seen in British Vogue since the 1990s, and Steven Klein, whose work has never appeared in the British edition. That will likely change soon.
In his new role, Enninful will be guiding a large team, including veteran editors such as Lucinda Chambers, Kate Phelan, and Joe McKenna, and departments he would likely never have had experience in leading — features, beauty and advertising, for example. It remains to be seen how involved he will be in with those sections of the magazine.
Enninful’s core skill, however, is in creating powerful and memorable imagery, which will put him in good stead to revitalise the Vogue brand for a new generation of readers — and followers.