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“Soooo fresh,” sighs Edward Enninful as he takes a sip of elderflower-and-lime “mocktail”, aural as bland and actuating as the voiceover in an advert. We are tucked abroad at a bend table in the Portobello annex of Pizza East, a carb-centric adverse to my affair with his predecessor, Alexandra Shulman, whom I met at a amiable Mayfair restaurant about the bend from Vogue House.
The new editor of British Vogue — the aboriginal man to authority the cavalcade in the magazine’s 101-year history — brand to arrangement Pizza East “five or six times a week”, if not for breakfast, afresh for supper afterwards work. “I adulation it because it’s a bounded hang-out, it’s actual low key.” On a weekday, the restaurant is agilely busy by a scattering of laptops-at-lunch thirtysomething freelancers who prop up the accidental dining adjunct of Nick Jones’ Soho House Group.
“Local hang-out” and “very low key” are hardly phrases one would accessory with Vogue. The Condé Nast-owned magazine, spun off into multilingual editions about the world, is still le dernier cri in a assertive affectionate of bright glamour. Thanks to fictionalised accounts such as The Devil Wears Prada, we about apprehend its editors to accomplish absurd demands of minions and cosy up to designers — an angel bolstered by the adeptness attempt afterward Shulman’s abandonment this year. To outsiders it may assume abundant ado about a magazine, but to designers the advantageous Vogue allowance of approval, bestowed by the editor, is still abundant approved after.
Enninful wears all the abhorrent appearance all-overs lightly. Aback he started in August, he’s been on a mission to change a annual that could do with, if not a abounding facelift, afresh at atomic some awakening up. And aloof as American Vogue editor Anna Wintour has played up to her chill adjudicator persona, Enninful is on a attack to be approachable.
In his dress, he wears his success discreetly. In accepted with abounding alpha appearance players, the 45-year-old favours a simple claimed uniform, which he says he finds “comforting”. Today he’s in a white shirt (“I anticipate it’s Prada”), atramentous Burberry trousers and a charcoal tailored covering by Dries Van Noten. Hidden beneath his shirt belt are a beefy Rolex and a adorning armlet that he best up in Positano. His thick-rimmed glasses accord him a analytical aspect, so that aback he looks at me I feel carefully scrutinised.
“Are you hungry? Shall we eat?” he asks as we attending over the card of banausic staples such as pizza and lasagne adapted in a wood-fired oven. Enninful tells me he’s off meat aback watching a documentary on Netflix alleged What The Health? But giving up craven — his favourite aliment — is hard. “I grew up in an African household, so lots of chicken, lots of rice. We ate Jollof rice, a actual west African dish.” His abiding partner, film-maker Alec Maxwell, does the affable at home.
Enninful opts for a salt-baked salmon, saffron rice and butternut annihilate bloom and, on his recommendation, I go for salt-baked apricot and aioli with a chickpea and pepper salad.
When I heard I got the job, I anticipation I would adulation to actualize a Vogue that is inclusive, that represents the apple today
The aboriginal archetype of Vogue beneath his editorship has aloof accustomed on newsstands. I accept already accustomed a clandestine set of proofs of the December issue, hand-delivered by a afraid babe from the Condé Nast office. It’s the acme of months of agitation and hype. Aboriginal Shulman appear her departure, in January, afterwards 25 years at the helm. Afresh came the gossip-athon over who would get the job and the surprise, in assertive circles, over Enninful’s appointment. And assuredly there was the “posh babe exodus” of adept staff, abandonment in a abrupt administration change dubbed “Vrexit”. Agent editor Emily Sheffield and appearance administrator Lucinda Chambers were two high-profile departures; amid new hires are blur administrator Steve McQueen, super-stylist Venetia Scott and archetypal Naomi Campbell as an absurd interviewer.
He plays bottomward the anarchy with accepted diplomacy. “When any administrator comes into a aggregation they charge to do that, and there were bodies who I acquainted would advice me realise what I had in my mind, who I trusted.” With the approaching of book magazines uncertain, and with affluence appearance brands reviewing their business models, the best able man in British appearance has a job that’s activity to be as arduous as it is chic.
Not alone is Enninful the aboriginal macho editor of British Vogue, and its aboriginal atramentous editor, he’s additionally a stylist acclimated to arrive adumbration rather than words. He doesn’t accept the airy labels of advantage that best Vogue agents wear, and he wants Vogue to reflect that.
“When I heard I got the job, I anticipation I would adulation to actualize a Vogue that is inclusive, that represents the apple today,” he says. “I batten to abounding of my accompany who alive actuality [in London] and they acquainted that they weren’t represented somehow in the magazine. They appear from all walks of activity and I anticipation it’s actual important to me to actualize a annual that deals with a ambit of all sizes, age, gender, religion, beat Britain today. I capital Vogue to be agreeable and not so intimidating.”
After relocating from New York, he has confused aback to west London, abreast his adolescence stomping ground. He is alike dabbling with affairs a acreage on his old street. Enninful’s ancestors emigrated from Ghana aback he was a toddler. Growing up with his army administrator father, clothier mother and bristles siblings, he says he had a “happy” childhood. Fashion, he says, aboriginal sparked his absorption aback he watched his backward mother active up clothes for bounded women on her Singer bed-making machine. From her, he learnt how to accomplish and customise his own designs.
“I appear from a ancestors who didn’t accept abundant money but aloft me to accept that money wasn’t the best important affair in the world. We had enough, we were happy. My mother and ancestor aloof accomplished me the basics, to be absolutely kind, to absolutely accept to people. I accept never been one to put on affectedness and graces.”
Nonetheless, he was awarded the honour of OBE aftermost year for allowance to alter the appearance industry. He says his mother was “just over the moon, it meant so abundant to my parents, that’s why out of annual to my mother I consistently add it to my name.”
Enninful is unapologetically able-bodied affiliated — aloof attending at him on Instagram, pictured with anybody from Rihanna to Madonna. But it was a adventitious affair that started his career. “I didn’t apperceive annihilation about the appearance industry until I met the stylist Simon Foxton on a Tube,” he says. “I was 16, on my way to Kingsway College and afresh my accomplished apple opened up.” Squeaking with laughter, he adds, “before that, like in every African family, you are meant to be a lawyer.” The affair with Foxton led to assignment as a model, stylist and afresh as appearance administrator of beat appearance annual i-D in 1991. He styled shoots for Vogue Italia and American Vogue (he has a adornment in the documentary The September Issue) and became artistic and appearance administrator of American appearance annual W in 2011.
Enninful is accepted for his bohemian style: in 2005 he created a memorably kitsch adventure alleged “Makeover Madness” for Vogue Italia depicting supermodel Linda Evangelista as a affluent appearance victim adeptness artificial surgery. In 2008 he masterminded an affair of Vogue Italia featuring alone atramentous models. It accepted so accepted that 40,000 added copies were printed.
So what’s the adept plan to addition the numbers at Vogue, currently with a book apportionment of 190,021, bottomward 2.6 per cent year-on-year? Condé Nast is in the action of slashing jobs and budgets, and will abate the book adaptation of UK Allure to alert a year and accomplish Teen Vogue in the US online only.
His reply, like those of abounding bodies hailed as visionaries, is vague. “I anticipate the best important affair is the adeptness to allege to the woman out there and if an access comes with that, great.” But has he been set a target? “Yes, but you’ll accept to ask addition abroad about that.”
The boilerplate book clairvoyant is age-old 38. Can he actuate millennials to buy the magazine? “That’s why we go aback to agenda and added platforms, which will hopefully advance them to aces up the magazine.” The agenda aggregation accept now been accumulated with the annual aggregation in its Hanover Square offices. And how is he activity to analyze with a changeable audience? “I accept been alive with women for 20 years, my sex has never had annihilation to do with it. I adulation women and I consistently have.”
Issue one of the Enninful era speaks of an editor who doesn’t decay time on self-doubt or affectation. “Anyone who knows me will acquaint you that I don’t absolutely dwell,” he says. “Of advance I get fatigued — I don’t consistently appearance it but anybody has their centralized life.” Afterwards activity to blur administrator David Lynch’s abstruse brainwork centre in the US, he now meditates for 20 annual a day. His aberrant calm doesn’t appear naturally.
Perhaps now that Enninful has landed the best important job in the British appearance industry, the agents at Pizza East will let him accompany Ru, his soulful-eyed Boston terrier (who has his own Instagram account) into the restaurant? “Oh, I don’t appetite to advance it.”
All I can say is she was at Vogue for a division of a century. She had her Vogue, it represented the times, and I’ll accept mine.
Enninful’s aboriginal Vogue has some standout pieces. In a wry affection by Zadie Smith about the Queen’s accepted touch, the biographer describes how “distinctly lower-middle class” Her Majesty is, accepting her breakfast delivered in “airtight Tupperware alongside a archetype of the Racing Post”. Amazonian Game of Thrones extra Gwendoline Christie talks about abolition changeable stereotypes, photographed by Juergen Teller in the Barbican, and British designers, including John Galliano and Victoria Beckham, go aback to the places that shaped them. For Galliano it’s London’s Elephant and Castle, area he’s photographed at the bus stop. It’s additionally far added racially diverse.
Indeed, for his aboriginal awning star, he says “there was alone one actuality I wanted”: 25-year-old mixed-race model-of-the-moment Adwoa Aboah. Aboah has been styled by Enninful in a cottony turban and icicle-like design earrings, fabricated up by atramentous British composition artisan and now Vogue accidental editor Pat McGrath in ablaze dejected disco eye-shadow and bright scarlet lips, and photographed by Steven Meisel, who hasn’t attempt for British Vogue aback 1991. Although the awning has the bendable colours and abstracted allure of the 1970s, Enninful says, “she represents now, a generation, today, she uses her adorableness to do commodity to the world, with [her online magazine] Gurls Talk. She’s mixed-race, so it’s about diversity, which was actual important to me.”
Does he anticipate the appearance industry is starting to abode its afflicted abridgement of diversity? “Conversations are accident and I like the actuality that assortment is no best aloof about atramentous and white. It’s about shape, it’s about religion, it’s about gender, it’s so ample and I’m absolutely captivated by it. Though it’s not abundant to put one atramentous archetypal in a show; we accept to go aback to magazines and designers’ studios and we accept to amount out how we get interns, and bodies to assignment backstage [from assorted backgrounds].”
In August, Naomi Campbell acquaint a account of Shulman’s all-white Vogue staff, and wrote: “Looking advanced to an across-the-board and assorted agents now that @edward_enninful is the editor.” I ask how he acquainted about her anarchic post. He gives an indulgent smile, the affectionate you ability accord if your acquaintance gets too bashed and is abrupt to addition you don’t like either. “You know, Naomi is Naomi. All I apperceive is that my Vogue will be about activity to assertive schools and places area you wouldn’t commonly attending for interns, aloof accessible it up really.”
The aide arrives with our lunch. “Can I get Tabasco?” Enninful asks. “I never eat annihilation afterwards Tabasco — and chilli oil too, please. There is a chilli booze actuality that they apperceive I love. Aback you are a chilli enthusiast, you end up accession it. All my accompany at Christmas accord me chilli.”
Conversation turns to his mentors, who accommodate i-D founders Terry and Trisha Jones (they “gave an befalling to a atramentous kid from the close city”) and Anna Wintour. He recalls assuming the awfully hard-to-impress editor “an abstraction I capital to shoot in a clutter yard. She was like, ‘amp it up, lift it, affluent affluent rich’, which are the phrases she acclimated aback commodity wasn’t alluring enough. She absolutely accomplished me how to mix art and commerce.”
Shulman, meanwhile, has not absolutely pulled her punches. I admiration what Enninful fabricated of an commodity by his antecedent for the website Business of Appearance about the demands of actuality an editor. Shulman’s conclusion, that alteration is “certainly not a job for addition who . . . thinks that the capital allotment of their job is actuality photographed in . . . artisan clothes with a agenda of acclaimed friends” appeared to be aimed at Enninful, who has 615,000 followers on Instagram, and consistently posts pictures of himself with the brand of Nicole Kidman, Marc Jacobs and Katy Perry.
“Yes, I heard about the column,” he shrugs, with a bit of a pout, as our plates are cleared. “All I can say is she was at Vogue for a division of a century. She had her Vogue, it represented the times, and I’ll accept mine. It was a disruption and a nuisance but I had a annual to run, so I did that. I didn’t absolutely accord it abundant thought.”
Speaking of added austere scandals, is the appearance industry on the border of its own Weinstein moment? Numerous women accept accused columnist Terry Richardson of animal harassment, and Condé Nast accept appear that they will no best assignment with him. Is Enninful acquainted of Richardson’s inappropriate behaviour? “I mean, I formed with Terry in the 1990s, the aftermost time was apparently 1998, we haven’t formed calm for 20-something years. I’ve apprehend the articles. The photographers I assignment with are abundantly affectionate and generous, things like that do not appear on my set.”
However, his own adventures accept abreast his angle on how to accumulate models, in particular, safe. “I was a 16-year-old archetypal activity on shoots and I absolutely empathise with the vulnerable. I was accessible but my mother would appear with me sometimes, and I [was alive with] absurd bodies like [photographer] Nick Knight. I accept consistently capital to actualize a safe anchorage on my shoots, whether it’s the make- up artisan actuality a mentor, or people’s parents advancing with them, I am accessible to that.”
Did bodies accomplish advances appear him? “Yeah, I beggarly you are a kid, you don’t apperceive what to do, but I had abundant bodies on set attractive afterwards me. I was so lucky.”
We both adjustment a collapsed white, and Enninful orders a amber abstract to booty away. The chat apprehension bottomward with some all-embracing non-shop allocution — from his adopted aroma (Commes Des Garçons Kyoto incense) to the cantankerous on his armlet (“I’m Church of England, I’m not religious but my ancestors are a bit. I accept there is addition attractive afterwards us but I wouldn’t say it was God”) and I ask Enninful how absolutely he has become so able-bodied connected.
“There’s a assertive approachability I apperceive I have, it’s not commodity you can about-face on or off.”
Enninful believes “we alive in times area it’s important to be approachable. Those canicule of actuality chill and stand-offish to bodies are gone.” A hasty affect from one of the best able editors in annual journalism. But afresh again, appearance brand annihilation bigger than reinvention.
Carola Long is the FT’s agent appearance editor
Illustration by James Ferguson