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Pride in: The Man Behind British Vogue

In celebration of Pride Month and the Black Lives Matter movement, Roar writers share their recommendations and reflections on black queer culture.

It is possible that some people outside the fashion universe would be surprised to know the face behind one of the most popular and influential magazines of UK (and the world). Fleshy lips, intense eyes, short hair and black skin. 

Edward Kobina Enninful OBE was born in Ghana and emigrated to London at a very young age with his numerous family. 

Growing up in Ladbroke Grove, he developed the profound passion for fashion. His mother was a seamstress and he evolved surrounded by colours, patterns and fabrics of a British-Ghananian heritage. He graduated at Goldsmiths, inspired by the spirit of the fashion capital.

His first steps in the field are not in the role of a journalist. Spotted by stylist Simon Foxton, Enninful started modelling at 16 years old and collaborated alongside the founders of i-D Magazine. This publication will play an essential role in his career path: at the age of 19, he was appointed fashion director – a position he held for more than two decades.

In 2017, Condé Nast chose him as the editor-in-chief of British Vogue. The fashion world welcomed him, as he was already well-known and connected within the community. When appointed, Enninful described his vision for British Vogue as “about being inclusive. It’s not just the colour of your skin but the diversity of perspective”. Chief executive and International Chairman Jonathan Newhouse, called Enninful, “an influential figure in the communities of fashion, Hollywood and music which shape the cultural zeitgeist”. It was evident to him that Vogue needed someone who could coordinate and satisfy both millennials and Generation Z, perhaps blinking an eye towards Generation X too. 

At the time, he had six times as many followers on Instagram as his predecessor, Alexandra Shulman, due to his fast ascending career. At 22, he had already worked for Calvin Klein, Comme des Garçons, Christian Dior, Dolce and Gabbana, Celine, Lanvin, Gucci, Armani, Valentino and many more. In 2009, he styled the famous cover story photographed by Sølve Sundsbø. The issue printed 12 separate covers, each featuring one of twelve British super models, including personalities such as Jourdan Dunn, Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell and Twiggy. 

At the same time, Enninful had been collaborating with Franca Sozzani and shooting with Steven Meisel for Vogue Italia, an experience that shaped him to be a mature and proper stylist. Remarkable is him spearheading the production of Vogue Italia’s Black Issue. This issue featured only black models, which at the time were under-represented both on catwalks and magazines. The issue was so successful that Condé Nast had to print an extra 40,000 copies. This edition of Vogue Italia criticised white domination and shed a light on this failure of the fashion industry. Lately, Enninful styled other relevant issues for Sozzani’s magazine, including the epic “Makeover Madness” and the Curvy Issue “Belle Vere”. Enninful’s covers have consistently featured strong women who promote messages of empowerment: Oprah Winfrey, Adwoa Aboah, Naomi Campbell, Rihanna. The September 2019 edition guest-edited by Meghan Markle HRH Duchess of Sussex, which featured 15 female change-makers including Greta Thunberg. The issue was a quick sell-out and, according to estimates provided by Condé Nast Britain, the release of the September cover in the first 24 hours alone, generated more than double the entire PR value of Enninful’s previous blockbuster September issue that featured pop star Rihanna.

Being black and gay, Enninful experienced racism all his life. Recently, following the death of George Floyd and the BLM movement, he wrote for Vogue: “In the ’90s, as a young, black, gay man living in London, I would go on a lot of Gay Pride marches. We were protesting about freedom and gay rights, as well as the numerous LGBTQIA+ lives that had been lost. The protests happening this week felt united in their desire for freedom, with the spectre of violence that hangs over minorities evident for all to see. I suppose in that sense I have come to see George Floyd as almost a spiritual leader. His life has been felt”.

Business Of Fashion, which included him in the BoF500 list of influential people, declared that his, “digital prowess and drive to break the storied title”, reached newer and younger audiences across all social media.

In February 2017, Enninful gathered 81 of the fashion industry’s most recognisable faces for a powerful short film for the publication, entitled “I Am An Immigrant,” in defiance of US President Donald Trump’s anti-immigration policies.

In other words, Edward Enninful has been the perfect figure to send a powerful message, which is what our generation needs more than ever: inclusivity, diversity and respect. As a black and gay man, he uses his voice and media power to spread awareness and attract the youth that wants to see a change.

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